Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is Great Copywriting DEAD?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri ponders over this critical issue, with a little help from some creative stars

Once upon a time advertising was a class act. Elegant and stylish, it brilliantly showcased classy writing. This means that the constituency who made waves were individuals who were engaged in a passionate love-affair with the English language; had a complete command as well as enjoyed the ability to manipulate, narrate, coax and woo words in a fashion that enticed and entertained as well as moved (both) emotions and merchandise in the desired manner. The WORD was God and devotees pulled out all stops to elevate it to sublime levels. Frank Simoes, Shiben Dutta, Sayeeda Imam, Mohammed Khan (whose iconic ad celebrating the 10th anniversary of his agency, Enterprise, remains a classic), Ivan Arthur, Chris Rozario, Alok Nanda, Freddy Birdy… they comprised a small cluster of artists whose work was held up as glowing examples of outstanding advertising.

So, whatever happened to that kind of soul-uplifting writing where words sang and soared in magical fashion? Has it been brutally replaced by crass, terse, staccato, smart-arse slogans in the throwaway populist, bindas hinglish? Is the rampaging TVC culture responsible for seducing people with its quick-fix, addictive, audio-visual masala, which does not demand any cultural foundation… or is it all really a sign of the times; a natural reaction in an environment where communication is the key, speed the mantra and brevity the mandate?

Young and talented Tania Chakrabarty (O&M, Kolkata) believes it is an appropriate reflection of the here and now. “Patience is in alarmingly short supply and this is largely responsible for the demise of the long copy ads,” she says. While at a personal level Chakarbarty laments the state of ad copywriting today, she recognises that if the consumer is not in the mood to read them, the advertiser is not in the mood to buy them. Period. For Chakrabarty, this genre of writing is akin to possessing a ‘Benz’… “Something that exists in splendid isolation in the garage, brought out only on rare and appropriate occasions. For everyday, the chalu stuff is there, na?”
“It is the age of SMS, visual communication and e-mail, baby!” That’s the iconoclast, media hot shot Pritish Nandy, who believes that the very fact that we are able to effectively communicate with each other in a language without grammar, punctuation or spellings as taught to us in school and college means that the conventional, Queen’s English has been given a warm send off… “and no one’s complaining!” he avers, adding that, “Find me one kid who reads Dickens, Thakeray, Hardy, Wilde or even Shakespeare and I’ll find you a pig that flies!” Nandy is of the opinion that the defining role of things familiar, has changed radically. Technology has unleashed a generation that demands instant gratification through instant solutions. “All this has played a crucial part in this new communication mode, with advertising leading from the front. Ad-guys are quick to seize the mood and moment and milk it to the full,” he reasons.

The great Mohammed Khan however lays the blame on other areas. “I think Cannes is the biggest reason for the recent fade-out of quality writing because the stuff they exhibit, showcase, applaud, celebrate and award are (mostly) visual-led. This leads kids to believe that words are irrelevant and should be kept to a bare minimum.” The thinking is further re-enforced by a genuine shift in the art-copy configuration with art coming centre- stage, “Unlike earlier times, today’s art directors are articulate, savvy and interactive. They are stars in their own right, no longer shy, withdrawn creatures who need to be protected, instead ready to claim their (long overdue?!) pound of flesh in public.” But, Khan is convinced that even in today’s crazy kiya re times, if a writer is truly gifted, he is capable of finding an audience, clientele and market. The problem is the deadly dearth of quality writers.

Creative Director Titus Upputuru brings his own spin to the table. A passionate lover of the language, this young, pro-active communicator has gone well beyond hollow drawing-room posturing into championing a movement – on the net- called ‘Save the World’. Here’s his take. “TV is not called an Idiot Box for nothing! However, today TVCs certainly seem to enjoy a winning presence in the mediascape. Interestingly, one small fact is overlooked. Before the TVC hits the screen, they are ideated and put down on paper in the shape of a script, remember?” Upputuru concedes that their manifestation in a primarily visual format (solely designed to sell through entertainment) within a very tight timeframe (30 secs/60 secs) demanding zero intelligence quotient and catering to broadbased populist taste make it the flavour of the day. He admits that creative guys today prefer doing TVCs rather than writing ads. Why? “Because our hottest creative stars are people who are more TV/film/visual-oriented than copy-driven. Also, the glamour and excitement attached to it is high!”

So has quality writing been flung out of the window or shoved onto the back-burner? Is the well-written, exquisitely crafted English language a thing of the past? Well, there can’t – shouldn’t – be any sweeping value judgments because language is a product of its environment and its evolution, flexibility and usage will depend on which way the wind is blowing.

Once upon a time advertising was not need-based and neither were clients nor products ad-dependant. In that arena, the sophisticated, public-school, well-read and well-spoken individuals called the shots. Language, finesse and nuance of expression were appreciated and rewarded. Today’s marketscape, with its disparate and segmented target group, does not require it. The profile, psychographics, demographics and demands of the new age consumer does not connect with yesterdays urban-centric, English-specific, one-size-fits-all capsule. These people may not be too fluent with the Queen’s English but they are aspirational, loaded and in a hurry to live the good life. More importantly, they want to be wooed in their own language! In this new scheme of things (barring a few high-end categories) where jaldi bol, mota bol, seedha bol is the ruling commandment and Hindi/Hinglish the preferred lingua franca, do the magical Mohammed, fabulous Freddy or awesome Alok have a ghost of a chance? You decide!


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