Sanjeev Kotnala: Consultants must survive to fight another day

05 Aug,2020

By Sanjeev Kotnala


It is yet another normal day in lockdown. Yet another zoom  meeting to review packaging for an oral care product. The agency was simply naive or trusting to have sent the creative before the meeting.

Babujee in his early seventies representing the client along with a pretty young talent  helping him with the technology. The sales head was there to show support to whatever Babujee said. The agency was in full force, represented by the creative duo in art and copy, the VP on the account and the client servicing supervisor who was coordinating and confirming all were in.   And finally on the client side was the consultant with his greying hair, Mr Vermajee. All called him Vermajee like all called Babujee Babujee.

Each of the faces on the tiled zoom screen had a different perspective and idea on packaging.

The central focus of debate was the picture representing the user or the target audience on the ack. In the last round, The client felt the picture was too too small to be noticed and wanted it to be enlarged. Babujee’s experienced eye’s also demanded that the circular cropping of the picture was imperfect and it must go a bit lower on the body. He had said,  ‘If no one is going to see the picture why have it at all? And if they are going to see it, then why just a mug shot’. No one could argue with that global truth.

For Babujee, every square Nano millimetre of the packaging surface was like the  Aryan bridge at marine drive.

The consultant had earlier suggested a pristine white surfaced pack with the brand name RESHUM FRESH displayed prominent. It was premium and full of trust.  The  internal research  among wives of the mid-level executives in the  manufacturing plant pointed out that was not getting the  promise, and it needed change.

Today, the new Ghinchak pack with Chamkeela touch was under discussion.

The project was old and the agency was slowly losing interest in it. No one remembered where the name Reshum Fresh was coined. Unconfirmed rumours suggested it was a derivative of Reshma who was like a fresh air in Babujee’s life.


Vermajee looked at his notes on iPad and remembered the last conversation.

Why have a woman in the picture?

Because we can’t show the whole family and the dog. It irritated the consultant. It looked as if Babujee was yet again questioning his Management credential along with decades of experience in multinational advertising agencies. But, then the fee he was paying, allowed Babujee the freedom to ask silliest of the questions.

But, is she going to use my product?

The consultant wanted shout and tell the agency and Babujee, definitely he is not the one who is suggesting the new packaging with the woman picture. Yet he kept quiet and decided to slowly nudge the discussion in the right direction. She is going to decide on the purchase and maybe bring at home.

What about our taste, we sure the  kids will ask for our bubble-gum chocolate flavour?

OH, but it needs to first pass her scrutiny, enter the home and then maybe the repeat purchase will happen. Which may also be controlled by the kids..

Every household may not have a kid of that age. We will be restricting the appeal?
Off course you cannot satisfy every consumer. You are trying to address a niche that is big enough. Babujee we have the milk supplement homes with this oral care product. Vermajee looked at the R&D representative and got a blank stare in return. He could not say that they have gone through this discussion many times and it’s time to move ahead. He also was trying to estimate the size of 10-15 year old kids who would nowadays like a  bubble-gum chocolate flavour oral care product.


Quite early in the meeting the discussion went out of control.

We already have shortlisted a Fair model for the shoot. Said the art director.

Fair enough, but fair is the new four-letter word, we can’t have fair-skinned model any longer. Babujee was on top of the conversation.

She is a real housewife. The art director pushed.

So she is not sexy enough for men to purchase the product.
Babujee had just finished a side call with his wife.

We can have her with a kid. The agency VP interjected.

And tell the people she is already married. Aab hame advertising samhjani padegi. Aap sabko pata hai ki Model kyu hai pack mai.  Next time ensure the we see a bit more of her in the picture.

No one reacted bit every one understood.

The art director made a note for model coordinator.

If we don’t want a fair skinned model and still want wow, you know, we can have  husky Madame N Das type model. We have their portfolio ready. It was the copywriter’s chance to earn brownie points. It is also BLM time.

