June 28, 2013

My Life in Design: Elsie Nanji

Our ongoing series, My Life in Design, features a design messiah in each one and delves into their personal stories and experiences, which can give you great insights into the industry and teach you a thing or two about design or life. Elsie Nanji, managing partner at Red Lion was our pick the issue #11 of Kyoorius Magazine and she takes you through her long and enduring career in design.

Also, as you might know that the Kyoorius Awards are slated to be held on 29th August night and we  have our list of the Jury out. And Nanji is a part of the prime covenant who will be picking the awardees based on a set of fixed criterion and of course, their expertise.

Here are a few excerpts from My Life in Design with Elsie Nanji and if you want to read further or infer something from it, do pick up Kyoorius 11.

Nanji: An introduction

Elsie might convince you she’s a flower child who still enjoys every day as if it were her last, but underneath that exterior lies a very successful design professional who has been behind some of the industry’s most successful brand campaigns. Remember Thums Up, Taste the Thunder? Or the Garden Vareli campaign, featuring the gorgeous Lisa Ray? Or the Sil Jam commercial, featuring a middle-aged man behave like a five year old, when the Sil jam bottle in front of him is removed? There’s also the poetic Lakme ad featuring a young schoolboy crushing on Yana Gupta’s gorgeous skin in a subtle endorsement of Lakme Peach Milk Lotion, some years ago.

There’s a lot in Elsie’s career that can make for a lengthy conversation about some of India’s most iconic brands and ad campaigns.  Elsie was interested in drawing since a young age but never looked at it as a career. Coming from a south Indian family that was academically inclined, Elsie says, a career in art and design wasn’t on the agenda.


 Nanji’s Citra campaign

Nanji on the age of introspection in Branding in India

Between 1990 to 2000, two key changes were taking place in the industry that were going to impact Elsie’s perception of advertising as a profession. The first was the emergence of branding consultants and the subsequent separation of advertising and design services. The other change was the trend by clients of hiring big Bollywood celebrities as brand ambassadors as a sure — fire route to success. On the first, she says, “Certain brand consultants were ordering airy fairy arguments about various aspects of brand building, including what a certain colour could do for a brand. They had lots of data to back up their argument, but I know you can always tailor those kind of conclusions and retrofit research to suit your designs. What if the packaging then fails miserably in the marketplace? The same packaging would be then brought to us at the agency for repair jobs. I was always more interested in market research before we actually begin the project — knowing what the market is looking out for, ‘what are they missing? How do customers perceive the brand?’ I’ve felt many a time that even for big MNC clients like P&G, if we didn’t have to go through so many processes for each campaign, the work would be much fresher.”

Nanji on Bollywood in advertising

Bollywood with all its attendant tantrums were another reality check for Elsie. She adds wryly, “Enlisting big Bollywood stars to endorse their brands became a trend for clients. For clients, it seemed a surety for success. In Ambience, Emami started the trend. In the last few years at Ambience, I had to deal with what the stars thought about the script, their skin, always with some anxiety. It was beyond me. I was used to working one-on-one with clients, providing solutions for their problems, and suddenly I had to learn to deal with celebrities. I battled with myself for sometime, thinking if this is what the advertising world is coming to, which it had; then this is not my world.”

Aer Bar, Four Seasons

Aer Bar, Four Seasons, Mumbai

Nanji on the current design scene

Elsie says the main challenge is that there is no value for design.  “Whether it’s a Rs 5000 logo or a Rs 5 lakh one, nobody can judge any better so what they really pay for, is all the gyaan they come with. That’s sad, because they don’t have the judgement of which is better than the other. Design is getting into a marketing area rather than a strategically creative area. It’s not looked at, as a creative difference. Advertising is a priority, to sell the product. Design is behind the scene,” she says.

Nanji on life

Its work, she says, that she never looked out for, but it happened to come her way and she says she has thoroughly enjoyed the process.  Nature inspires her, and in her fifties she took up running. “I run the marathon, I go to Kashid, every weekend. I have more time for my family. I grow vegetables in my garden in Kashid, I’m curious about everything,” she sums up about her life today.

Kyoorius is a bi-monthly print magazine on visual communications. Subscribe here. For buying a single copy (or any of the previous issues), write to us at sales@kyoorius.com.  You can order the issue from Tadpole, get the digital copy from Magzter and also buy it from bookstores near you. For any feedback on the magazine or to submit your work, do drop in a mail to us at editor@kyoorius.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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