2 Minutes With ... Vaishnav Balasubramaniam and Sonali Ranjit, Creators of WindowSwap
Vaishnav Balasubramaniam is a copywriter who has worked in Bangalore, Delhi, Shanghai and Singapore at agencies including Ogilvy, McCann and DDB. He joined Leo Burnett Singapore in 2018 as associate creative director. Outside of advertising, he has built motorcycles and bicycles, sung and produced music for Bollywood, hugged a lot of animals and drank a lot of whiskey.
Sonali Ranjit is an interactive art director and Hyper Island alum who recently joined Ogilvy Singapore as associate creative director from BLKJ Singapore. Prior to this, she worked for Fred & Farid, AKQA, Lowe and DDB—in San Francisco, Shanghai and Bangalore—for brands including Nike, Google, Audi, Target, HP, Absolut, Budweiser, Tata and Unilever.
During the thick of the lockdown in Singapore, the married couple created WindowSwap, a way to change window views with people from around the world. What began with 16 window views from friends has grown to more than 20,000 submissions from over 150 countries.
We spent two minutes with Vaishnav and Sonali to learn more about their backgrounds, their creative inspirations, and recent work they've admired.
Vaishnav and Sonali, tell us…
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
- Vaishnav: I grew up in Ooty, a small town or hill station in the south of India. Now, I live in Singapore.
- Sonali: I grew up in Chennai, bounced about from Bangalore, Stockholm, San Francisco, Shanghai and then to Singapore, where we live now.
How you first realized you were creative.
- Vaishnav: I got into a band as a singer when I was 15. I loved covering popular songs my own way—adding my own little twists to the vocals and lyrics. The audience loved it. I eventually ended up making music for Bollywood.
- Sonali: Creativity has been a part of my life ever since I could remember in some shape or form. At age 11, I was putting out a monthly parody magazine with my bestie, which is funnily enough also when I created my first (parody) ad.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
- Vaishnav: Michael Jackson.
- Sonali: Harriet the Spy.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
- Vaishnav: When I was studying to be a photojournalist in college, I used to work as a part-time stringer for some national dailies. During my final year, I happened to cover a very important anti-government protest and sent my story to one of the top and highly respected newspapers of India. They bought it. But what eventually ran was nothing close to the truth—the photos were doctored and the copy was rewritten to suit the government's needs. I lost faith and decided to join advertising. I thought at least here my ideas had a chance to come to life in their truest form. And the pay was infinitely better.
- Sonali: Just going to Hyper Island in Stockholm changed my life in many ways.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
- Vaishnav: Chris Cornell.
- Sonali: The musician Joy Crookes. I love how she weaves together her Bangladeshi heritage with British street fashion and culture. And Tyler Mitchell because of the fresh new perspectives he is bringing to the staid world of fashion through photography.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
Your favorite fictional character.
Someone or something worth following in social media.
- Vaishnav: Web Curios. It's a newsletter. But it's one of our favorite things on the internet.
- Sonali: @watchingnewyork for some incredible, inclusive, envy-inducing street fashion. @Shanghaiobserved for some everyday Shanghai magic.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
- Vaishnav: The pandemic changed my life for the better both personally and professionally. I am one of those lucky few who walked away unscathed. Yes, my mental health took a massive hit, and yes, it was mad hard adjusting to the new way of life. But the creation of WindowSwap saved me (us) from all of it. And as a bonus, I got really fit after a very long time of being supremely unhealthy. I've never been more thankful in my whole life.
- Sonali: We've been luckier than most to have WindowSwap tide us through a rough time. Moderating all those windows either gives you perspective, peace or a rush of serotonin.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
- Vaishnav: WindowSwap with my wife Sonali. Because it is the simplest yet most powerful creative project I've ever worked on. Because it made us famous across the globe. Because it turned us into startup entrepreneurs. Because it will be remembered forever. Because it changed our lives!
- Sonali: Same!
A recent project you're proud of.
- Vaishnav: A TV commercial we did for Olay India called "Meena." The only thing that makes me happier than winning an award is getting clients to do cool shit on day-to-day briefs. With "Meena," we managed to do just that. We created a kind of TVC for a beauty brand that had never been done before in the region. Apart from the 34+ million views it has on YouTube, "Meena" was also chosen as one of the best Women's Day campaigns of 2020 in India.
- Sonali: We made a cute little animated TVC for the Ministry of Education Singapore posing the question: "Ever wondered if curiosity could teach the cat instead?"
- Sonali: Lacoste's "The Big Leap."
Someone else's work you admired lately.
- Vaishnav: Boards Of Change. It is the simplest yet most powerful idea I've ever seen. It toppled a government. It actually created a real shift in mentality and brought about massive human change.
- Sonali: I loved the Dutchmill's "Sponsor of Mom-and-Pop Shops" campaign. Thai ads blow my mind with their crazy ideas topped only by their even crazier executions.
Your main strength as a creative person.
- Vaishnav: Caring about what I do, and doing what I care about.
- Sonali: A feeling of never being good enough, which drives me to push myself twice as hard.
Your biggest weakness.
- Vaishnav: Jack Russells.
- Sonali: Candy.
One thing that always makes you happy.
- Vaishnav: Coming up with great ideas.
- Sonali: My grandmother's food.
One thing that always makes you sad.
- Vaishnav: Seeing a great idea and wondering why I didn't I think of it.
- Sonali: Seeing a good idea go through rounds of changes and coming out butchered and/or unrecognizable.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
- Vaishnav: Singing for some band in an empty bar.
- Sonali: An architect!