The consultant was quick to notice that Babujee has failed to understand. So, he, asked the agency people to pause the discussion for short time and  sent a WhatsApp message to the young talent asking her to share the message with Babujee.

The young talent leaned in and softly whispered to Babujee.

The agency would have got the message who is controlling the business.

‘Black Life Matters. Remember you daughter  Alka told you when she called from US. The riots happening there because a white policeman killed a black person- who could not breathe.’

This was perfect place for the sales head sitting next to Babujee to get in. ‘Oh but we all are brown here. Here Black or no black. no life matters. As a principle I would have a dark-skinned face on that pack. But it wo’t sell. Aap kamal kartey hai Vermajee. What Will happen.  Here light brown is fair enough in the country’. Sales head was still alive.

What will she be wearing? Babujee shifted the topic.

She will be wearing a saree, Bindi and her mangal-sutra and sindoor will be visible. As per the brief and the research, we want young married women?

The agency VP who had read the note that arrived with the zoom link some 30 minutes before the meeting interjected.

Consultant smiled, this was his turn to jump in.

But what about the women who don’t wear Mangal-sutra? What about Bindi? Are we not alienating Muslims segment? What about the unmarried young woman  and men. unmarried? Are we as a company not sensitive about the  gender equality or women empowerment? Why are you complicating?  Don’t you know BLM, Fair, Glow, Lovely, that brite and other brands? Why are we, again and again, digressing? Where is the health and immunity in this era of Covid-19? What should we do when the face is covered with mask and if you have bad breath only you know of it? Can anyone in the agency tell me  what is the  purpose of the brand?

What silly questions these people ask. The purpose is to make money what else, Babujee laughed answering.


The consultant smiled, that is always true but we  are not going to tell that to the consumers. What are we adding to life. I am surprised that in trying to be award winning, you all forget the necessary foundation, the reason of existence of this product.

His eyes surveyed tiled portraits of people in the meeting and zeroed on to the young new talent in the company. The consultant adjusted his screen and realised it adjusts only his camera. He looked up and asked, what do you think. What’s your name.

Sir, my name is Pooja and to me,it is about the FREEDOM TO BREATHE anywhere everywhere. It is about confi…

The consultant turned, yes breathe, stand tall, confidence and many more thing but at the base BREATHE, that is the purpose. So, make the elements on the packaging and make them breathe, give them space, a tender moment, a fair chance, sorry just a little bit of chance to to smile.

The consultant was sure, This was not the time to risk any controversial visual representation. God knows what people will react to and how. We as a client are not savvy enough to understand such nuances and there is no point in risk consultancy for a picture.

So, he continued. In  case the agency thinks we do need some visual I suggest we have a young representative like this young talent with Babujee on the pack. It symbolises traditional and is yet modern in its outlook. Moreover, it also has a family touch to the whole thing..

Babujee looked at the consultant with new respect and  awe. How clear  is Vermajee’s thinking. If today, he was not here, we would still be stuck at the picture. He smiled and made a mental note to thank his friend, who recommended the consultant. He also looked around and made another mental note to meet the young talent later in the evening.


After the meeting, The consultant called the agency and shared a tip.

Get away from anything that can lead to controversy. Unless you want to lose the business. And let’s close this packaging next week and plan for the launch.

The packaging is never the central idea. We can research and change it anytime. But if the market or Babujee mind changes the whole media exposure and launch will go kaput. Think of the 4-minute digital disruption and maybe a press ad. If the account and life remain, changes will keep happening. Live another day and choose the battles to fight.

He addressed the art director. Don’t feel bad, we will find some modelling assignment for your girlfriend, Aai shapat. Tell her to meet me with the portfolio.

The markets are opening, and we must plan to visit Babujee.
Meeting the young talent was the unsaid agenda.
And yes Maybe call it Pooja Fresh Breathe, sorry Reshum Fresh Breathe. That way you can have a visual dominated ad with just the brand name. The kid that wins awards.



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