Sonal Dabral is many things – Film Director/ Creative Consultant/ Former Chief Creative Officer Ogilvy South and South East Asia/ IAA Creative Leader of the Year. Somewhere along the way he ran the Ogilvy offices in KL and Singapore and put them on the world map.
Some of the fondest experiences I’ve had with Sonal is when he single-handedly created and directed some award-winning TVCs for my Malaysian Creative Circle (MC2) Awards:
A creative consultant based in Mumbai, Sonal is the former Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy South and Southeast Asia. He recently went independent to pursue his love for long form storytelling, writing and film direction. Deeply passionate about advertising, blackjack and single malts, Sonal was born in India and studied Visual Communication at the National Institute of Design. Over a 30-year career, Sonal led agencies to global creative glory in three different markets across Asia.
He is also passionate about teaching and mentoring young creative talent and is a visiting faculty at some of the top institutes in India. He has been a coach at LIA’s prestigious LIAisons mentorship programme and has also been a mentor twice at the ‘See it Be it’ programme at Cannes Lions.
A jack of all trades, in an earlier avatar Sonal has been a favourite TV host on prime time television. In November 2017, Sonal also debuted as a playwright when a play written by him was staged in Singapore. Sonal has just finished directing his first feature film. Based on Twinkle Khanna’s original story ‘Salaam Noni Appa’ this film will see Sonal debut as a feature film director this year.
A popular speaker, Sonal has starred at major festivals and events and other speaking engagements across the globe. Sonal has been invited to speak at the LIA Conversations Las Vegas, Rebels and Rulers conference in Bucharest, Dubai Lynx, Kancil Fest Kuala Lumpur, Spikes in Singapore and Ad Stars Fest in Busan, Korea, amongst others.
He once successfully woke up a sleepy audience in Taiwan by singing an impromptu Bollywood song during a seminar. Sonal’s is also a respected jury member and has judged or chaired almost every major international and regional awards show including LIA, Cannes Lions, D&AD, the One Show, the ANDYs and Spikes Asia.
He was named the Direct Lions Jury President for Cannes Lions 2020!
What have you been up to over the last year?
First, my directorial debut in feature film was keeping me busy. It was an exhilarating experience. Though I love advertising but I loved the freedom of telling a long form story more. The film is now over and will see a release on OTT in the next 2-3 months.
Over the last year, I’ve also been focusing on various advertising projects, collaborating with different teams, and continuing to develop ideas for my next feature.
Do you miss working in advertising and in Malaysia?
Without a doubt, I miss working in advertising and being in Malaysia. Malaysia was the first place where I ever worked out of India. People here are so warm they immediately made me feel at home. I put together a small, brilliant and very motivated team and we created path breaking work to become one of the top 15 creative offices not only in Ogilvy but in the whole of WPP. Malaysia feels like a second home to me: the vibrant creativity and warm people make me feel welcome, and you can’t better street food anywhere in the world.
Where do you see the creative compass pointing for ad people?
The creative compass for ad people seems to be pointing towards more personalised and immersive experiences, embracing technology, and creating content that resonates deeply with the audience. We need to be also more agile and more creative than ever.
What do you wish to impart at your workshop in KL on Sept 20?
I aim to impart practical insights on harnessing creativity, nurturing collaboration, and adapting to the evolving landscape of advertising. Based on my experience and lessons in creative thinking that worked for me. I have a bagful of examples to share. Some really enjoyable group exercises. Am really looking forward to it as I love meeting new people and to share all I have learnt over the years in three different markets. It will also be a great learning experience for me.
What advice do you have for creative people?
Never sit still. A creative mind should never ever rest. This is what I’d like to tell all creative people. My advice is to stay curious, push boundaries, collaborate across disciplines, and never stop learning. Love humanity because that’s what gives you fresh perspectives. Also don’t be afraid to fail. Just as a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, a journey of a thousand smiles starts with a grumpy failed face!
Is there still such a thing as a Big Idea, in a social space peppered by a million headlines?
Despite the constant influx of media and diminishing attention span, the Big Idea still holds its significance. The only difference is you could now call it a big unifying idea under which you could light a hundred little fires so the audience is not only engaged but is always receiving a coherent and cohesive message.
You led Ogilvy Malaysia and Singapore to global fame during your time in this region. Any advice how Malaysia can regain its footing on the global creative stage?
Malaysia can regain its global creative stature by fostering a culture of experimentation, investing in emerging talent, nurturing local narratives, and fostering collaborations on a global scale.
Is there a method to the Power of Creative Thinking?
The Power of Creative Thinking involves embracing ambiguity, seeking diverse influences, and allowing ideas to incubate. Trust the process and create an environment where unconventional thinking thrives.
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