Confessions of an advertising man - MARKETING Magazine Asia


Confessions of an advertising man

A tale of redemption, forgiveness and life-frailties

By The Hammer

When I first met Suresh Dharan he was a young bright-eyed talkative account executive in top local ad agency Idris & Associates. He was unstoppable and had a bad ass attitude towards mediocrity, much like our boss Idris himself.

For those who meet him for the first time will go away thinking he is a savvy used car salesman who had a mouth to match. Even his swag was a mix of hip hop, be bop or whatever pops to mind.

While his “roll up your sleeves, in your face demeanour” was too jarring for some, one thing was for sure. He was the man from the winning team.

He had the street creds and cojones to gangsta-spin a strategy leaving clients with a clear Yes/No option on the table.

Anyway, this is a story of his trials and tribulations over the past decade as an award-winning strategic planner who fought a prison term, cancer scare and even a stroke.

In 2012, Suresh worked in a large ad agency in Jakarta handling the regional Philip Morris International business where he helped move Marlboro’s market share significantly in a few years.

All was going well for him.

He says he even published a Brand Equity guide for Coca-Cola Asia in a strategy pitch.

But the dark side of Jakarta got the better of him and in late 2016 was caught with 0.5 gram of meth on his person by Polda – Indonesian police.

“I always thought I had a strong mind but prison broke me. You cannot fight them because they write the law, I used my own money to buy meds for those who needed it but couldn’t afford, and food for those who needed it.”

This happened a few days before he was about to take on a regional role with Grey Vietnam on the British American Tobacco (BAT) business.

But instead Suresh spent 3 days and nights in a small lockup hole begging for his life. And that was only the beginning. It was jail next, and life was no more in his hands.

He shares, “I always thought I had a strong mind but prison broke me. You cannot fight them because they write the law, I used my own money to buy meds for those who needed it but couldn’t afford, and food for those who needed it.”

Relating in Indonesian Rupiah, he lists the things he had to get his family and friends to pay for him….

“Rp4million to get a cell, 8 inmates in a cell pay Rp100K each for grill bars to open from 9am-1pm and another Rp100k each to open doors from 2pm-7pm.”

According to the letter of the law, his punishment was supposed to be 6 months in re-hab. But all that flew out the window very quickly. He was already in the company of murderers, rapists, drug addicts, robbers…

From his paid cell in Cipinang he was sent to Central Jakarta’s overcrowded Salemba Penitentiary, filled with illicit drug trade and inmates struggling to fulfill basic needs.

“The cell had a pharmacy for selling methamphetamine.

A salesperson walked around to offer meth and marijuana to inmates in the Adaptation Room which had about 400 inmates occupying a 20-square-meter space with two toilets.”

According to Justice Monitoring Coalition, Indonesia’s prisons and detention centers held up to 270,466 inmates as of March this year, about 104% above their capacity of 132,335 prisoners.

“We had to tilt our bodies just so we could sleep,” says Suresh. “It was hell until I heard of a vacancy in the prison hospital, so I paid Rp5million and moved there under the Tuberculosis (TB) programme.”

Anyway, after a long a series of life-threatening mishaps, ordeals, mind-boggling courtroom manoeuvres and transfers, Suresh was finally released on Sep 27, 2018 after spending two years behind bars.

He returned home to Malaysia a month later a broken man, but still in fighting spirit.

He learnt his lesson and says, “While we create brands and suggest people love them and have a relationship with them, I spent years in a world where people just want to live to see tomorrow. You can lose anything but when you lose hope all is lost.”

Many readers are probably wondering why am I writing this story.

Well, this is a reminder that life is a renewal each day and forgiveness is a blessing that sets us free.

“While we create brands and suggest people love them and have a relationship with them, I spent years in a world where people just want to live to see tomorrow. You can lose anything but when you lose hope all is lost.”

I am also grateful to be able to write about a friend who went to hell and back and lives to share his story with me.

I want to thank the agencies who gave Suresh another shot at life (you know who you are). Salute.

Suresh suffered a stroke on Christmas Day last year, but he is the same person I knew many years back.

Bush whacked, but still bushy tailed.

As he says, “It made me realise that it’s easier planning for business targets in the office versus planning how to survive in prison.”

After a failed marriage, Suresh is now engaged to start life anew. 

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