Thursday, December 07, 2006

“C-U-T!”

Sharmila Tagore ko gussa kyon aata hai? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri tunes into some interesting sound bytes from the female frat, about a TVC that aspires to be the new ‘flavour of the day!’

Sex in advertising has always been a real toughie to zip! Remember the howls and hysteria created by the Pooja Bedi-driven Kama Sutra ads a decade and a half back? And who can forget the steamy coffee ads ignited by Arbaz Khan and Malaika Arora, symbolising a killer wake-up call... and man, the orgasmic TUFF ad with sexy, toned, gorgeous Madhu Sapre and Milind Soman entwined like Adam & Eve sent a zillion hearts to the planet Venus & courts, baying for their blood!

Now comes the latest time bomb with its mouth open in the shape of censor board’s Chairperson Sharmila Tagore’s firm suggestion to both, the I&B Minister and Secretary, to immediately yank off the new XXX flavoured condoms’ TVCs (‘What is your Flavour of the night’?). Terming it as ‘tasteless and offensive’, she believes it’s ‘not meant for unrestricted viewing’ and is shocked that such an ad could be aired during such a hugely viewed event like the recently concluded ICC Championship Trophy. She was most embarrassed when people endlessly complained to her about the ad’s inappropriateness in every way. When contacted, Sutosi Batliwala (General Manager, Marketing, DKT India) was reported to have retorted that the ad was never meant to titillate or promote oral sex, but to encourage couples – in positive fashion – who appear repulsed by the smell of latex. Boy, that’s a whole new ball-game in the area of inventiveness and originality, sweets! Anyway, what do the women think? Standby for the verdict...sound bytes from the big fight...

Delhi-based film-maker Ishani Dutta thinks that the Begum is spot-on. “I think a modern, sophisticated, sensible and intelligent person like Sharmila Tagore certainly has her reasons to be browned-off and I would tend to agree with her. Forget the corny ‘India Shining’ picture constantly projected by the media, positioning India as the next global super-power; the fact is – a very large segment of our country remains hugely conservative, backward, sexually ignorant and repressed. For them, these ads will raise curiosity and unnecessary questions from kids that one can do well without.” Ishani believes that flavoured condoms (as a concept & category) cater to a very westernised, elitist and niche market and can quite easily be tapped into through focused and customised media avenue, “You don’t have to flash it on prime time and air it across popular family-oriented programmes for Chris sake. And Batliwala’s rationale for promoting the flavours is truly Woody Allen stuff... pure and unadulterated comedy!”

Newfield CEO, Esha Guha brings her very own spin. Announces the bindaas fifty-something adperson, “My take is totally on the presentation, not on morality. This is year 2006 and it’s time, the best things in life are not constantly perceived as stuff that is illegal, immoral or fattening!” On a less frivolous note, Guha reckons that the ad guys really let go a fantastic opportunity to do genuinely super creative stuff. What we see, according to her, is a very predictable, sexist and corny TVC. “In these categories, evocation and imagination should be the prime drivers. Communication celebrating suggestion rather than definition should have held centre-stage.”

Copywriter Moon Moon Dhar gives the Guha-take a miss and roots for Dutta’s viewpoint. She has no issues with the manufacturing or selling of the product (“it’s a free country, guys!”), but blitzing on primetime betrays an extremely low professional quotient. “Besides, family viewing can go for a six with a 3-year old daughter insisting that she will only have the salad if that strawberry flavoured thing is given to her! Scary, na?” Moon is confident that these flavoured condoms can quite easily be sold successfully, as OTC products at select chemist shops and up-market retail outlets. “I think more sensitivity and responsibility could have been exercised by the rubberwalas.”

Sunaina Anand, Director of Artalive Gallery, plays it cool. “Flavoured condoms are a fact of life and its dumb playing ostrich! However, since it’s sex-related, special care must be taken to ensure that it’s not depicted in a cheap or vulgar manner. As for the family viewing factor, I think most kids today know the score.” From the youth point of view, Tania Haldar, a young PR executive, believes that it’s not the morality but the depiction that is the key. “As a person who’s done time in the West, I am totally clued into the advertising agenda and not likely to be shocked easily, but yes, vulgarity and obscenity is a huge turn-off. These ads don’t toe that line. They are predictable and titillating in an obvious male-pandering way which is, I guess, what a lot of advertising is (anyway) about. No big deal.” However, she does agree with Sharmila that it should be shown only after 11 p.m. because it could, otherwise, (unnecessarily) provoke a whole lot of very uncomfortable questions.

Journo Andy Dutta doesn’t know what the fuss is all about. She believes that presentation is everything and done with truth and integrity, it establishes an instant connect with its target group. Rubbishing the family-viewing aspect as hypocritical, she believes it’s time that sex-related issue like flavoured condoms are yanked out of the closet and into the streets. “I think flashing it on prime-time was a masterstroke because it could lead to healthy debate and discussion within the family and across generations, decimating once and for all, a zillion half-baked and idiotically cock-eyed ideas on sex-related issues.”

The final words must be reserved for the amazing, bold & beautiful Perizad Zorabian. “The ad is shot in such a sensuous and stylish way that curiosity meets titillation in explosive fashion triggering seduction of the mmmm... kind. To the evolved, sophisticated and westernised, there is no reason for open-mouthed awe but for the unfamiliar and unacquainted with sexually liberated mores, it could mean a deliciously provocative, bewildering and distracting series of dots that need to be urgently filled in any which way!”

While one cannot deny that sex education is still extremely minimally provided to the Indian youth, one cannot but deny also that despite the tastefulness or tastelessness of dramatic campaigns, controversial ads in India will continue to remain, how do we put it, “controversial.” 


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Overkill?!

Are we as a nation staggering under the weight of celebrity-fatigue... or, is adland’s rollicking and roaring affair with the Bollywood brigade a part and parcel of today’s star-mad lifescape? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates.

Recently, Madison Avenue suffered a seismic shock when reports of the hot n’ glam superstar, Catherine Zeta Jones’ endorsement contract with a mobile phone company not being renewed screamed across media!

Similar shock waves followed when hi-voltage Hollywood hotties Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker’s promos for a top-of-the-line designer outfit garnered more barbed and catty criticism than customers. While Jolie earned a whopping $12 million (reportedly) from St. John Knits, the clients appeared totally turned-off at the attempts to ‘re-invent the brand’. As for Parker’s slow-burn for GAP, the target group were ‘plain annoyed’. Hi-profile Louis Vittori’s ‘return to models’ move after sampling the services of sizzlers like Jennifer Lopez and Uma Thurman adds further fuel to the fire, generating massive heat and dust, debate and discussion within and outside the ad frat, clearly indicating that all is not well with Madison Avenue and Hollywood... “It’s no longer a novelty; it’s more of a bore” and “these so-called icons are no longer held in such high esteem and regard anymore” are only two of the laconic broadsides hurled at this genre of advertising.

Back home, however, our celebs (read: Bollywood) continue to rock, forcing normal ‘models’ to roll in vague and back-of-beyond, moth-balled spaces! Think of any product line or category (household appliances, cell phones, colas, snack food, detergents, batteries, cars, fashion wear, watches; even paint and hair-oil, for chrissake!) and the star-thobda is bang-on, in place! Over-used, over-extended and frequently over-cooked, isn’t this mindless, rampaging celeb-advertising triggering celebrity-fatigue? “You betcha, brother” drawls Bangalore-based Adman, Cyrus Patel. “The volume and range of TVC’s that the Big B, (for example) alone endorses is staggering! Colas, batteries, hair-oil, paint, tonics, watches, detergents, cars, suitings, townships... where is the credibility, man? Confusion is confounded and the connect – in most cases – is zilch.” Sympathisers and fans of this genre, however, are quick to counter this accusation. They say that, unlike the West, abounding in a host of popular art-forms like music, dance, theatre and ballet, here only Cricket and Bollywood are religion, and work as guaranteed common denominators with an assured pan India connect. Also, they add, that everybody is referencing Bollywood because it’s the only in-built myth in the land that connects the state and family, rational and emotional, urban and rural, folk culture and mass culture... it places our contradictions in a well-choreographed, holistic, cinematic geography where everyone resides in a feel-good, happily-ever-after mode. Why knock it?

Fine, fine, fine say the critics, but wait a minute! If celebrity advertising is about dramatically enhancing the degree and level of connect and credibility between the consumer and the brand, shouldn’t there be (to begin with) a profile and persona compatibility between the product and star?! They point to the brilliant examples of Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi for Nike, Michael Schumacher for Ferrari, Pierce Brosnan (when he was playing 007) for BMW and Anthony Hopkins for Barclays, and now compare it to (among a zillion gems) TVCs showing Ghazal-singer Jagjit Singh hanging around in a Marc Sanitaryware land or Hema Malini championing the cause of Bank of Rajasthan and a mineral water brand...
 
Shouldn’t (they ask) the advertisers sue their brains for non-support?! At a time when even the biggest Bollywood star – loaded offerings crash and burn due to a lack of freshness, novelty and interest-value, how can clients be so dumb to presume that just getting a big star and marquee director – with zero insight, concept or storyline – will automatically ensure a million mesmerised eyeballs and top-of-the-line memorability that will be converted to a definite purchase-intent? Remember, the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife! Further, (they point) some of the most hi-profile brands – Surf, Lifebuoy, Raymond, Nokia, Hutch, Hero Honda, Pepsodent, Perfetti, Asian Paints, Bank of India, SBI – have never used celebs and yet managed to create outstanding advertising by simply leveraging the most exciting resource of all – everyday life.

