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.” 


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...