Sunday, March 28, 2004

A night at the Abbies

March 1998:
I wasn't even in advertising when I attended my first ABBY AWARDS. An aspiring, starry-eyed copywriter, I watched as hotshot creative teams strode up on stage to claim their awards, even as their agencies lustily cheered them on. At that time, I swore that I would be part of this industry too and maybe, just maybe, do the dream walk up to the stage.

March 2004:

6 years and 3 agencies later, a good bit of stardust had flown out of my eyes. I had realized my dream of being part of the industry. Two international awards made my resume look respectable. But then, for various reasons, I took the side exit. The Abbies weren't the annual high point that they once used to be. In fact, in the last year or two, they'd become only an excuse to catch up with friends and with the going-ons in advertising.

Still, there was a wee bit of anticipation when I headed for ABBY 2004. An ad that Art Partner and I had worked on 1 ½ year ago had been nominated. Thinking about it made me nervous, so I focused on all the familiar faces around. "Hiiii Albert… Hey Padhi…. Sangs, we must catch up… Rads, how've you beeeen!…" My head swiveled furiously as I spotted old colleagues and friends.

At the entrance, the sponsors handed us goodie bags with colourful cushions. "How thoughtful of them to think of my hemorrhoids!", someone quipped and we cracked up. Well, after all these were people who wrote one-liners for a living!

My friends and I bagged seats right in front of one of the giant screens. The comperes, Rakshanda Khan and Kunal Vijaykar, started off with some terribly lame jokes. A cardinal rule for comperes at ad shows - unless it's superlative, never never attempt humour. The cynical, jaded, chip-on-shoulder ad folk are especially unforgiving of forced humour. Two years ago when Shobha De breezily drawled, "Print advertising is seriousssssly sexy," the wags at the back hollered, "Shobha maushi, gappa bas." (loose translation: Shuddup auntie!) No sacred cows in advertising, for sure!

Another hilarious candid camera moment: Before the awards, the camera zoomed in on the current poster-boy (man?) of Indian Advertising, Piyush Pandey. Unaware of being in the crosshairs, he thrust a finger into the side of his mouth and tried to wrest that elusive bit of spinach from his teeth. Here was THE face of Indian advertising, the President of the 2004 Cannes Jury, scooping out his cavities with obvious relish. The audience watched in horror and disgust and then broke into hysterical laughter. Eeeew!

The evening was filled with a few other mirthful moments. Each time the agency, RMG David, went up to collect an award, they handed a foil-wrapped gift to the bemused presenter. By the end of the evening, everyone wanted to know exactly what was inside!

Some of the early winners - Axe, Cadbury's, Colgate, and…. Our Lady of Fatima's Church! An indication that ad folk might run out of brands, but never out of ideas!

And then the compere announced the award category that I'd been trying not to think of all evening. A loud pounding began in the region of my chest as the compere boomed, "And the nominees are…" There were six nominees including our ad. The voice in my head said, NOT A CHANCE. And I squeezed my eyes shut.

"There's a joint silver in this category. And the first joint silver goes to…"

My eyes flashed open and I gawked at the screen. OH-MY-GOD! Up on the screen was my name along with Art Partner's. And with a shock I realized we had to go up and collect OUR ABBY! That was the last thought before my mind went blank.

Like a bunch of bumbling robots, Art Partner and I did the dream walk in slow motion. Slow, because of her 7-month pregnancy and my knocking knees. Gosh, it was bright when we reached the stage. I was only dimly aware that EVERYONE was watching us. I can't remember who handed us the award, but he smiled very warmly and congratulated us. We weren't sure what to do next. Thankfully, there are no acceptance speeches at the Abbies, or else we'd have looked like blithering idiots. We walked off in a daze with goofy grins.

"Lee please hold the trophy,"
Art Partner requested weakly. I belatedly realized that she was finding it difficult to hold the trophy and negotiate the steps. The 'man with outstretched arms' was surprisingly heavy, but very very huggable!

For a while after that, I couldn't concentrate on the ceremony. People all around were shaking my hand or calling up or sending sms. The nicest one from Art Partner herself, "I always knew we were good together." In fact, the award couldn't have come at a better time. With me unsure about getting back into mainstream advertising and she, with Baby No. 1 on the way, it would be a while until Abby No. 2.

It was an O&M show all through, just like it's been for the last few years. Somebody SHOULD bottle their incredible success formula!

Post-awards, there were more congratulations in store. There was no need to visit the overcrowded bar, we were on a high all through. My friends laughed when they saw me with an armful of the Abby brochures. One, for each member of the family, I joked. Actually that brochure contained our only proof of winning, since the trophy would go to the agency, and the Ad Club didn't give out certificates.

I went home reliving every moment of the evening. For just a few hours, I was once again that starry eyed copywriter of 6 years ago.

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