In conclusion, the real reason is, gentle reader seems to lie in our ‘stars’! Beyond the very obvious reasons of a bankruptcy of ideas, creative laziness and the desire to do the instant kill, in terms of audience-connect, lies the (secret and unspoken) ‘high’ of actually rubbing shoulders with the divine, glamorous and sublime creatures who have always seduced your imagination and ignited your fantasy (be it the Big B or SRK, Aamir, Kareena or Rani, Preity, Sush or Bipasha, Saif, Ajay, Ash or Kajol) on a one-to-one basis... this unbelievable but real opportunity to connect and interact with the universally hymned and celebrated screen hunks and divas seems to invite a paralysis of the critical faculties of the smartest, brightest & sharpest of marketing mavericks.

Suddenly, their hard-nosed, professional driven-insight and focus appears to be mud, clouded by the mesmeric power of star-allure and aura! So what we get, ladies and gentlemen, is a surfeit of celeb-driven advertising – be it the re-mixed, beaten-to-pulp dialogues of Sholay or revisits to the Ajit-specific ‘Raabert’ wisecracks, even flashbacking to the Devdas-Paro cornballs, the Shahrukh–Amitabh verbal duels or (the latest) milking the Munna-Circuit lingo... or sometimes it’s just plain, riding on star aura, which (the local wit insists) manages to do only one thing certainly: Ensure that everyone (no matter how vaguely) remembers the ad while (almost definitely) forgetting the product!

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

What s ‘creativity’ gotta do with advertising?

“Everything!” insist its ardent champions. “Sweet damn –all!” declare its fire –eating detractors. So what gives? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri endeavours to decode planet earth’s most misused “C” word and place it in its right perspective.

Mohammed Khan, the distinguished, classy and brilliant Chairman of Bates-Enterprise has a hilarious take on creativity, which (he swears) took place in Act one of his illustrious advertising career. “It was” says the flamboyant and engaging raconteur par excellence, “While I was doing a stint in provincial England, where (with my gifted and spaced-out art partner) I was busy honing my skills as a copy writer and simultaneously, energetically, celebrating the good life!”.

Khan paints the scene beautifully. “The sequence was unfailingly the same. Before an important client would toddle across to our agency, we would be forewarned and quickly, get set to do our number… me, atop the cupboard, sitting, closed eyes in the lotus position and repeatedly chanting OM... with my art buddy, standing on his head. At this point, our Boss-man would enter with the client and whisper in awe-stricken fashion… ‘Creative people…trained in London…thinking …shhhhh, let’s not disturb them’ before ushering them out. It seemed to have worked amazingly well back then in the innocent sixties…” Khan’s booming laughter, recollecting those zany moments, is infectious.

Does creativity-in year 2006-still mean doing freako stuff to impress your clients, or have we matured as an industry to decode this loosely-flung “C” Word, recognise it for what it’s worth and leverage it to value-add to the job at hand?

“While I am greatly tempted to say that we haven’t really made any revolutionary turnaround from Mohammed’s blissful era, I’ll quickly avoid a tsunami and cut to the chase!” Adlands enfant terrible Prahlad Kakkar warms up before laying it on the line. “Creativity is unquestionably the Big O that drives all exciting, memorable and effective advertising. No two ways about it buddy.” The reason, he explains, is because it’s the only sure-fire way of cutting through the ‘dreaded clutter’ of soulless crap. “Cutting edge creativity decimates, destroys and renders instantly forgettable all boring stuff through the sheer power, freshness and energy of its idea. It vagaries the zombied reader/ listener / viewer into action and threatens to convert him/her into an excited and responsive customer.” Kakkar confidently asserts that creativity “guarantees a bigger bang for smaller bucks. Even, the mammoth, strategy-driven, suit-centred JWT appears to have woken up to inject a new creative temper to its blueprint. This is bound to augur well considering their overall srength.”
 
Leo Burnett’s National Creative Director, Sridhar agrees. “Creativity is critical because it provides solutions to complex problems through fresh and meaningful insights that go to make a difference.” He is quick to point out that it should not be confused with high art and culture – the rarefied Shantiniketan types – but something that functions in the commercial area of the problem-solution (DHISHOOM-DHISHOOM, COLGATE?) process focusing on the ability to deliver an exciting, memorable and effective message fusing imagination with intellect that both powers and influences the purchasing intent.

Hi-profile script-writer, poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar brings his own amazing spin to the subject. “Let’s please not put a halo around the C word or moralise! To me, creativity is old bones with a new combination. Anything that is fresh, path-breaking and original is creative and most certainly need not be wedded only to the ghisa-pita perception of high art- poetry, music, painting, dance, sculpture etc. A housewife chained to household chores can be extraordinarily creative in the way she orchestrates her daily routine. Remember, creating chaos or joy is both part of the very same creative process. Ultimately, it’s the intent that makes it soar or sink”.


Vikas Godbole however, insists on pooh-poohing the ra-ra to play Killjoy and devil’s advocate with determined vigour. “I find this whole idea of creativity in advertising ridiculous, ludicrous, pretentious… generally hilarious! It’s a delusion of grandeur at its infantile best! It’s a comforting garb however for the clever-in-halves insecure types!” The consultant to several top-flight organisations explains. “Lets face it. Forget the jargon crap for a moment-isn’t advertising about hustling through emotional manipulation murdering the C word straight away? At best, one can call it terminal cleverness- that’s not creativity by a zillion miles! Where’s the path breaking idiom that is truly Indian rooted irrevocably in the Indian psyche to create communication that resonates with the Indian sensibility alone? Where’s the empowering insight to see the consumer as a human being first, in a specific social and cultural context, allowing for the entry to his deepest motivation graph? Finally where’s the magical connect between a brand and peoples lives to make a difference? This blind and fashionable Abbeys and Cannes driven advertising is not creativity but conformity…”

Phew! Time to blow the whistle, guys. If creativity is the ability to make connections between two or more seemingly unconnected ideas where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… if the true creative animal is one who accepts no boundaries, (self created or imposed) & encourages cataclysmic evolutionary change only to swiftly demolish it for more exciting frontiers ahead; is certainly not a person in equilibrium but defiant ferment; loathes deadlines and passionately believes that the creative juices cannot be made to flow at will but only to the sound of distant and exotic drums… the advertising industry has enough candidates to qualify. So, on the one hand ,while fakes and phonies energetically play out the “ hey, I am creative” game, there are gods’s chosen few who exhibit examples of outstanding creativity that charm Cannes, client and consumers in one (magical) fell swoop… Now, go ahead and dispute that!

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Are Art Colleges out of sync with today’s Ad - world?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the loaded poser through power-packed perspectives from the ad-frat!

Once upon a time, most of the eminent, respected, coveted and hot-shot art directors of blue-chip ad agencies came from art colleges. Be it Mumbai’s J.J. or Baroda, Delhi or Kolkata’s revered, hallowed premises, art colleges were indeed the acknowledged hub, nursery and breeding ground of talent that defined visual language in the specialised area of advertising communication. Today, in year 2006, one can practically count on one’s fingers how many art college students have actually managed to get a toe hold in Adbiz. Why? What happened? Why this total disconnect and eclipse? Who’s to blame?

Delhi-based Sanjay Bhattacharya, a red hot gifted celebrity artist who happens to be a Kolkata Art College alumni (with years of working experience in various ad agencies) opens the batting with characteristics flamboyance. “When we started out in the seventies and eighties, our goal was to join an ad agency and hopefully some day to become a successful art director. Today, with the insane and obscene amounts of moolah artists are making (aided and abetted by gallery owners actually swooping down on several art colleges to identify and showcase raw talent) the ad agency bimari has been flung to the backburner! Today’s agenda and funda is simple for the art college types: Get fame, name, big bucks and page 3 celeb status by going the art route. How many ad agency art directors enjoy even a fraction of the aura that many young artists do? I rest my case!”

Gulu Sen (the dynamic NCD of Dentsu and a Delhi Art College product himself) doesn’t hesitate a second to lament the situation... “While it pains me, I have to admit that art colleges today definitely suffer from a total disconnect with the basic dynamics of the contemporary ad-scene. Prehistoric courses taught by people light years away from the ever changing nano-second communication business, act as irreversible road blocks. Sure, visiting faculty from the ad industry helps but at best these are one-off exercises. What is really needed is a professional orientation built into the course, programme and curriculum.” Sen also feels that the art college obsession with “design” must stop, because the ad-scene has irrevocably changed. “Today advertising is totally idea-driven, hence the earlier skill sets have to be quickly replaced with concepts and thinking that embrace the here and now-not stuff that comes wrapped with the smell of mothballs!”

Siddhartha Roy (Executive director of the Kolkata-based RESPONSE) wonders why art colleges continue to be so myopic in both their vision and mission. “Look at how amazingly National Institute for Design (NID), Ahmedabad has fused in seamless fashion, their blueprint with the new age demands and requirements that embrace the new world view in the work space. It’s something to be lauded.”

Roy also feels that the best talents today consciously stay away from the art colleges, educate themselves in the visual language and ultimately veer off towards exciting terrain like editorial designing, web designing... even film making!”
 
Shantiniketan-trained graphic artist Pia Sen (who presently works as a respected consultant in Madison Avenue NYC) is appalled at this denigrating line of thought and protests vehemently! “Unlike the upstarts in India, I work with some of the finest practitioners in the business, in the fabled capital of Adville and you guys have no idea of how appreciative they are of my graphic design grounding. They find it artistic, exotic, subtle and understated in an environment that often tends to be too overtly addy, flashy, aggressive, loud and straining for effects.”

Sen believes , it is today fashionable for the ad frat in India, “enjoying their first flush of kudos from the west” to bad mouth art schools and ra-ra the role of technology as the prime mover and driver of modern communication. “Ironically here, the true blue creative minds still woo and romance the ‘idea, thought and concept’, and believe that simplicity remains the most powerful, persuasive and magical catalyst, and connect between the brand and its constituency, not the fancy hi- tech gizmos!”

