Adman Sumanto Chattopadhyay discusses his creative journey and rewinds 'The Good Times'

Adman Sumanto Chattopadhyay discusses his creative journey and rewinds 'The Good Times'

Sumo, as he is fondly known, talks about his life at Ogilvy, 82.5 Communications and so much more

Sumanto Chattopadhyay

Mumbai: One can’t match his English skills and the research that he puts into defining every idiom, metaphor, and phrase with so much ease unless you are a walking-talking-living version of a Thesaurus yourself! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about the much-proclaimed ‘The English Nut’ aka long-haired Sumanto Chattopadhyay (also fondly known as Sumo by his advertising fellow mates).

Very recently, Sumo (as I address him as well because I have known him since I started writing about the advertising and marketing segment in 2006), who had been holding the fort at 82.5 Communications as chairman and chief creative officer for the last five years, hung up his boots. He had been associated with the Ogilvy group for 30 years.

At 5:30 p.m. on his last day at the agency, 30 September, Sumo was asked to unveil a book. To his surprise, it turned out to be a comic book called “Fearless Sumanto.” It was created by 82.5 Communications' co-chief creative officer Mayur Varma with inputs from many colleagues at the agency. It brings to life a few incidents that reveal facets of Sumo’s personality and working style. Guess, Varma just thought that turning Sumo into a comic-book superhero would be a nice tribute to him.

With an MBA from McGill University, Montreal (Canada), Sumo began his career in advertising at Response in Kolkata, in 1990. After a short stint of two years, his tryst with Ogilvy began. After joining the agency in Kolkata, he moved to the Mumbai office in a couple of years. He climbed up the various rungs to the creative director position – in those early days, becoming a creative director was a really big deal. A few people made it to that level. It took him a long time to get there. In those days, there wasn’t the so-called ‘designation inflation’ that we see now.

Sumo was finally pronounced executive creative director of South Asia at Ogilvy where he spent 25 years before he donned the hat of chairman and chief creative officer at WPP’s Soho Square in 2017, which was later rebranded to 82.5 Communications in 2019.

A man with a creative predisposition, he has dabbled in various forms of art from modelling to acting and also has an alter ego which he is famous for on social media – The English Nut. The English Nut is a celebrated video work of English idioms, metaphors, synonyms, phrases, etc., by Sumo wherein he decodes the English language in a simple manner, more in the form of educational content. He scripts, produces and enacts in these videos. The English Nut will take the form of a book soon!

Sumo has been bestowed with national and international recognition at Cannes, the Clios, the One Show, the London Festival, the Abbies and Kyoorius, and has been privileged to work with some of the best and most influential brands in the country.

Sumo in a conversation with, discusses his experience of setting up 82.5 Communications (previously known as Soho Square), his three-decade-long journey with the Ogilvy group, his mentors at the agency, The English Nut and so much more.

Edited excerpts:

On his 30 years at Ogilvy

One of the things that attracted me to advertising was the casual dress code, especially for creative people. But I took it a step further and started wearing shorts to work. It was not a done thing in those days. I remember one of my seniors asked me if I found the weather exceptionally hot. And once, I was stopped from entering the Hindustan Unilever (HUL) office. The security guard called my client and said a ‘chaddiwala’ had come to meet him. My client had to come down and get me in! It's these kinds of incidents and memories that make it fun to look back at the past.

On the brands and campaigns, he worked at Ogilvy which are dear to his heart

I worked on a lot of HUL brands—Dove, Pond’s, Lakmé, Sunlight, Comfort, etc. In the early days, the Ogilvy office was at Churchgate and the HUL office was a short walk away. Because I worked on so many of their brands, their office became a second home. Years later both companies relocated to the suburbs and we were relatively close to each other again.

I have also worked on brands like Maharashtra Tourism, Diu Tourism, Star Plus and The Economist—which have required me to wear completely different kinds of creative caps.

