Thursday, April 12, 2007


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri takes a microscope and dives in to inspect whether the biggies have an edge over smaller agencies in the hallowed ‘land of ideas’! Read on to discover what he finds...

The US of A has always, in flashy and hi-decibel fashion, flouted, rooted and celebrated the ‘big is beautiful’ philosophy. Be it cars, corporations, lifestyle, pay cheques, movies, hype, babes-it’s all mega and wadda! The Big Daddy of Madison Avenue and the acknowledged Founding Father of America’s Creative revolution Bill Bernbach, however chose to differ. In a startling, landmark and audacious breakthrough, he launched the VW car (in the 50s) with two simple perception-altering words-THINK SMALL. And what a fall was there my countrymen!

However, the debate and discussion here is something else. Does the size of an ad agency determine the quality they will deliver? Does ‘big’ automatically spell excellence; and ‘small’, inadequate and therefore, suspect? Do the Biggies, by that token, have an instant edge over the smaller shops due to their global affiliations and infrastructural heavies? Finally, if advertising is really a business of ideas, shouldn’t this aspect be the real driver of quality and agency selection instead of size?

“It is a very interesting question and needs to be looked at in 360 degree fashion.” That’s Esha Guha, CEO of the Delhi-based Newfields Advertising. “Does size matter? Yes and No. Yes, because with the multinats swamping the Indian marketspaces and global ad conglomerates buying up Indian agencies outta sight - JWT, Ogilvy, Bates, Saatchi & Saatchi, Rediffusion DY&R, Dentsu, TBWA Anthem, Ambience Publicis - the smaller agencies definitely are struggling to come to terms with this reality.” Taking the case further, she believes that (with remote exceptions) the best and brightest creative talent will invariably end up signing up with a big shop. Why? “Simply because of the huge creative and financial scope offered. Suddenly, they have opportunities to work on large, prestigious global accounts, enjoy access to you-name-it resources, can actually have a (realistic) shot at the most celebrated (Cannes, Abbys, One-Show Archives) honours and awards and (to crown it all), also pocket a very lucrative pay-cheque. So yes, size here is a big deal!”

However, Guha is quick to point out that there’s a flip-side too, where there is place for everybody and size is not the cutting-edge monster devouring all in its way, as its often made out to be. “Contrary to one kind of mindset, the world does not belong solely to the big spenders and mega brands. There are dozens of small and medium advertisers, who prefer to work with smaller agencies rooted, down-to-earth, hard-working sans nakhras, committed to deliver the desired quality with speed.” The CEO proudly points out to (among several)- one outstanding LIC ad that they produced in recent times which won out in the face of stiff competition from the more glamorous, Mumbai-based biggies.

Bikram Sen (Ex JWT, Clarion, McCann and present head honcho of Sony Advertising) takes the case further. “To me, size is not about monster ad spends or bullying. Its about temperament, aptitude, and the ability to rise to the big occasion-when it presents itself and deliver value that makes a difference.”

Sen believes size can be both a virtue and virtue and vice. “It can be the former for all the obvious reasons. The vice has to do with personalized interaction taking a hit in this assembly-line and factory-type environment which for its turn, impacts ideation. ” No wonder, more and more creative types are quitting the big agencies to either start their own small outfit or connect with shops that are creatively compatible & provide them with an environment to celebrate their own space”

Sandeep Mahapatra, the brilliant “planning” maverick in McCann blows away all negativity and reservation, ifs and buts against size and bursts in with all cylinders firing. He presents his case with scary facts. “Let’s not act, sweet, cute, corny, and kid ourselves that size is a villain and niche is God, okay? The reality is that in the space that we operate, size is everything. Why? Because businessmen like to engage with businessmen. Good businessmen like to connect with good businessmen. Big businessmen like to eyeball with big businessmen and that forms the starting point of a business association.”

Mahapatra explains that the celebrity creative person who heads his/her own ad-boutique is hugely respected by one and all, but will only attract the smaller fish as clients. Does this mean there’s a conflict? No. It’s just that it’s a historical fact that ‘small’ often translates to ‘great work’. That’s how they hit the spotlight, grab attention, become big (and then bingo)! Proceed to shelve and dump all the creative drives that made them hot! Suddenly they turn establishment, forget the audacious ideas and creative leaps that made them rock, play safe and cautious, rely on the safety of numbers and tread familiar, but predictably boring-comfort zones. Mahapatra is convinced that ‘big is good’. “The reason is simple for the client, agency and sharp creative person. Imagine a situation where you have a super-client-understanding, receptive, communication – savvy – with all his stuff in place and inspirational enough to get out some great work from the agency. Unfortunately, the poor sod doesn’t have the adspend to do justice to the vision or brilliant creatives that can bring change. It’ll be lost in some small, vague obscure publication and channels in the media landscape. If it’s however a Coke, then they have the financial clout to publicize and showcase their stuff to effect.”

In fact, it is also a psychological thing. People generally react differently to size… At award shows, a Coke is likely to be much more of a turn-on than, say Emami or Boroline. The other thing that ‘big’ offers is a great springboard because of an incomparable environment and platform to imbibe, absorb, learn, grow and develop… Come on, there’s a difference in whether you begin your career with an HLL or a Mina Chemicals, for chrissake! Size matters-and don’t believe anyone who says anything else… 


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