Shabuj Sengupta (an ex-Delhi art college alumni and presently associated with BATES as Art Director) reinforces Pia’s whammo in his own fashion. “Despite the supercilious and dismissive attitude towards art colleges, it is interesting that in most ad agencies, the head honchos powering the art department are from art colleges themselves!” Sengupta admits that both the applied art courses and the teaching staff have not really got into any form of “reality check” but that’s largely to do with the red tape, formality and the zillion procedures that come with the sarkari territory. “I do believe that from the third year, ideation should be taught since ad-biz is essentially a business of ideas. Also, it might be a good idea to form a committee comprising some of the hottest art directors from the industry (who are ex-art college students) and consult them in terms of direction and focus towards making the course more relevant, meaningful and industry-centric. I have no doubt that most of the students would love to participate and contribute in a movement like this.”

At the end of the day, basics are the real foundations and Sengupta believes he owes a tremendous amount to his Delhi Art College grounding. “If the Ivory Tower critics are so much against the art college module, let them convince the government to close it down and let the industry pick up talent from the Apeejay’s and Wighan&Leigh’s of the world... They’ll figure out for themselves the difference in record time! After all, heritage counts.” Sure thing!

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

FARAH KHAN Vs PRAHLAD KAKKAR!

Bollywood mavericks go eyeball to eyeball with Adland’s whizkid filmmakers over who’s hotter on TVC turf! So, what’s the score? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates ….

Farah Khan makes the Getz TVC (Television Commercial). Rohan Sippy does Pantaloon. Ashu Gowarikar directs Coke. Farhan Akhtar – and maybe some others – do their number… what’s going on ? Why is Bollywood trespassing into TVC-land, where the blue-print, dynamics and parameters are totally different? What motivates this blitz? Most importantly, can they ever hope to bring to the table the same talent, discipline, knowledge, insight, focus and overall (informed) professionalism that the task demands?

“I think its possible, largely because the lines between the feature and TVC are blurring.” That’s the Dada of the genre, Shyam Benegal talking, a person who was around when it all started in the sixties. The maker of endless commercials on Lux and Dalda (when he was employed as a Film Executive at Lintas), believes that this relationship with Bollywood began because of the easy access and comfort levels that directors (like BR Chopra) had with stars – something that the client, agency or independent could never hope to establish. “Today, when the big stars have turned into big brands, this rationale pretty much endures. Obviously, Aamir would be more at ease working with Ashu and Sharukh with Aziz than some unknown and unfamiliar ad film directors.” Two other things, Benegal says, have also driven this phenomenon. One, the condescension levels that the film industry traditionally harboured towards the ad-film frat (second-class citizens!) has totally disappeared due to ad-lands morphing into a cool, sophisticated, techno-savvy, hot n’ happening profession. Two, ad films spell mega-bucks! “I am sure the stars today make more money on endorsements than on the pay cheques from movies… and this goes for the cross-over directors too. As for the ads, the agency is there to monitor it. No issue. After all, it’s the age of specialisation, remember?”

The enfant terrible of Adland (raging bull in a china shop?!) gets spot-on instantly. “There are really only good and bad film-makers, the form and genres be damned!” A warmed up, Prahlad Kakkar, turns on the heat. “Do you know that many of the Bollywood directors – the younger ones – have cut their teeth in ad film territory, either assisting, choreographing, …whatever? Farah Khan, for example, must have choreographed at least fifty of my commercials. She was a fantastic talent whose contribution in terms of look and feel of a commercial was truly great. As a choreographer, she directs an entire song – from visualising it to breaking it down covering all the nitty gritties – which gives her a total knowledge of the medium.” Besides, Kakkar believes, making ad films is not a rocket science and any intelligent director will recognise and understand that it is neither art, nor self-indulgence, but an application-driven, hard-working piece of business communication created and designed to drive the brand towards the purchase-intent zone. Period.
 
Alyque Padamsee begs to differ. “Can an ear specialist also be a whiz at tonsil operation? They are two different disciplines demanding two separate skill-sets. Same here. The Bollywood guy works in a completely different zone, where everything is larger than life – budgets, setting, storylines, plots, drama, heroines – unlike the minimalistic ad-film practitioner. Also, the terms of reference and dynamics that go into the making of an ad film in terms of detailing, precision and endless pre-production meetings with client and agency personnel is not something they understand or approve.” For his money, Padamsee would any day go to a Sumantra Ghosal, Prasoon Pandey or Prahlad Kakkar than the Bollywood brigade.

Prasoon Joshi, the hot-shot creative celebrity successfully straddling both the worlds in style, offers his educated spin. “Initially, when I started making commercials with Bollywood stars, I was led to believe that Bollywood directors would be the most appropriate guys as they – only they – could understand, manage and bring out the best from the stars. Today, I can confidently say, it’s bullshit!” Over the last few years, the respected Creative powerhouse of McCann Erickson (overseeing South-East Asia) has worked with some of the hottest names in Tinsel town – Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay-Kajol, Saif-Rani and now Sharukh Khan – and never for a moment has there been the slightest snafu. “I’ve worked with quite a few Bollywood directors on TVC’s and found them (with one exception) unsatisfactory. They bring to the table attitude and arrogance that they probably can get away with in their domain, but which can’t (and doesn’t) work here. They seem to be distinctly uncomfortable with discussion, debate, collaboration and any form of dissent or second opinion. That is not on with me, simply because I know my brand better than them and the final word has to be mine. After all, I represent my clients interest. Weaker creative heads, I guess, are either bullied or the poor bozo’s are so star-struck by the Bollywood star-director dazzle, that they are perfectly happy to bask in their company, irrespective of the quality of the TVC.”

Prasoon also detests the attitude of some of the Bollywood directors who have (in the past) approached him for doing TVC’s because “aaj kal khali hai. Next production six months baad. Kuch Ad films hai to karte hai, boss …” For a professional who’s bread ‘n’ butter comes from advertising, a calling he’s invested passion and commitment to, this casual “time-pass” approach is both sickening and shocking. Like Padamsee, when the crunch comes, its tried n’ tested pro’s like Prasoon Pandey or Ram Madhvani, hands down!

The last words must come from the hugely respected and gifted Ram Madhvani himself, a partner and hands on director of the classy production house Equinox. “I don’t know what the fuss or frisson is all about! If professionalism is the bone of contention and it supposedly invests in the ad film guy that extra cutting edge, I disagree. For me, this term has always spelt bad news; something that is a cut ‘n’ dry management cliche reflecting the cold- blooded spirit of a guy of doing a job competently in return for which he receives a financial package. I believe the visual arts – of which film-making is a branch – is about passion, talent, energy, imagination and a relentless desire to explore, learn and discover.”

Madhvani is convinced that Bollywood does that brilliantly. “They bring colour, drama, vitality, vibrancy and a chutzpah that powers a TVC to another level. I am all for their making waves on our turf. Hey, cross-fertilisation – cultural and biological – is just what today’s exciting times need!”

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Why is real-estateadvertising so corny?

As the realty boom zooms north, the advertising quotient nosedives south! Why? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri does a check out with some star players of the realty frat... 

We’re on a roll, guys! The mind blowing affluence of our middle class has heralded the arrival of amazing living options dotting the Indian landscape, powered by zooming pay-cheques, easy housing loans & never before aspiration levels to live the good life, High-End Properties (HEP) blitzing the scene in both metros and small towns, celebrating a mix of great locations & world class amenities. Sadly, this energy, buoyancy & enterprise is conspicuous by its absence in the overall adscape, across all media. The general standard sucks… and is truly unbelievably pathetic! Amateurish, weird & hopelessly down-market, any inference to the word “Advertising” can be safely deduced to be both an accident & a coincidence – whichever came first! Why this shocking state of affairs in a segment that’s booming with a spectacular range of classy & breathtaking products? Over to some movers ‘n’ shakers of the realty domain.

Rakesh Purohit (General Manager, Jaipuria) approaches the subject cautiously: “While I have to agree that, as a segment, we haven’t displayed any extraordinary flash, flair or imaginative brilliance, let me quickly add, the reason.” The smart realty marketer is at pains to explain the rules of the game, “Unlike FMCGs and multinationals, the Realty Mart is mostly a localised phenomenon, where hi-powered 360 degrees marketing is not required...” Mere information-driven communication capsules seem to be just fine. The crucially important areas remain broker network and contractor-connect. They are the main drivers, “As of now, whatever, wherever is built, is sold in a flash! It’s boom time and we are a in a dream seller’s market.” However, he reckons, the day the Venture Capitalists – with their big bucks and sophisticated strategic thinking – enter, along with the global biggies, advertising will be forced to become an active player in the scheme of things, will be asked to perform and become accountable. Until then, hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, brother?!

Amitabh Bhattacharya of Omaxe believes that it’s unfair to compare Realty advertising with other categories – especially FMCG – as “this segment is still in its nascent stage. Also, the reference points and contexts are different.” While disposable incomes and aspirational levels have unquestionably driven demands to another stratosphere, the basic profile (in terms of psychographics and demographics) remains largely unchanged. A large section of this consuming universe continue to be deeply embedded in an orthodox, conservative, family-oriented and non-westernised ethos, and the challenge is to communicate to them in a fashion that does not frighten them or give them a complex. Hence simple, direct, non-fancy and jargon-free advertising that is easy and comprehensible is called for; “Communication designed totally to attract and connect with the sensibilities of this select target group... not the jury at Cannes!”