On even though it is the same group, what is it that made him switch from Ogilvy to 82.5 Communications (the erstwhile Soho Square)

It was the challenge of trying to make a success of a new entity that made me take up the 82.5 role. And the realisation that hit me was that while I was at Ogilvy a large part of the status that I enjoyed among clients was because of the Ogilvy aura surrounding me. Though 82.5 was an Ogilvy company, it had to prove itself on its merit. As its chief creative officer, the same principle applied to me. This lesson made me a little humbler and wiser.

On the thoughts and goals of putting 82.5 Communications in place

82.5 degrees east is the longitude of Indian Standard Time. We gave ourselves this name because we were going to work mostly with Indian brands. Also, as our slogan says, we are about ‘ingenious Indian ideas’.

On the memorable brands and campaigns that he worked on at 82.5 Communications

The most famous campaign by 82.5 is the one for Bisleri. I have been closely involved with the work on Himalaya, LAVA, Ghadi, Slice and Havells among others. I also enjoyed working on the branding of 82.5 itself.

On his experience in the advertising industry and movie business

I’ve lived and breathed advertising for all these years. It’s been an exciting profession to be a part of. I think there was more room for having fun back in the day. Or maybe I just feel that way because I’m older. Perhaps the youngsters of today are having as much or more fun. One should ask them!

I love acting too and I have done a bit of theatre and acted in a few films over the years. But I can’t say I know much about the movie business. Though as a viewer I can see that OTT has transformed the kind of movies and serials being made; it has broadened tastes. There’s a lot more diversity in what’s hitting the screens today.

On how he has seen the advertising industry take shape in the last three decades

It was all about TV, print and radio when I started. Print is something that has experienced a great decline - not just in terms of the money spent on it but also in terms of the ideation going into it. Today you still see full-page ads - so it means that money is being spent on the medium in spurts - but the ads are usually tactical or offer-led and often don’t have a creative soul.

Coming to digital, while some people may feel that it’s only about algorithms and data, I think that the future will show that it is only when these things are combined with a great idea that you will have breakthrough communication. You don’t even have to wait for the future. Cadbury's Diwali communication with Shahrukh Khan (SRK) has demonstrated it beautifully. Ogilvy India chief creative officer Sukesh Nayak, who was a key player behind this campaign, used to be a key player in my team. I’m proud of his work.

On his mentors at Ogilvy and 82.5 Communications

Piyush Pandey is a mentor for the entire Ogilvy group. At 82.5 the other person who played a special role as a mentor to us is Madhukar Sabnavis—the man who initiated and developed the planning function in the Ogilvy system. There are others as well—Zenobia Pithawalla, Hephzibah Pathak, VR Rajesh, Prem Narayan, Sujoy Roy, Mayur Varma to name a few who have always been there for me.

On the reason for his retirement from the Ogilvy group and what is that he seeks after this

I’ve had three wonderful decades with Ogilvy. It’s time to explore the world beyond it. I am waiting to find out what new adventures are there around the corner.

On the story behind ‘The English Nut’

The English Nut started as a ‘side’ hustle in 2019. But it has become a special part of my life. It has received a lot of love from the people who follow it. I would like it to continue for as long as possible.

About the book, somewhere along the way a publisher discovered ‘The English Nut’ and asked me to write a book along similar lines. I started writing the book a while back but could not finish it because of work commitments. I hope to complete the book in the next few months.

On whether we will get to see more of him in the movies and his plans

R Balki, Pradeep Sarkar, Shoojit Sircar, Amit Sharma, Anvita Dutt, Juhi Chaturvedi, Kopal Naithani and all the other directors who know me from advertising—I’m waiting for them to cast me!

On his favourite memories of his stay at Ogilvy and 82.5 Communications

The years have been punctuated by some wonderful events. I played David Ogilvy in one such event. In another event, I played the Love Guru. Getting to interact with colleagues informally on these occasions, revealing other aspects of our personality, helped strengthen the bonds. It’s the strength of these bonds that made me want to stay all these years.

On the learnings that he carries further with him

For me, it’s always about the people. And it’s about loyalty. I hope I have been loyal to those I value. Because there is nothing I value more.