Interview with Justin Rabindra, acclaimed photographer and Former Vice President, Training & Knowledge Management, Ogilvy

Justin Rabindra

Justin Rabindra talks about the role of visual memory in brand building; the noise on social media and how adversiting still pays or pays off..

Do you see any synergies between your years in advertising and your current passion/profession?

Yes, advertising is a very visual business and my early influence has been from the business as an account management person when I accompanied and supervised shoots with people like Pradeep Dasgupta, Akash Das, Adrian Steven and others.

At a less obvious level, while there a several technically fine images out there, I judge a good image by its ability to move me emotionally. This is something that can’t be taught and I believe I acquired this skill from many years of working in a visually rich industry like advertising.

At it’s most obvious, when I shoot a product for a client, I try to communicate (or sell) without words, and that’s definitely a synergy that exists with the ol’ industry.

How important is visual representation for brands? Do you think Indian brands are cognizant of its importance?

It’s extremely important. Indian advertising and marketing people learnt that early on in the evolution of the business, in large part because a significant portion of the Indian market is semiliterate or illiterate and depend on visual cues to recognize and decide on brands.

Thanks to Facebook and other social networking sites, every one wants to be projected as a celebrity- most importantly through pictures. What sort of opportunity do you see for personal branding in the future?

That’s so true. Like a joke that goes around on Facebook, ‘Are people’s lives really as amazing as they make it out to be on Facebook?’ A lot of what’s happening on social media is just noise, the equivalent of a offline brand that blasts media with overkill because they have the budget. Consumers in the offline world were intelligent enough to filter out the chaff for the wheat. Similarly the online audience takes branding activities online with a pinch of salt. The beauty of it is that the truly beautiful brands, the ones that succeed do so despite less advertising frequency (or eyeballs or pageviews) and less strategic behavior because if the brand has talent it will eventually leak out for the world to see and admire, despite having a smaller budget than their giant rivals.

How can photography contribute to branding- corporate or individual?

Visual memory is a lot more enduring than the other kind. For several products the image in an appropriate context tells a more evocative story than any advertising created by an agency. Jeremy Bullmore said, ‘Brands are built the way birds build nests. With scraps and straws they happen upon.‘ Photographs are those scraps and straws. They could be taken professionally or they could be random, casually shot images taken on an iPhone. They add up. Conversely, photographs can also damage a brand. That’s the beauty of social media. It’s no more in the marketer’s control anymore.

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