Pankaj Pal of Vatika offers his very own concrete reasons. “Till around five years ago, except the big, reputed and established players, no new entrant really dared to enter this territory. It was only when banks slashed interest rates that this area was suddenly perceived as a new, exciting and lucrative investment opportunity.” The result was a manic rush from every kind of investor with a one point agenda; invest, make a killing and move on! “In this kind of a setting,” Pal explains, “where qualification and background did not matter, the advertising that emerged was bound to reflect the basic culture of this fraternity. Besides, no product or service can ever be meaningfully advertised – with cutting edge creativity – if the focus is solely on the bottom-line, on instant short-term gains.” If they are still getting away with it, it’s because the boom is still on and what is advertised is sold.

owever, the writing is on the wall and the honeymoon is likely to end very soon with competition and professionalism on its way. Once that happens, the fly-by-night operators – “The major culprits behind the bizarre ads” – will be forced to either straighten their act or head for the exit route. Mohit Singh (Shipra’s young, dynamic and communication-savvy MD) believes that this weird advertising scenario is largely due to the unstoppable enthusiasm of the large contingent of new/first time players who’ve jumped into the fray with the intention of making a quick buck before moving on. ”You will notice that these are the guys who advertise the most, in terms of size, space and frequency, with a flamboyant disregard to the basic tenets of quality!” Speaking about himself and other top-end players, he points out to the huge amounts of time invested in brain-storming and strategising for the creation of the appropriate communication mix. “After all, we’re talking image here and an ad is the public face of the organisation. Every detail must be in place, across all media deployed. We make sure that along with our agency, O&M, we put out material that fulfils the most critical tasks demanded of professionally-driven communication: Exhibit range. Showcase quality. Sell desire.”

Kunal Bannerjee sums it up with the insight & knowledge of a hard-core communication professional powered with extensive local & global experience across a wide spectrum of products & services. The VP Marketing of Ansal APAI is of the tacit opinion that this mess basically stems from the ad-hocism that prevails in the sector, authored mostly by “the Johny-come-lately types; a group with the hunger & pretension of becoming builders, but backed by zero knowledge & lesser desire to learn. In this scheme of things, where is the space for strategised, focussed advertising?” Being a true-blue practitioner, Banerjee firmly believes that corporatisation has changed the face of realty business in recent times, – for the top-end players like DLF, Unitech, Ansal at least – investing it with cutting edge professionalism, transparency & a very high degree of customer care. “These (factors) have allowed us to demand & get higher premium on our properties than competition, because our clientele knows that be it sophisticated advertising, comprehensive customer focussed programmes or after-sale service, quality & the uncompromising pursuit of excellence remains our enduring goal. That is the bottom line… and the new age savvy brand conscious customer feels comfortable with it.” 



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Thursday, September 14, 2006

MBAs in adland Is the honeymoon over?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri powers the spirit of enquiry – and look at what he gets...!

The Gurus often state that if advertising is pursued with real passion and purpose, it can become a mass language that can explain and illuminate the meaning of daily life through powerful and succinct images and ideas. Science and technology, analysis and research do affect and shape the advertising experience but ultimately, advertising is an art born largely from the seeds of instinct and intuition (inventive, idiosyncratic, irreverent chutzpah), investing real, but intangible benefits to the product it touches. In this scheme of things, where does today’s MBA (with his rationalised, formally structured and analytical take on the communication business) fit in?

George John, the most respected Chairman and Managing Director of TBWA, India, enthusiastically takes the first strike. “Let’s look at the big picture. Earlier, MBAs meant the best and brightest (from the top b-schools). These special creatures were to be found in the most fancy organisations and ad agencies because it was generally believed that the advertising business was predominantly market-driven, and these guys were the chosen ones to part the waters and provide the solutions.” John believes those innocent days are clearly over with agencies now redefining themselves categorically as “people solely engaged in the business of ideas.” As he believes, marketing is the job of the marketing division and not the ad agency. Does it mean that the structured thinking that the MBA brings to the table is not any more the ideal raw material – or even a part of it – designed to get the ‘creative’ (people and work) to fly. Truly, sometimes disruptive ‘creative’ thinking helps more than the MBAish ‘7 ways of why you should buy this’. But having said that, would George John, while hiring, be influenced for or against a person because he or she has an MBA tag? The answer is a categorical no! “I would engage him initially in a game of football to check out his flair for teamwork and limits of energy level and finally spend 5 minutes with him to gauge my gut feel about him as a human being.”

At the same time, going beyond individual characteristics of MBAs, Sumit Roy, the eminent founder-director of UNIVBRAND, believes that new-age MBAs from the top B-schools are creatures that the ad industry cannot even begin to afford. “They get packages that are way beyond what adbiz offers. So adland, for the real rockstars, doesn’t remotely feature on their radars.” What about the other question of compatibility and fit? Are the MBA skill-sets in consonance with what the dynamic and ever-changing communication business demands? Roy believes that any sector that hires MBAs will openly confess that, per se, simply having an MBA schooling, without requisite market experience, does nothing.

Mohammed Khan, Chairman of Bates Enterprise believes that earlier on, the best MBAs came into ad-land because the money was good and they believed that it was an interesting career-path where they had a contribution to make. Not anymore. Like Roy, he reckons, other new sectors with far fatter pay-cheques have lured the stars away from Adbiz. “At the end of the day, it’s not so much B-school hotties, but people with fire in their belly and mind that are required here. What we need are young people with passion, drive and energy to think big in the business, not kids constantly lusting for big bucks.” But Roy tacks up the other front quite fashionably, “What an MBA does do is offer a filtration process that gets the best minds. The finest talents, usually, gravitate to the best MBA schools and an overall environmental development does happen, repeatedly reflected in their flair, proficiency and award-winning sprees in dramas and music fests, quiz contests etc. they are pretty multi-skilled creatures… and this definitely connects brilliantly with Adland.” But strongly disputing this, Avijit Dutta, CEO, Planman Advertising, snaps, “Unfortunately, the very fact that most of the top Indian B-schools check IQ of prospective students – in their inane attempt to limit the spread of management education – rather than their EQ (emotional quotient; a factor now globally accepted as defining world-class MBAs) ensures that forget fine arts, these students have no idea of even managing simple relationships, whether at home, or with friends, or in teams, what to talk about corporations!”

Ashutosh Khanna, the ‘Big Boss’ of Grey Worldwide gives it his very own spin. “Today, there is huge fragmentation and everything is outsourced; So unfortunately, that sense of deep-seated induction involvement of the past is missing.” Since the best kids are way out of reach and the others neither fish nor fowl, Khanna is thinking of hiring fresh-untrained-talent from colleges like St. Stephens and Hindu. “At least, the DNA is assured. We can mould them as we go along.” He also harbours a wild idea, “What happens if I forget the MBA types and just hire a bunch of creative guys and put them in servicing? It could mark an exciting precedent and usher in a new whole era in the client-agency interface dynamics, right?!” Sandeep Mahapatra, Executive Director Brand Strategy, TBWA India, believes that the hype, hysteria and honeymoon with the ad alley is a thing of the past. He lays it on the line, “Let’s face it. The popular perception of an MBA is not lateral. It’s logical, analytical, structured... something that is no longer celebrated in today’s creative-driven times.”

But the headiest honcho of them all, Ashok Kurien, of Ambience and Publicis, is quite strongly convinced that MBAs are important and relevant. “In fact, at entry levels, we don’t hire anyone who is not an MBA.” And why’s that? “Because most of our clients are people who come from that culture and therefore, it allows for a larger degree of compatibility and comfort factor leading to confidence and respect for the agency.” So where is the final line that one takes on MBAs?

Clearly, while the George John camp is focusing narrowly on ‘creative’ being the definition of what an ad agency is, the Ashok Kurien army is pragmatically focused on the client’s money driving the future of the ad agency. That basically means that those are not MBAs that can run ad agencies alone; and for that matter, neither can creative people.

Brilliant creativity, with no customer orientation, or media buying experience, or data analytic capabilities, can only lead an ad agency to be the definition of one word we’ve always associated Indian football with... Disaster! At the same time, cutthroat customer focused MBAs, with magnanimous statistical orientation, and with incredible media comparison models, but without the most critical component of marketing – the ‘creative’ ad – would lead the ad agency to success levels regularly achieved by most Indian sports heroes at the Olympics.

If core competence were the order of the day, then rather than forcing MBAs to be unnaturally creative, and creative geniuses to be unnaturally structured, one could force them to “do their job better” to achieve synergies in outputs never seen before. But that’s easier said than done! There’s still the question of IQ versus EQ in MBAs, eh! But that’s a question for another column, another time, another issue... 


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Thursday, August 17, 2006

AdS… Liberators or manipulators?

Is advertising the art of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri checks out...

In her life altering biography ‘Changing’, iconic Swedish actress Liv Ullman (a key player in the legendary film maker Ingmar Bergman’s repertory of hi-octane talents) narrates her shock, bewilderment & terror at some of the ads that blitzed the TV set in her hotel room during one of her visits to Hollywood. “The ads interrupted programmes every 10 minutes – sometimes even more frequently, and made me furious on behalf of my sex. Women are aggressively urged to change their scent, cream their hands, wash their hair in special herbs, make-up their faces beyond recognition, improve their breasts... all in order to catch or keep a man!”

A professor at the New School of Social Research in New York teaches his students that advertising is a “profoundly subversive force in American life. It is intellectual and moral pollution. It trivialises and vulgarises, and is blatantly insincere. It is undermining our faith in our nation and in ourselves.” Adds humorist Stephen Leacock, “It is the art of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it!”

The hi- profile author of the celebrated best seller ‘From the Wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbour’, is less charitable & lashes out with all cylinders firing. Spews Della Femina, “Advertising deals in open sores, fear, greed, anger, hostility... you name the dwarfs and we play on them. We play on all the emotions and problems... from not getting ahead in life, to the desire to belong & be one of the crowd. Everyone has a button.” He offers examples of McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coke, Ma Bell, and how they were designed to fill the gap in lonely people’s lives by airing warm, family-oriented commercials that stressed togetherness and bonding to forge human connection and gain popular support at both a conscious & subliminal level.

