Yes, Parameswaran tells a great Indian advertising story. But Nawabs is much more than that; it is nothing less than the story of Indian society and its changing values and attitudes over the last five decades.
The title of the book on the mustard yellow cover, and the graphics of cola bottles, tooth powder, underwear and pressure cookers are unmistakably the creation of someone from the advertising world. In this case, veteran Ambi Parameswaran, recently retired from FCB Ulka, and founder of Brand-Building.com.
For those uninitiated into this world, the alliterative title, Nawab, Nudes, Noodles, does not give away much, but definitely whets one’s appetite and curiosity.
The book chronicles creativity and commerce for over five decades in India, the broad themes, the context, defining moments and evolution of advertising over the years. It is dedicated to “the unsung heroes of all great advertising—the clients”. A very noble gesture that shows how great partnerships between a client and an agency lead to memorable work.
But there’s more to it.
Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles is a story of India. A reflection of socio-cultural changes, the mindset shift across consumer segments, from children, teens, men, women, to the older generation, from celebrating machismo to sharing roles and responsibilities when it comes to men, the rise of women empowerment and expression, emergence of new role models and archetypes, consumerism and the explosion of choice and media in post-liberalisation India.
Ambi Parameswaran has successfully mapped the story of the progression and transformation of the nation with milestones in India’s advertising journey, finding common codes between key drivers of brand messaging and the economy. This is what makes this book much more than just a history of advertising and equally relevant for those within and outside the industry.
As I read the book, I was transported down nostalgic lanes, from my early days as a young trainee in an advertising agency. Names of people I have revered, campaigns that I had watched on Doordarshan and in print, jingles that I had hummed at my desk.
The narrative shaped, or at times, even reshaped my memories. The refrain of “Tandurusti ki raksha karta hai...” The young smiling couple reading The Official Polish Joke Book. Controversial, bold moves like a campaign for a shoe brand with a nude couple and a python that challenged sensibilities.
How a new dialect, Hinglish, “Bole mere lips, I love Uncle Chipps” crept into our vocabulary. Defining moments in advertising like the cola campaigns, and The Complete Man campaign that defined the metrosexual man.
Ambi reminds us of how stars are born in advertising, with some of the top Bollywood icons facing their first camera for an ad campaign. He gives an interesting perspective on the appeal of local ads, how global campaigns need a local cultural context and relevance, the use of music in commercials.
Meshed in the script are also some fascinating insider stories and trivia that are best understood and appreciated by the advertising world. How the industry scene evolved from English-speaking convent-educated admen in the ’60s and ’70s to an influx of diversity, with a prominence of Hindi and regional writers in the 2000s, how a famous character was modelled after the creator’s own mother, what masquerades as ice-cream in shoots, the brainwave that led to the topical billboards of Utterly Butterly Delicious.
The small grey boxes that pop up at random with some interesting did-you-know facts add to the pleasure of reading.
And the advertising world will definitely have a laugh over the “portfolios” of young aspiring creative folks, “the elevator pitch”, and “food photography at 1,000 frames per second”.
The book ends with Ambi’s thought-provoking forecast of future trends and shifts. His rich experience and easy, anecdotal style make Nawabs an engaging read. It is structured into four clear sections—People, Products, Services, and Ad Narratives. Detailing and data give the reader a sense of authenticity and credibility. A lot of examples and research are from FCB Ulka. Understandable, as Ambi has drawn most of the cases from his personal experience.
While I know Ambi professionally, his own journey, from his first Thermax ad, the jeans and kurta he wore to Mylapore Club, Dark Side of the Moon playing in IIT Madras’ Godavari Hostel, the behind-the-scenes tales of some of my favourite campaigns, gave this book a personal touch for me. The difference between a good and a great read.
Nawabs is one great Indian advertising story. And a good story is always memorable. The book has found its place on my bedside table, as one of my favourite reads.