Book Review: ‘Don’t Forget 2004’ by Jayshree M Sundar

There’s something very satisfying about the story of David versus Goliath. Perhaps because most human beings see themselves as the David, opposed to the Goliath forces of big business, government, environment, bureaucracy – all of which carry more weight than a David can dream of. . It’s still an inspiring tale because it gives the common man hope that he can prevail against overwhelming odds and power, armed only with skill, intention, and the clever use of his resources. It is also something that every marketer and business owner dreams of. Recreating David’s victory, with limited resources used effectively against a big and powerful competitor, happens but rarely in his career and is a memory to be savored and shared.

Jayshree M Sundar’s ‘Don’t Forget 2004’ tells a similar story, with a twist. A once all-powerful political party has been brought to its knees by electoral losses for 10 years, with tiny funds. The media and public intellectuals wrote it off. A spirit of apathy and worse, a feeling that they cannot win, has begun to overtake some party workers. The ghost of defeat floats in the party offices.

Meanwhile, a midsize ad agency searches for its turnaround story. Although it is a well-established multinational, it has not made its mark in the Delhi market. His Delhi boss and the team hired to turn his fortunes around are fiery, smart, and determined to recover if given a chance. But they’re up against a slew of Goliaths in the form of large, well-established agencies that have built up tremendous reputations over the years.

The meeting of two Davids, both looking for redemption, and how they prevailed against a Goliath who had seemingly endless funds, a media juggernaut and polls that suggested they were invincible, is fascinating. The story of the 2004 election campaigns, with India Shining versus the Aam Aadmi is one that many of us have seen firsthand. For those who lived through those years, the behind-the-scenes look at what happened is even more fascinating.

The twists and turns of the company’s victory itself could have made a book, with the classic pitch expected to be ready in seven days. But once the deal is won, the task of delivering what is requested, within impossible deadlines, is just as exciting. How an ad agency with all of its inherent madness and contempt for hierarchy, wrestles with a client rooted in a seemingly old-fashioned hierarchical and stilted way of working. How agency and client created a ‘jugalbandi’ that worked like a charm. The many big and small decisions that brought the campaign to life, the surprises and shocks that popped up out of nowhere are all described in great detail.

Jayshree Sundar tells the story with great panache, with a blow-by-blow narrative that feels like a thriller. We get an intimate look at some of India’s well-known political figures and the decision-making at that level. We understand how leadership works, the flowers and thorns along the path of leaders, and some of the intricacies a female leader must contend with. We get a masterclass in branding and marketing, from research that identifies consumer insight to how it’s used to bring campaign thought to life, to how to meticulously execute a staggering complexity. And all of this in an undeniable narrative.

This book is a must read not only for students of business, marketing, politics or contemporary history, but also for anyone who loves great stories.

Reviewed by Priyadarshini Narendra

Priyadarshini Narendra is a management professional with over 25 years of experience in advertising, media, research and consulting.