The art of the psycho sell... the most popular and combustible marketing tactic, which combines the passion of Patton with the cunning of Rommel... the permissible lie... the seductive knack of creating needs & manufacturing wants to meet targets and fatten bottom lines... Is advertising really as evil, poisonous and dangerous as it’s made out to be?

Not according to Mumbai-based adman, Cyrus Hoshider, who sees red at such accusations, “Advertising is probably one of the greatest happenings as a sociological phenomenon. It is a true liberator in as much as it offers you a better quality of life. It exposes you to a wider variety of products & services designed to provide comfort, convenience and a higher level of well-being. Anything that is aspirational and invites you to live better cannot be anything other than a positive influence. To call it manipulative or exploitive is both negative & regressive.”

Kolkata-based journalist, author and filmmaker Jayobroto Chatterjee challenges the premise head-on, “The real world is not about winning accounts or making presentations, but deals with such ‘boring matters’ like truth, integrity, ethics and values in sync with people’s resources, needs and means. What’s the point of flashing glamorous, hi-ticket products to people who can’t afford them? ‘No one’s forcing them to buy’, would be ad makers’ facile argument, but the point is that the mischief has been created. You have subliminally seduced them with the promises of untold reward. That’s devious and dangerous!” Avijit Dutta, COO, Adcon Avertising (Planman Life) is more balanced in his perspective, “Ads are liberators as far as construst is concerned but in a way they require manipulation. If you consider fairness creams, they graze on the mythical fact – fair is beautiful. Companies have been playing on that for quite some time and it’s unfortunate, but they are successful.”

Contemporary thinking does propound that advertising is indeed playing out its role quite effectively, exposing the consumer to a wider array of goods and services enabling him to see, understand, decide and choose. Of course, for consumers who fall for every promise, claim or benefit powered into every ad, “they should stop seeing ads and start seeing a shrink!” says Jayabroto. Journalist Mala Sen provides the grand finale with her views, “Undoubtedly, the positive side of advertising exists loud and clear and it’s really dumb to take a tunnel-view of the issue... (But) where they default is the area of half-truths... it is done with such subtle, manipulative skill that they’ve said everything without saying anything! This is definitely wrong; but moral policing is worse.”

So while advertising is not quite the awesome magical liberating force it’s made out to be by its ardent champions, it’s neither the conniving, slimy, insidious, manipulative, psssst-persuader as suggested by the breed of its fire-spewing critics. Sure, there is a lunatic fringe, but that’s there in every area of life. So, would you dump life as a whole, ignoring moments of joy and fulfilment? In the market-driven new world order (for better, or for worse) advertising is a fact, even necessity, that needs to be applauded or chastised, as the occasion demands. The message for the livid Liv is simple – Dear Liv, Live and Let Live!

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

The CAN-CAN OVER CANNES! IS IT REALLY SUCH A BIG DEAL?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates the method and the madness behind the collective chalo-Cannes-mania!

 It all started as an innocent, even innocuous, discussion at a dinner hosted by a celebrity film critic who bemoaned the unfortunate, sad and bewildering fate of a slew of films that were hugely lauded, celebrated, even awarded at international film festivals, but failed to get a decent release at home, thus, totally cutting off the domestic audience to see and share the experience. “Much like the stuff we see at hi-profile Ad Fests like Cannes huh?” quipped a guest known for his wise-cracks. On cue, I leaped into the fray to defend my tribe. Did he know that he was referring to the most hymned and celebrated ad-event on earth, a much-awaited and coveted annual happening that attracted internationally revered super-stars from across the globe to showcase and celebrate creative excellence? Was he aware of the unprecedented 12 Lions in 5 categories for 6 agencies that we picked up in Cannes in our recent outing in June 2006?

The smart guy didn’t bat an eyelid and rose to the bait. “Sure, but hey, what do these tamashas and awards do for ground realities related to the everyday Indian adscape? Will this 7-star sho-shaa help in producing better, more quality-driven creatives that guarantee clients sweeter success at the cash counter? Will Cannes inspire our huge contingent to return empowered and take creativity to another paradigm? Will the sublime week of wine and rosesmean breaking new ground in fostering a whole new climate of creative excellence that will work as a benchmark for agencies to follow?”

Oooops, I had to confess that beyond being mad, I was stumped because, frankly, I had never really looked upon awards, especially at hi-ticket festivals, in such a cut and dry, “What’s-in-it-for-the-world” mode! I felt it killed the fun, focus, magic and mystique of it all… but the guy’s broadside certainly got me provoked-and thinking. Were these hi-flying events really all that self-congratulatory, self-absorbed and incestuous, or was the wise-guy just taking panga and shooting his mouth for effect? What better way to get some answers than a dipstick among movers and shakers of our community, right? So Operation Check out it was… and this is how it went…

“Scandalous and volte-face as it may sound; Mr. Kill-Joy has a point!” That was Gulu Sen, Dentsu’s hot-shot Creative Chief. According to him, the prime significance of Cannes revolves around the creative community’s obsession for international recognition, the desire to get out of the well and make a splash in the global seas, the longing to be perceived and accepted as a card-carrying member of an elite club that is engaged in celebrating creative excellence. Has this anything to do with the price of onions? “Not really, but that was never the objective. It’s an opportunity to hit marquee-territory, where several ad gurus converge, exhibit their-work (a lot of which is very sophisticated but totally bewildering due to its country and culture-specific tone and style) generally, be dazzled and have a blast!”

Mohammed Khan, the distinguished hi-profile creative boss of Bates-Enterprise begs to differ. He strongly believes that awards and festivals of this nature carry their own special relevance and significance. They focus primarily on high-end excellence with the definitive Big ‘O’ coming from recognition and appreciation of global peers. “I’d like to explode the idiotic myth perpetuated by some silly, ignorant and myopic sods about award-winning ads not working in the market place. Bullcrap! Research has thrown up innumerable examples where excellence has charmed both Jury members and customers.” Khan however appears disturbed about a dangerous phenomenon gaining momentum – SCAM ads. “This nonsense has to stop before it ruins, dilutes or tarnishes the image of this magnificent festival where the best of the best converge in the French Riviera to celebrate the alpha and omega of creative excellence. If it doesn’t, then before long, it could well be caricatured as the (in)famous SCAM FEST!” Before signing off, Ad-world’s King Khan has strong words for people who show disrespect for awards or festivals. “If it’s envy, then they need to go back to the drawing board and raise the bar. Otherwise, they will be well advised to immediately quit the business and try other vocations like law, medicine, accountancy, banking, retail et al!”

Sushil Pandit, CEO of THE HIVE chooses to take the analytical route. He believes that awards (by their very nature) have very little to do with brands or consumers” unless there is an award introduced where “consumers decide which ad they liked best and why.” That too, he reckons, would not be a fair vote because truly effective advertising is supposed to work insidiously and invisibly without drawing too much attention to itself. They are, after all, meant to work as hidden persuaders. “On that logic, awards seem to serve only one real purpose – place a halo around a creative person’s head and declare him God! The greatest irony is that while this phenomenon is completely divorced from the brand the person is working for, it works magically for the brand the creative person (post-award) has become! These brands exist in various hyped and hoopla-ed ad agencies as revered trophies and fashionable shops frequently with vie each other to own them. Whether the clients share this enthusiasm or the customers have a clue about these strange goings-on is debatable, but that’s the way it is. “Cannes is only a glamorous version of all this and more.” Pandit is convinced that this whole awards and festival shindig works outstandingly for the net-working community, comprising a tight, charmed circle whose back-slapping bonhomie assures them a gala time – and on a good day, may be an award or two, too!

Freddy Birdy (Creative Director and joint CEO of THE SHOP) wonders whether these detractors are in the same business as he is! The celebrated thirteen-time winner of the ‘Best Copywriter of the year’ awardee passionately believes that awards are really where it’s at. “They are the ultimate symbols of recognition and appreciation of creative excellence and Cannes is the undisputed Olympics and Oscars of adworld. It’s a very, very big deal and anyone who thinks otherwise should see their friendly neighbourhood shrink! “Regarding the connect with the client, its largely about pride and enhanced-status to be associated with an award-winning agency /creative person who (beyond Delhi Ad Club) has competed and won against the best in the world. “It assures them that they are in safe hands and whatever these gifted people produce will spell class. Oh, for the award winner boy, he is going to be preached like mad!


Hype, believes the Exec. CD of Rediff DYR, Rahul Jauhari. He is really the critical driver for our Adbiz where Cannes is concerned. “The more visible we are there, the more winners we plonk at the winners podium, the less we are likely to drool and obsess about it. As of now, these are still early days; we are still a trifle starry-eyed and so Cannes does remain an incomparable platform to celebrate great work, share exciting ideas and open up to newer possibilities of radical thinking and smarter execution.” Prahlad Kakkar, the unputdownable maverick (of course!) has his very own irreverent spin. Deadpans the bearded iconoclast, “I remain thunderstruck at the astonishing levels of inventiveness, creativity and ingenuity that marks the Cannes tamasha every year. For me, it’s like a whole new Discovery Channel, Boss! Have you ever heard of an ad travelling straight from Jhumri Talaiya to Cannes? Happens all the time, or else, how come we hardly ever see those precious, celebrated prize-winners at home, yaar!” While K. V. Sridhar, Creative Boss of Leo Burnett is categorical about awards at Cannes being sensational morale boosters – for the Adfrat and country – he believes it also sends out a clear signal of “our ability to constantly raise the bar to match global standards of excellence.”

