Thursday, June 21, 2007


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri checks out this contentious issue...

The friendly neighbourhood cynic is unstoppable. It’s the return of the East India Company, folks! The multinational juggernaut blitzes ahead, full steam, with most (all?) of our hot-shot shops aligned, associated or in partnership with any one of the global (WPP, Dentsu, Publicis, Interpublic, Omnicom...) giants. In this backdrop, where do the ‘local’ pipsqueaks feature? Further, with globalisation a frightening reality, prompting even some die-hards, traditional, conservative sarkari PSUs to hit the ‘firang’ button, is it the beginning of the end for the desi players? Is it time for them to quickly pull back, see the big picture and re-invent themselves to this new-age environment with a work ethic designed to deliver real, palpable, tangible value... transition from a 24x7 glorified supplier mode to a solid, professionally-driven, service provider of result-oriented communication solution? Hey, this is really hot! Let’s see what the ad-frat has to say...

Rajiv Nayyar, CEO of the Delhi- based Perfect 10 advertising agency, is unfazed, but a trifle piqued. “I really don’t think it’s fair to label all non-multinational ad agencies as glorified suppliers! Fact is, we all operate in the service sector, right? Can any single multinational agency, anywhere in the world, touch their hearts and swear they have never ever conceded, given-in or compromised with a tough, rigid and impossible client when crunch time arrived? It is important to remember that advertising is, first and last, a business. Ego, aesthetics, personal belief, vision and everything else, takes a back seat.” Moving to the issue at hand, Nayyar confidently confesses that his agency has never really faced any heat because “We operate in two different spheres. Multinationals (mostly) are comfortable dealing with multinationals, but India is a vast and complex market and there is life beyond multinationals.” While he agrees in principle that these agencies definitely bring a very high level of sophisticated expertise to the table, the point is, most of it is usually not required for the Indian corporates. Besides, many times, this hi-funda mindset acts as a roadblock in probing and understanding real insights that could provide solutions, “As for Indian clients opting for global agencies, mostly, it’s to attain snob value... proudly tell their peers that they are aligned to a hot global name!”
Newfields Advertising’s Managing Director, Raman Gupta, takes the case forward. A second generation adman – the agency was started by his (late) father, fifty years ago – whose organisation deals only with PSUs and government agencies, he reinforces Nayyar’s argument in his own special way. “There was, and continues to exist, a sense of fear within some agencies regarding an imminent and inevitable takeover by the multinational agencies. I think it’s all bullshit!” Gupta goes on to explain the rationale behind his colourfully descriptive adjective. India is neither a small place nor a uniform, one-size-fits-all country. It is a vast and complex terrain where every region and state lives in its very own special universe. The primary task of a professional communicator is firstly to understand this basic premise and then sensitively decode the complex sub-text that defines the psychographics and demographics of this space. You don’t have to be either a PC Sarkar or Einstein to figure out that an Indian, rooted and home-grown agency is more likely to crack it than a hi-fi global name. Why? “Because without fuss or frippery, we get to the essence straightaway and come out with the desired solution.”

Gupta confides that many of his clients (tempted by others), did hire multinational agencies only to kick themselves later. “Their attitude and arrogance really shook them up!” At the end of the day, he believes, both can co-exist harmoniously because the “India” and “Bharat” divide is real and globalisation has only re-affirmed it in no uncertain terms. Lloyd Mathias, the affable and dynamic Marketing Director of Motorola is amused, “I think it is a huge misconception on the part of some Indian ad agencies to believe that multinational agencies are out of sync with the Indian reality. Apart from top-of-the-line global perspective, alignment and shared experience of similar forays played out in other countries, relating to the product advertised, they are fully capable of bringing outstanding insights to the table embracing local colours that make a difference.” He speaks with pride and confidence about his agency (Ogilvy’s) campaign for Motorola (the Abhisekh Bachchan TVC) and states that “it is a classic example of global perspective wedded to local roots.”

Cyrus Batliwala, Director, Corporate Comm. of a large multinational, joins the party with all cylinders firing, “Let’s cut out the crap and cut to the chase! Indian agencies neither have the attitude, aptitude, resources (people), infrastructure or dynamism to match their global counterparts. An Ogilvy, Lowe, Bates, JWT, McCann or Saatchi & Saatchi can never be compared to the local agencies because of the solid value-addition they bring to the table. Their entire focus is about delivering value that will make a difference. They bring knowledge, expertise, passion and purpose in a seamless fuse. The Indian agencies (in most cases) continue to live in a time-warp and play their pathetic yes-sir, no-sir games with their unprofessional clients, terrified of rocking the boat in case the account is lost.”

