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1pointsize's large ambition

Sravanthi Challapalli
Vinay Kamath

A chat with Chennai's homegrown photographer-adman Sharad Haksar.

THE unsmiling and watchful white-and-salmon pink fish swam the length of its tank, eyeing intruders rather balefully. All visitors to Sharad Haksar's studio are given the once-over by his pet fish. "I got him for Rs 750 a few years ago and he's now worth Rs 25,000," says Haksar, deadpanning the punchline, "but, he's eaten for more than that amount." Haksar, of creative hotshop 1pointsize, is not mortified when he's asked whether his pet would be good to eat. His sang froid could well be because he's flying high on the many awards his agency won at the recent Spark 2004, Ad Club Madras's annual awards event.

Haksar launches into a conversation with Catalyst by declaring very early on that his foray into advertising is only to gratify his creative urges. "Photography is my bread and butter, I don't need to do ad campaigns for that. I will do those only if I find something creative," he says. In his case, there are hardly any inputs on creative from the client's side. The agency takes over the brand building strategy. "The client should look after marketing and distribution and leave the creative to us," he asserts.

Ask him if he calls the shots in every campaign then, and pointing to some art pulls on his desk, Haksar says, "My clients usually see the campaign at this stage, and most of them sail through." He doesn't show them the layouts or discuss them; their contribution is minimal. And he doesn't believe in pitches. "A brand should work with Sharad Haksar because it believes I can do something for the brand. I am not going to give ideas and waste time and energy in pitching for accounts - not enough notice is given to the agency, which doesn't produce its best, and the client usually ends up liking only a bit of this presentation and that, never an entire one," he explains.

So how does he build his business? "Most of it has come through word of mouth. From my side, I let them know I exist, but that's it," he says.

Chennai denizens will be familiar with Haksar's hoarding on Cathedral Road, one of the city's main arterial roads, which usually carries a public service message. Haksar does a lot of photographic assignments for other advertising agencies and the Tamil film industry as photographer for movie campaigns and publicity stills. He set up 1pointsize two years ago to distinguish between his photography clients and his advertising clients. And it's not as if he always leverages photography in his advertising. Pointing to shots of a Perri Alley campaign (a garment brand), which won an award for typography, he says that sometimes there's no photography at all. Incidentally, the agency's name comes from the first contact pen makes with paper when it's used to put down an idea.

This year's haul at Spark 2004 includes five Golds (in the categories of Best TV Commercial Under 30 Seconds, Collateral Calendar, Photography, Art Director of the Year and Corporate Identity) five Silvers (Photography, Brand Building, Public/Social Purpose Advertising, Typography, Collateral Calendar) and two Bronzes (Interactive and Rural Advertising Campaign). Most of the awards are for Stori, a garment brand from Chaya Garments, Bangalore, which is a "fantastic client" to work with, says Haksar. The latest campaign features naughty limericks, lush greenery, snowy peaks and windswept desert. The previous campaign even won an award for the best campaign at the New York Festival, says Haksar.

"It's not an ideal name for a garment brand, but it was challenging to work with," says Haksar of Stori. Hence the `continuing narrative' and limerick type of advertising for the brand. In 10 months, sales jumped from Rs 7 crore in 2002, when it was launched, to Rs 14 crore, he claims, in reply to a query on what his advertising did for the brand.

Interestingly, most of 1pointsize's clients are garment brands based in the South. Haksar's agency also devised the campaigns for Derby, Perri Alley, Kumaran stores and three or four garment brands from Pothy's. And there haven't been `territorial' problems between similar brands such as Derby, Perri Alley and Stori, because Haksar was recommended to one by the other. It's not as if he's servicing a mega brand for them to insist on exclusivity, he adds, clarifying that he's open about the clients and work he takes on, and acknowledging that his clients are open-minded too and mature about his working for competition. He says he's happy with small clients. "I can at least make them grow and grow with them. They are willing to experiment," he says, adding that he got into advertising because he felt underutilised and frustrated with other advertisers for whom he worked as photographer.

The Chennai-based Derby, which specialises in men's business casual wear, has been working with 1pointsize for the last three years. Derby's Managing Director Vijay Kapoor says, "A lot of credit for what Derby is right now should go to the agency." The retail chain, which now has 10 exclusive outlets and 40 shop-in-shops in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, started out with a single store in 1996. Three years ago when it signed up 1pointsize it was a Rs 1-crore company; Derby has grown 10-fold since then. He says clear communication is what counts while working with the agency. "And there ends our role ... we are guaranteed to get a creative that we were looking for. After our initial briefing, we don't interfere in his work," Kapoor says.

When Kapoor first met Haksar, he discussed with him his vision for Derby. "He understood our limitations (money)" and created what is now the `Get unusual' campaign, featuring a muscular man. Our thinking was: "What can be unusual for a garment brand?" Derby, thus, wanted to employ innovative advertising. The end result was not only innovative, but effective as well, he says. Another campaign continuing the same theme is in the pipeline, says Haksar.

The retail chain has been spending around one-sixth of its revenues in marketing and promotion, predominantly employing outdoor and print media.

Says Suguna Swamy, former Creative Director, Ogilvy & Mather, Chennai, who has worked with Haksar since he was a "young man", "Sharad pulls out all the stops to deliver the best work ever. He is uncompromising when it comes to quality."

As if to corroborate what Swamy says, Haksar emphasises: "We look at what we can do beyond an ad." 1pointsize aims to do 360 degree advertising for a brand, right from advertising to Web site to shirt labels to visiting cards.

About 15-20 per cent of the advertising work is for charity. The campaign against cancer for the Mahesh Memorial Trust won an award for public service advertising. Haksar also does some work for Jeevan blood bank and Scarf, the schizophrenia research foundation based in Chennai. Another feather in his cap is the one-off TVC he did for Reva, the electric car. (The brand has its own advertising agency in Rediffusion.) The award for this TVC is spurring 1pointsize to get into more TVCs. It is also moving into categories other than garments; negotiations with a Chennai-based real estate firm are on for a campaign.

"We don't want to become a big agency, not more than 10 people," says Haksar of 1pointsize, which is now a firm of five. But not pint-size, if Haksar's confidence is anything to go by. Watch this space.

Reporter Associate: Sriram Srinivasan

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