So at the end of the day, what is the take-out? Is the Band-Baaja just another 7-day wonder (like our Film Fest’s) – a heavenly, cultural and intellectual diversion from the usual khichir-phichir and rona-dhona of everyday work before returning to terra firma with a thud… or is it a truly exciting and inspirational platform showcasing outstanding creative excellence that needs to be recognised, saluted and considered reference point and yard-stick to measure ones work against? As always, Mccann’s Santosh Desai sums it up in fine style, “Cannes’ usefulness cannot be denied in terms of providing us a snapshot of what the world is thinking… It’s not really wide-eyed learning, but an interesting exposure.” Dehai also believes that Cannes works wonderfully as a motivational junket for kids, a paid holiday to an exotic celebrity event designed to dazzle and charge their batteries. However, he doesn’t attach too much importance to the fabled “networking” factor because, as he puts it, “unless you are a gifted 24*7 networking junkie, whom and how many stars can you possibly buttonhole for life-transforming dialogue and discussion? Besides, with the overwhelming festive ambience, after six drinks, everyone looks the same... and they certainly sound the same!” Apart from an embarrassingly dis-proportionate high contingent India sent – 12 from the Press and 100 from the frat, compared to 1 and 50 respectively from Thailand, who incidentally picked up many more awards than us – what worries Desai about Cannes is the way we approach it. “with material created and crafted more for awards than consumers.” But, he appreciates that in the process, there is a definite honing of craft, “we are still light years away from a Thailand or a Brazil, countries who have evolved a way of seeing the world their way. We are still pre-occupied in seeing the world in ways that win awards and that can be both dangerous and self-cancelling. Why? Because it means that this annual pilgrimage to Cannes, in some fashion, dents and blunts our confidence in doing it our own way and instead prompt us to be somebody else… cater and pander to the white man’s approval, which emerges from the White man’s understanding of advertising or creative excellence…”'

Touche… The plot thickens…



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Thursday, July 06, 2006

“PEOPLE DON’T BUY FROM CLOWNS...! OR DO THEY?”

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the deathless statement from an iconic Ad guru and checks out its validity in today’s hugely, humour-driven ad space...

Way back in the late eighties, when I was closely associated with a big ad agency, I got a call one morning from our most pompous, egoistical and self-absorbed clients, inviting me out to lunch at a ‘fancy place’. I was totally zonked and enquired, hesitantly, the reason/occasion. “It’s serious stuff, Lahiri. Be sure to be there on time. You ad guys...”

I hotfooted to the joint ten minutes before time. He arrived soon after, flashed an approving tight smile, motioned me to sit, ordered for the both of us, lit up his pipe, stretched back and got ready to lay it on the line. “Advertising is going to the dogs young man, with damn ganwaars (illiterates) coming from the boondocks threatening to break in with their absurd, down- market (imagine?!), Hinglish stuff”!

He paused to take a drag of his pipe and waited for the bearer to leave after placing our drinks on the table, before continuing. “No taste! No class! And to make matters worse, they dare to deploy humour. Advertising – which is selling – is very, very serious stuff, dear boy. As the master has said, “No one buys from clowns.” Well, as it goes, do they?

Today, a good decade and a half later, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at what that conceited, tunnel viewed bozo said, because humour, fun, the light touch, has become the breath of life in a lot of the advertising we see... and advertainment is pretty much the new lingua franca in the communication delivery mode. Why? “Because humour disarms and makes one more acceptation of certain thoughts and images that could be hard to take in a serious discourse...,” says the flamboyant and brilliant ad man, George Louis. He has constantly hit out at “scientific fools, marketing windbags, stiff-ass bureaucrats, research fascists and pompous biggies,” because he believes a lack of humanity (read ‘humour’) kills great communication.

Back home, Louis finds a huge ra-ra constituency, totally rooting for the ha-ha factor to attract, interest, provoke, desire and trigger the purchase intent in the consumer universe targeted. Ad film-maker, Prahlad Kakkar, who began his foray into ad films by providing (at that time) a total break from conventional reason to develop audacious tongue-in-cheek, whacko stuff (Remember Ketchup, “It’s different!” ad?), believes humour is a great leveller because it breaks down barriers and distances in one fell swoop. Most of his stuff, even today, has a definite stamp of smart, visual wit. Prasoon Joshi (whose Thanda Matlab Thande Ka Tadka, Happydent White ads plug humour with all cylinders firing) defines humour as a social lubricant that’s easy to catch and hang on to because it’s the most basic emotion. It comes easier than sorrow or grief. Successful TV Commercials (TVCs) that have hit the humour button in the past include Compaq Presario, Fevicol, Naukri.com, Live-in Jeans, Pepsi’s Mallika ad and Centrefresh, among others.

Perceptive Communication’s people around the world often find “Compression” a good way of getting the point across in an effective manner. Arnold Schwarzenegger was once famously described as a guy “looking like a bunch of walnuts wrapped in a condom!” The writer confessed that he wasn’t consciously trying to be funny, but only endeavouring to convey something in the least number of words. If compression leads to humour, then humour leads to smile. Legend has it that a Chinese hospital reported a dramatic drop in the number of complaints after instructing their staff to show at least eight teeth while smiling!

On a serious note, the reason why humour is so powerful in advertising is really very basic: It’s a bridge that links the brand to the consumer, because laughter is the shortest distance between two people... and a smile, really, is that amazing meeting of minds. It signifies a positive and physical feedback from your audience. Wit invites participation. Humour ensures higher recall & remembrance, and triggers word-of-mouth communication as no other mode.

Incidentally, the best jokes aren’t based on imagination, but on observation of real people. See how they speak, gesture, react, joke, even kiss and oh, how they never look at each other in a lift. The best and funniest ads invariably happen when the joke comes from the product and could not exist without the product. The best jokes, therefore, do not automatically translate to a great and memorable ad. It has been noticed that beyond any sales tool, humour invokes a special kind of collective intimacy that is hard to match.

Humour not only wins truckloads of awards at the classy festivals, but also produces sweet music at the cash counter. Says Santosh Desai, “In earlier times, the 8 Reasons Why You Should Buy This, delivered in BBC-style English, worked. Today, it doesn’t. People are not looking for gyan, but fun, entertainment, laugh.” Michael Porter, the father of generic competitive strategies, had enunciated that to radically gain market share within any industry, one could either be a cost leader or be a product differentiator. But the killer comes now. If one is not able to be either, then the best strategy would be to ensure that your product has the highest brand recall. And humour has been found to be the most effective tactic to support this brand recall.

In the end, with due respect to the revered Claude Hopkins, in a world brutalised by pain, poverty and human suffering, clowns are the new superstars of our times, because all said and done, even the most hardened sceptic and cynic will agree that humour, Mr. Anderson, is better than tumour! 


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Thursday, June 08, 2006

ADVERTISING RESEARCH:TOOL or CRUTCH?

“Focus groups are bogus! Anybody who consciously carves out an hour and a half of his/her time to go to a fluorescent-lit room with stale pakodas, wafers and insipid coffee doing the rounds with the idea of a life-altering discussion on why one brand of mosquito-repellent is a wow, or whether one brand of soap will give you the big ‘O’ while bathing compared to another….is a LOSER!”

“Research is about asking rational-sounding questions that create the expectation that there will be rationale answers. If you ask for rational explanations, chances are, you are likely to get one. But baby, frequently, it has nothing to do with the truth! Why? Because it was only an answer, remember, why should it have to be rooted and embedded to the psyche?”

PHEW!

It does appear that one of the 7-star hell-holes of advertising research is their sacrosanct and tradition bound Questionnaire format. The problem with it is that it instantly provides for a divide and guarantees a barrier between ourselves and the consumer. O&M’s head honcho, Piyush Pandey, seconds this thinking vociferously. “How can one take seriously dumb answers to dumb questions and place it as the gospel truth around which you create your communication? At O&M we believe that the theatre of life as seen, felt and experienced through the prism of our experience, is the best research. Besides, life is about inconsistencies and jagged edges: That’s what makes it exciting and unpredictable. How can you get a handle on that?” Interestingly, David Ogilvy – the revered founding father of the very same agency has a very different point of view. “There have always been the noisy lunatics on the fringes of the advertising business. Their stock-in-trade includes ethnic humour, eccentric art direction, contempt for research and their self proclaimed genius...”
 
Hansa Research’s, Sumita Sen, comes next “I think it has become fashionable to dismiss or bad mouth research ever since creativity stormed centre-stage with their stars hogging limelight like never before.” She asserts that ‘research’ has never ever professed or pretended to offer their clients the ultimate solution in terms of what works/doesn’t work in the market place or mind space. At best, it offers indicators and directions and if used properly, can work as an important strategic tool. However, she adds, “It could be a crutch for those who choose to read the findings as the Ten Commandments, completely ignoring experience, knowledge and gut feel.”

She has her supporters.

Mike Davidson, head of a large multi-national, confesses that research is the first thing they run with to find out how people relate to a brand and what people think of it. “It helps check out target reactions to a brand and response to language in a given category. Supposing a writer has to do an ad about a product line he/she does not use or is not familiar with (lingerie, tampons, and cosmetics), it is crucial to understand the sentiments and feelings of the target group about the language they are comfortable with and willing to accept. Conti...


Sensitivity is the key. Thereafter, it’s about using that piece of knowledge as a dynamic springboard to take that creative leap into the consumer mindscape.” Ad Guru, John Hegarty, agrees. He looks at research as “another opinion” and a dip-stick to what’s going on in the world around us. The voice of dissent, however, remains single-mindedly aggressive. “It is interesting,” they acidly observe, “that the best advertising research never, at any stage, mentions advertising!” According to them research is the journey around the consumer’s head regarding his wishes, hopes, dreams, desires and aspirations, and positioning the brand in a manner that’ll make them come true. It’s a technique borrowed from counselling. Tell me about your life and I’ll find a point of connection. Alyque Padamsee begs to differ. “I am a great believer of research-driven advertising. My classic KAMASUTRA, LALITAJI (SURF) AND LIRIL campaigns were powered as much by focus group sessions as insight.”

