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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