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Brand guru’s Bengal bond

Branding legend Wally Olins, who was appointed by the erstwhile Left Front government in its final months to create a brand identity for Bengal, died on Monday. He was 83.

The official website of the former head of Ogilvy and Mathers in India said he died after a short illness.

Olins, who successfully positioned several cities, including London for the 2012 Olympics, and branded Spain, Poland and Rio de Janeiro, had been tasked with providing a boost to the battered image of Bengal in 2010.

Then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had turned to Olins, who was responsible for rebranding British Telecom into BT and also worked for other global giants like Renault, Volkswagen and Tata, “to create a brand idea and brand identity for the state of West Bengal”.

Easily recognised by his trademark round glasses, Olins had made a number of visits to the city in 2010 and 2011, first as a guest speaker and subsequently as chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants.

“The perceptions of Bengal in India and in the world do not align with the reality. We have to change that because the reality is much more dynamic than it once was,” Olins had told Metro in Calcutta in October 2010, shortly after he took over the assignment of branding Bengal.

As part of a branding plan overseen by Olins, the third last letter of the Bengali alphabet, Unoshwar, became Brand Bengal’s emblem and “Shobar Bangla (everyone’s Bengal) ” its catchline.

For the brief period between 2010 and 2011 (till the Trinamul Congress came to power) that Olins was engaged with the state, he was nothing short of a star to the advertising community in the city.

Anurag Hira, who had the opportunity to watch him speak in Calcutta in 2010, described him as the “last of the living legends”.

“I consider myself fortunate to have attended an evening with this brand(ing) guru, (courtesy Harsh Neotia), wherein he left me impressed with his in-your-face, impish sense of humour and distinct style,” said Hira, who runs One by One Designs Pvt Ltd.

Olins, who spent five years in Mumbai in the late 1950s and early ’60s as head of marketing, advertising and PR agency Ogilvy & Mather, founded Wolff Olins with Michael Wolff in 1965. He sold it in 1997 and set up Saffron Brand Consultants in 2001.

Admen in the city recalled that his image in the global advertising community was that of a man who would tell his clients the truth as he’d see it, and whose opinions were laced with charm. “My most vivid memory is of my 43rd birthday in 2008, when I received a personalised, autographed copy of his (Olins’s) distinct yellow and black Brand Handbook, courtesy an ex-client and a very dear friend,” said Hira.

According to senior advertising professional, Bhupal Ramnathkar, Olins was among the few who actually commanded the title of a “brand guru”.

“The most important lesson I learnt from his work was that branding goes beyond creating a logo. It is also about creating a lasting identity,” said Ramnathkar, the founder of Mumbai-based Umbrella Design.

What does Wally Olins mean to you? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com