Gutsy insights vs. academic research

Sumit Roy, the brilliant founder-director of UNIVBRANDS, has his special take. “Most people tend to use research like a drunk uses a lamp-post! At another level, the mega corporations use it, largely, to protect their arse (“I gotta sack 500 people- and fast. Mckinsey told me so!”). It’s not about Mckinsey talking nonsense. It’s about spending mega-bucks so that the obvious truth seems more sacrosanct and valuable.” Roy believes that true-blue brand architects use their own brand of insightful research. They use guts to move mountains, going against all odds and winning. “It takes a Ravi Gupta to fly against research findings and insist on an Indian Cola-THUMS UP. It takes a Michael Roux to dismiss the total no-no of research of the ABSOLUTE VODKA ad launched campaign, and run with his gut-feel to make it such an absolute smash success in its category.
 
Gulu Sen, National Creative Director, Dentsu, adds his own spin. He believes research breeds and re-enforces stereotypes and champions the boring risk-free communication that is the order of the day. It caters unashamedly, to the feel-good factor and completely destroys clutter-busting, exciting and memorable work. “I cannot deny its role in terms of offering direction and perspective, but to blindly follow research is to completely erase the voyage to the unknown, redolent with amazing surprises and treasures. McCann’s Santosh Desai is equally skeptical. “The way research is conducted today, is largely tokenism, and mostly, hogwash! They do nothing more than throw some light on the areas of darkness.” He believes that if research is still a star in many mega-corps scheme of things it’s largely because of the convenience and insecurity factor.”

The big boys in the board rooms are unable (not trained?) to take the crucial call about what will/will not swing in the marketplace and therefore, it’s convenient to (hide behind?) point to research surveys and findings as the gospel truth. “He is categorical in pointing out that their hugely successful COKE and PERFETTI campaigns did not remotely touch the research button. “They were powered by insightful storytelling laced with drama, wit and charm.”

So what’s the final take-out? Is it a tool or a crutch? Its simple. We have to get away from the idea of wanting people to respond in a particular way to the ad. On the contrary, the ad must be a response to the people. In the end, good advertising research can show you the light, but not the way. That’s a path you have to pick for yourself…

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

"L" The ‘L’ WORD in Advertising – DOES IT WORK?

 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the intriguing “ying-yang” between the most heavenly emotion on earth and the persuasion industry... Welcome to some deliciously startling facts...

 Okay guys, chew on this: What is the single most powerful emotion on planet earth that has inspired dreamers, lovers and poets for centuries to touch new heights of self-expression & creativity?!

One magical word that continues even in the year 2006 to melt stone-hearts, transform & enrich lives, lending it more meaning & resonance! Really, and most honestly, the four simple, unpretentious & innocent alphabets that make your blood pound, pulse race, heart beat gallop, head spin & change your world into a paradise...

...is officially allocated one day in a calendar year to celebrate this life-altering thing – Valentine’s Day! Yes.. It’s LOVE. And boy, is there a global overdrive (riot?) towards hard-selling heart-sell!!

“The concept of love is important because it is a fundamental and universal kind of emotion,” asserts Santosh Desai, President, McCann Erickson, “And still, in the SBI life insurance ad, the image of an old man presenting a diamond to his wife, is something that was unthinkable a few years back.” This irony takes on surreal & ironic dimensions when one observes that even as the Sensex zooms north, basic human values (emotion, compassion and hope) hurtle south, increasingly prompting inhabitants of this cold, impersonal and heartless world to desperately seek empathy through personal, human contact.

Result? Never in recorded history has there been such a huge, mega, gigantic need (market?) for love… Something that the smart, savvy & sensitive emo-track communication specialist, can & does tap into.

While the hard-boiled cynics may pooh-pooh the idea (“Love in a hard-nosed, competitive environment like business? Bah!”), the truth, as usual, lies elsewhere.

Look around and you are likely to see people consciously (or subliminally) longing to invest more in emotion, spirit, inspiration and feelings – in the way they conduct their life and business. But, they all have one major problem: They don’t seem to have a clue about how to translate love into palpable, tangible and credible action. How to dovetail innovation, speed and flexibility with the magic of bonding. How to convert traditional transactions into relationship-building.

Vociferously thunders Prahalad Kakkar, “Love is one of the most powerful catalysts to sell a product...to an extent that today, even a city like Kanpur has hordes of youth celebrating St. Valentine’s Day!” The secret is simple – Get back to the basics. Give those bulky reports, statistics & research studies the heave-ho… & give love a chance. Leverage this extraordinary quotient as a strategic device for an enduring emotional connect – with business customers, partners, team, colleagues – & watch the bottom line surge skywards! Consider this. Love allows the smart communicator to escape from the dreaded ‘Commodity trap’ & evolve into something different by the simple act of placing brands where they should belong – at the emotional centre stage!

But there’s of course another issue. As human beings, we love to love. But in today’s harsh & cynical times, we constantly expect the worst, the dark, mean & selfish side of human nature to call the shots. We need to bring back the past, get love back on track & single-mindedly engage ‘both head & heart in the drive toward a happier tomorrow.’ Towards achieving this end, Love (as inspiration- emotion No.1?) can work as red hot Viagra! Today, only the blinkered (or those who consciously choose’ to remain blind) will miss out the writing on the wall. The paradigm shift has begun with love/emotion as an identified, critical decision-making component. The cool cats know the world of difference that exists between emotion & (yesterday’s superstar) reason. The former leads to action. The latter conclusions. Hence, more emotion translates to more ‘action-with the motion’ part socking it big time, as they would say!

Radharani Mitra, Executive Creative Director, Bates India, comments emphatically, “Look at the Saffola ad; it shows love as a responsible emotion, where the woman is concerned (about the family’s health).” Shifting the kaleidoscope a wee bit, we see the magical & multi-hued patterns of mystery, sensuality & intimacy designed as much to enthral, engage as empower. They are potent drives of everyday lives, aren’t they? Why should they but shut off from the world of business relationships? Fortunately, given the legacy, sensitive practitioners are placing mystery back to where it belonged & what we don’t know is beginning to be as critically important as what we do know.

An outstanding example of companies that have created experiences out of these three enchanting attributes is Starbucks in USA & Barista, Cafe Coffee Day in India. They have decimated and demolished the impersonal, corporatised passion, trimmed into efficiency mode & replaced it with a strong, personal emotional correct. Their agenda is not about Consumer Contact Programmes – just hanging out. Not about taking sample notes, but taking the pulse.

Finally, the old, traditional & never-ending battle between head & heart, instinct & reason raises its head. Intuition, feelings versus scientific market research. It is a well established fact that in today’s techno- savvy world, the Wise Men have researched whatever there is to research & what they couldn’t has been (conveniently) ignored. The truth is that everything of value cannot be measured, leading a brilliant insightful captain of business to astutely observe: “We are in danger of valuing most highly those things that we can measure. As a result, ironically, we are in danger of being exactly wrong instead of approximately right!” The problem lies in the commodification of information, allowing it easy access to one & all.

In this faceless, one-size-fits-all, uniform, assembly-line environment, where lies the magic potent that will make a difference? That is a task research need to address. Should they continue to put consumers at the base of a very large pyramid rather than the centre? Shouldn’t the primal shift actually be towards counting the beats of your heart rather than the fingers on your hand?

From the well deserved record that a humongously huge majority of songs that have made it to the Billboard chart-toppers’ list in the past decade have had their compositions based on love; to a point where one moves ahead to understand what drives the emotion. Faith. Trust. Reliability. Loyalty. Bonding. Connect… Love is the CEO that presides over them all & the businesses, groups, constituencies & people who are driven by this unique, irreplaceable passion are the ones most likely to reside in the most precious, significant & sacrosanct place of all…the space between the heart.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

DeCOdiNG AdLaNDS FEmale GaZE....Stereotyped or NOT?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri fast forwards the spirit of enquiry...

Carnal in bed. Confident at the workplace. Chef in the kitchen. Caring with the kids. Compassionate with the aged. Cool at parties. Considerate with friends. Calm in adversity. Cheered by everyone (including his eccentric toothless aunt) and continuously celebrated by a zonked media… is the Indian woman really all that she is made out to be? Is the ad world’s hysterical wooing of this ‘just discovered’ breed – ripe with aspirations, powered with desire, confidence and means to walk the talk – really happening, or are the hidden persuaders playing out their well-practised and brilliantly choreographed routine of “creating” wants and “manufacturing” needs to a vulnerable constituency, forever longing to step out of the shadows and take their rightful place under the sun?!!

First things first. Only guys in dire need of an instant brain transplant perceive advertising to be the unsoiled harbinger of truth or relentless Brand Ambassador of reality. Advertising is after all (first and last) a crucial marketing tool mandated to do a job as effectively as possible. Toward achieving this end – like Bollywood – magnifying, hyping, dramatising, exaggerating and colouring comes with the territory. “Agreed,” says the hugely respected Asia Pacific President of Leo Burnett, Michelle Kristula-Green, “but are we reading the writing on the wall correctly?” In a hard-hitting presentation she made recently in Delhi titled ‘Mis understood – why she’s not buying your ads,’ she let fly some disturbing whoppers based on her findings on an extensive survey across Asian markets – China, Japan and India. Woman, she said, accused advertisers of portraying them in a man’s version of what they should be like. Further, the basic communication slant was way off on fire solid counts: money, sexuality, humour, emotion and authenticity. The survey also revealed that unlike the West, women here weren’t comfortable with blatant portrayals of sex. It was more an internal paradigm shift where they’ve learnt to handle and appreciate sex appeal as part of their intrinsic feminity rather than an exhibitionistic, brazen and titillating man-baiting USP. Finally, in Asian society, girls are taught to view emotions as their strength, not weakness, hence they seem to respond to a message that is authentic & real-warts and all – more positively than one that is beautifully packaged but phoney.

