Frank Simoes: An advertising legend and a self-made man
August 30, 2002
When I started out as a rookie reporter with a Kolkata-based business daily, Frank Simoes was an already an advertising legend. Having started his own agency in 1970 when he moved out of Ogilvy & Mather with the Raymond's account, he was one of the biggest names in Indian advertising.
Those days, my main reporting beat was the capital market, but I also covered advertising as a peripheral beat, mainly because it fascinated me and nobody else in the Mumbai office was very interested in the subject.
I never met Frank Simoes in those days, although no discussion on advertising was possible without a mention of his creative genius or the budding powerhouses of talent at Ravi Gupta's Trikaya and Arun Nanda's Rediffusion.
Simoes's campaign for Raymond's, and his 'Guide to the well dressed man' created history with its advertorial message and strong creative. But the growth of Frank Simoes Advertising seemed directly proportional to the furious pace set by it other two big accounts - Reliance's Vimal textiles and the Taj Group of Hotels.
Frank Simoes had crafted those gorgeous visuals that said 'A woman expresses herself in many languages, Vimal is one of them' and ended with the slogan 'Only Vimal.' In wasn't until much later that Reliance became far better known than its Vimal brand.
It was the same with the Taj. When Frank took on the account, it was a single hotel, but Ajit Kerkar's dynamism grew it into an international chain of 40 hotels by the time Frank was ready to give it all up.
Naturally, the advertising agency grew with the hotel chain and helped promote tourism and show case new destinations along the way.
His other memorable campaigns included an erotic advertisement for Liberty Shirts that probably sent sales soaring, and the BOAC (now British Airways) campaign that went 'Peel me a grape, treat me good, the BOAC way.'
Curiously, it was at the height of his commercial success that Frank Simoes discovered Goa and decided to chuck it all up in favour of the seaside paradise. His decision made waves in the industry.
Initially, he had planned to spend half his time in Goa and the rest at the agency in Mumbai, but those who knew him, predicted that his heart was no longer in running the business. It was already in Goa.
He built a beautiful home called Rockheart near the beach at Candolim and plunged himself into writing and social work. His popular book, Glad Seasons in Goa is described as 'one Goan's discovery of his idyllic native land and its passionate, inquisitive, hospitable inhabitants.' He also penned a less known biography on his friend the late V M Salgaonkar.
Soon after, he decided to close down Frank Simoes Advertising and turn into a full time writer when he was still at the peak. Having caught the fag end of the 1960s creative burst when many of his peers - including Bal Mundkur (set up Ulka), Nargis Wadia (Interpub), Kersey Katrak (Mass Communication and Marketing), Ayaz Peerbhoy (Marketing and Advertising Associates) and Sylvester daCunha (ASP) - were setting up new advertising ships, he had already created a permanent place for himself in the Advertising Hall of Fame.
He had also become the youngest member of the board at Bensons and was included in the Hall of Fame of Creative Arts Guild.
Little did I know that I would meet Frank Simoes nearly 15 years after my cub reporter days - long after he had wound up his agency and I had little to do with advertising.
I met Simoes at the launch of (Outlook magazine editor) Vinod Mehta's book and he said that we must meet up for a chat. Apparently, we have something in common after all - not advertising, or writing, but the capital market.
A few days after we met, he surprised me by calling and we caught up for a long lunch over which we discussed mundane issues such as the Unit Trust of India debacle, the dead IPO (initial public offering) market, the frequent scams and how Indian investors had very little protection against unscrupulous industrialists.
Simoes was also worried that the fall in interest rates was dealing a body blow to savers like him whose retirement was based on their interest income.
We had decided to meet every month or so. He cancelled one meeting because he was unwell, and I had thought it was an attack of asthma. I had no idea that he was ill enough to be snatched away so soon.
Over one of those lunches, I discovered that he did not use the Net and immediately launched into my usual hardsell to get him to discover a whole new world of information in cyberspace. He smiled wryly and said that his only connection with the Net was through his daughter.
And no, he said, he didn't really think he would write faster or better on a computer. "Don't you know that I was a typist before I got into advertising? Fortunately, I still have a good speed and don't need to make too many corrections when I type," he said.
Well, I didn't know, but it was clear that he took pride in his background. I then did a Web search to find out more about Frank Simoes. Unfortunately, there was very little about the man himself.
From an interview with Ervill Menezes, I discovered his rags-to-success story. "I came from a good family but we had no money for me to go to college," he had said. I also discovered that he had worked as a typist in a poky firm on Kalbadevi Road in Mumbai and later with a shipping firm as a stenographer before finding his true calling.
I read about the many rejection slips he had collected from The Times of India for rejected middles and how the first one that was finally published was on rejected middles. But I never really figured out how and when he made his switch to advertising.
In fact, I never heard from Mr Simoes again, but I had simply assumed that he had retreated to salubrious Goa, which he once described as a 'place of residence in my heart and mind.'
It was a shock when I read that he has passed away on August 25 after a long battle with cancer. And I wondered whether he already knew that he had new worlds to discover, when I was insisting that he make his acquaintance with the cyber world.