Ad film maker and now celeb debutante in the Feature Film (Parineeta) arena, Pradeep Sarkar refuses to bite. He believes – like in the movies – the shift towards realism has begun in the Ad film scenario. No wonder the new war-cry in today’s Ad-scene is “yaar, make it less ad-dy!” Meaning, don’t make it look like a typical ad; make it look real.”
 
High profile head honcho of PNC, Pritish Nandy dismisses advertising as nothing more than a 30 second recreational capsule. Regarding depiction of women in ads, he believes “they throw up two stereotypes, neither of which is anchored in reality.” The first is the firang model, the sassy and sexy international (Kate Moss?) import who sashays across up-market glossies, Sunday supplements, as also our TV screens in the likes of the Raymond ad series. The creators of this persona believe that teaming with the brand owners, they can successfully hawk style, attitude and looks because after all, what you see is where the action is! This tragi-comical colonisation of their mind is, mercifully, not shared by the Indian consumer, and reflects their total disconnect with reality. It brilliantly symbolises what India is “NOT.” The second is the homegrown Kanta Bai / Lalitaji model. This representation attempts to propagate non-threatening, old-fashioned values of thrift and choices. “Pity is, that’s exactly what it symbolises: India of yesterday, not today! It is a corny, unreal and romanticised version that just doesn’t resonate with today’s life and times: where is the Real Woman – of complexities and contradictions, magic and mystique – that any sensitive male sees everywhere across a nation on the move?” Gifted director Aparna Sen (36 chowringhee Lane, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, 15, Park Avenue) joins the fray. She believes that the Indian woman is represented in pathetic fashion, forever one-dimensional – North Indian, fair, urban – with occasional, degrading forays into tokenism. “How is it that beyond this cardboard cut-out, one hardly ever gets to connect with a real, believable, flesh & blood type! When was the last time one saw a woman from the South, East or North-East as ad models?” Enter adworld’s superstar, O&M’s mustachioed Piyush Pandey. “I have no problem with debates and discussions but the feminist and educationist take is difficult to swallow because it comes with an agenda. Advertising is not a pure art form, so truth and integrity – in that pristine fashion – doesn’t happen. The representation of women is totally dependant on what we are selling, where, to whom and in what way. This is not an art film for niche audiences where one can experiment or explore talents of unknown actresses, but a marketing activity with a sharp focus on creating communication that demands accountability.” India is not a country, it’s a universe! Hence, commucation is an unbelievably complex process. On the whole, I don’t think we need to feel guilty.”

Okay, so what gives? We believe advertising’s endeavour (in this sensitive area) is to identify, dramatise, even magnify some “real” emerging trends, traits and directions. The actual portrayal is seldom clinically accurate; it is more a mythologised version, but to the critical question whether it throws up some authentic trends, vis-a-vis the womanscape of today, the answer must be a resounding YES. One certainly gets to see a fascinating representation (across the spectrum) with the housewife playing a starring role! Suddenly, this harassed, sacrificial, 24X7 slogger, performer, gatekeeper and provider of her family’s joy and well-being has morphed into a zestful and joyous participant as well. She seems to be able to say YES (rather then the earlier NO) with more √©lan than before. She seems to also enjoy a much greater sense of control, along with the ability to be playful with her (earlier pativrata – obsessed?) husband, rather than treat him as the authoritative, fearing, lord and master. She is no longer defined by the role she plays, but slips in and out of her several roles – daughter, wife, mother, daughter-in-law – with a greater degree of style, conviction and consummate confidence. Overall, she seems to be much more aware of who she is, what she’s doing, the effect she has… and she uses that more consciously than ever before. In fact, ironically, the most dramatic paradigm shift has been in this area, not the so-called westernised, hot-babe segment.

The house-wife portrayed in ads appears much more confident, secure, positive and driven than the “am I looking good and smelling nice?” insecure chic, constantly dancing on her (self-created) hot tin roof! 

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

“What’s age gotta do with it? Everything!”

Has experience been sacrificed at the alter of today’s youth-crazed ad-land? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri does a check out…

On stage left is the silver-haired poet, sighing “Come grow old with me, for the best is yet to be,” evoking visions of an incandescent journey into the golden sunset. On stage right is the irrepressible, madcap, iconoclastic & self-deprecating genius, Woody Allen. He goes, “When I hit 40, ‘this dishy, cutie-pie babe of 18, doing a tiny cameo in my movie, presented me with a life-altering smile, cardiac-arrest birthday peck and a soul-destroying card. It read: Next time you visit the museum, pops, remember to keep moving!”

So what is age? An asset or a liability? Golden pond or blunder years? Gateway or roadblock? Most importantly, is it today under severe threat from ad-land where young, new and fresh seem to be the favoured buzzwords junking experienced, senior and veteran into the trashcan? Explodes a high-profile Art Director of yesteryears completely mothballed by the recent youth quake, “It’s shocking! I can’t believe this lack of recognition and respect for seniors like us. In our time, we revered and looked up to our superiors. Today’s kids consider us dinosaurs! But then, where is the real, original, creative idea from such juniors?” Retorts a young red-hot, ad practitioner in his mid-thirties in a very senior position, with a bemused smirk, “Sure, I remember those days of folded hands and open-mouthed awe when I first came into the line…mercifully they’ve been forever laid to rest!”

He believes in today’s nano-second times – you are only as hot as your last campaign. Further, being a people-driven, fast-moving, thinking-on-your-feet business, age plays a larger factor than ever before. One has to have one’s eyes constantly glued to the ball and ear to the ground to read and decode market signals, something that the oldies are unlikely to connect or be comfortable with. However, the truth surely is that the sudden boom in terms of consumerism has led to FMCGs and a whole host of new categories pressing the ‘overdrive’ button. This has often resulted into a lot of young and not-so-ready candidates being kicked upstairs, taking on positions of authority and drawing pay checks way beyond their radar. This is unfortunate, but comes with the demands of the times.
 
Naved Akhtar, the distinguished joint CEO of the Delhi-based ‘The Shop’ puts it to the tectonic shift in both perceptions and reality colouring today’s ad world, “Once, positions of authority like Copy Chief and Art Director meant the world. Today, that whole aura and mystique has disappeared because instead of slaving away for the mandatory 10 years, you can hit that slot-if you are good-in half that time!” Exciting and grim; depending upon which side of 30 you fall upon. New trends and technology have dramatically altered the rules of the game forever, demolishing yesterday’s hierarchy and pecking order in an environment constantly re-inventing itself. Can the oldies with frozen mindsets & diminishing energy levels, cope in this new space? Naved retorts, though with a counter, “Certainly, there are brilliant exceptions, but in today’s crazy & competitive times – where ‘perform or perish’ is the theme song – these guys seem unlikely candidates. It’s a young people’s profession all the way.”

The evergreen Alyque Padamsee (Adlands Dorian Grey?) is not amused. He believes it’s fashionable to do the “ageism” number because half of India’s present population is under the age of 25, “But age is really a state of mind. You are as young-or-old-as you think, feel, behave & react. Today, with youth-power blazing with all cylinders firing & products and services speedily getting onto their bandwagon, recognising, understanding & connecting with gen-Y is of critical importance to any serious communication practitioner.” The indefatigable workaholic implores the oldies to let go the baggage of yesteryears (with their quaint set of convictions, beliefs & moral code) & get a life by buying into today’s exciting mindscape. “Remember, if you are not living on the edge, you are occupying too much space, baby, so live-or get a move on!” he adds.

Padamsee considers himself singularly lucky on two counts: To be involved in pursuits that are hugely youth-driven (advertising, theatre & social activism) and in having children in the age-groups of 30s, 20s & teens, “This keeps me in the zone with feedback, buzz & throb that keeps the adrenalin zooming!” Padamsee believes that even the great masters – Ogilvy, Bernbach, Burnett – kept their creativity alive by constantly interacting with young minds. “At the end of the day it’s about grey cells thinking black – and who epitomises it better than the painter M. F. Hussain! At 90, he remains a tireless, un-stoppable show-stopper! The Rock-Star to blow away all Rock-stars! Do you consider him old? I rest my case, milord...” In conclusion, when one pulls back in an endeavour to see the big picture, one realises that (in some fashion) advertising has always been a young person’s calling. The fear of being rendered redundant, irrelevant or out of sync was there in earlier times too, only it was probably less pronounced, self-conscious, brutal or terrifying.

The single greatest dramatic change that has marked this phenomenon has been the change in the very language of advertising. It has morphed from a pristine, pure, print-driven, thought-led, cognitive process to an image-driven, street-speak situation, something that seems to have thrown the purists totally off their feet!
 
Television has set in motion near-cataclysmic changes that has made it extremely difficult for one kind of people (formal, rigid, one-dimensional, unbending, old fashioned) to relate to the business they once claimed to know & love... Why? Because they can’t seem to understand or make their peace with this brand of communication. That’s not how their mind works or why they entered the profession in the first place. It’s a total anti-thesis of everything (they believe) advertising should be.

From the days of cigarette smoking easy going creativity, here comes an age where innovation has to finally culminate into business returns, where a great idea generation exercise has to stick to time deadlines, where – as was said – you are as good as your last ad. The philosophy marks the end of an era, a passing of an order and a mode of advertising; the tragic, but inevitable, demise of innocence in a world increasingly bludgeoned by the tyranny of TRPs, eyeball-grabbing & bottomline watching... “Amen” to that, and “ahem” to much else!

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