He adds that the funny part is that if you have courage and conviction backed by solid knowledge – the toughest clients anywhere, will always listen to you and respect your perspective.“ In most cases, these guys are not ad practitioners; they are halwais!!” he says and alleges that, for them, advertising is a dhanda, not a vocation, profession or calling that is engaged in marketing creativity to benefit the manufacturer, brand and the customer.

Rahul Jauhari, the Executive Director of Rediffusion DYR, concludes this debate on a saner and a more tranquil note, “It is a question of who does better work and comes up with brighter ideas. An MNC is essentially a bigger setup – more organised and with wider reach. A client who needs a bigger setup will prefer an MNC but the critical differentiator is quality of work.”

Eventually, it’s not so much about value judgement or which kind of agency is going to score more brownie points. It’s really about what each individual agency believes in, stands for and the direction they wish to pursue... After all, India Inc. is full of stories about the rise and rise of the desi entrepreneur, in the face of intense competition from their multinational brethren, right? What say Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma, the Dhoot family of Videocon and a dozen others? 


Thursday, June 07, 2007


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri casts a ritzy gaze on Advilles new bimari & wonders whether it’s yet another desperate jhatka to attract attention… or a well strategised & researched move to connect with the new age customer base, notorious for it’s distraction & brand promiscuosity

The setting is an air-conditioned compartment of a Mumbai bound Rajdhani. Three young college kids (Varsha, Vimi and Abhi), a newly married young couple (Mala and Arjun), a mid thirties serious-minded professor (Sadanand) and an old lady in her mid seventies (Nanima) fill the space. We open with the college kids – the girls.

Varsha: Yaar, saw the Ajay-Kajol Whirlpool ad? So cute na? They make such a cool, fundoo pair!

Vimi: Absolutely! I like the Saif-Soha one too. The chote nawab is so dhansu stylish. Andaaz hi kuch aur hai… and Soha is cho chweet. The brother-sister thing is really nice.

Prof: [drawn to the conversation because of his serious and academic alignment with Behavioural Science] Excuse me kids, but do you really believe that these glam Bollywood fundoo pairs with deadly chemistry and endearing interactions will be able to do what they are meant to – enhance brand awareness, motivate purchasing intent and finally help hike up sales? Will either of you – for example – actually buy a Whirlpool or the brand of paint these stars are endorsing? Be honest!

Varsha: [Surprised and irritated at this intrusion] Excuse me Sir, but who are you? An anti-ad activist?

Prof: [Embarrassed] I am so sorry… but being a professor of Behavioural Sciences, I couldn’t help but listen and react. Advertising really is nothing more than an aggressive bait, a dangerous phenomenon that in today’s consumerist society creates unnecessary needs and manufactures irrelevant wants. [Pauses] Think about it.

Mala: [Excited] Arre professor sahib, you are talking total bakwas! [Prof looks at the slightly downmarket newly-wed girl, decked in all her bridal finery, shocked] Me, my husband and the entire parivar love these ads! They are so sweet and the couple’s jugalbandi – especially in the Ajay-Kajol ad is too much. Who wants to know about the boring, altu-phaltu product features? Aakhir fridge aur air-conditioner, fridge aur AC hi hai…kyon jee? [Dumb impressed husband nods vigorously]
Nanima: Yeh Kajol, Nutan ki niece hai na? [The kids nod; in vague fashion] Kya actress thi! Sujata, Seema, Bandini, Anari, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Manzil, Paying Guest…Yeh chokri ads kyoon kar rahi hai…picture milta nahi kya?

Abhi: [Indulgently] Nanima, Kajol is very good and popular heroine. Bahut saare films mein kamaal ki acting kiya hai. Ads karti hain kyonki tagda paisa milta hai…Do crore ke upar!

Nanima: [stunned silence… followed by a hearty chuckle] Pagal ho kya? Do crore… yeh thanda machine ke gun gane ke liye uske patidev ke saath?!

Prof: Exactly! That’s the other point that needs to be looked into. Rs.2 crores for mouthing lines scripted by someone else, going through the paces directed by someone else…

Mala: [Visibly agitated] Oye prof sahib, shut up jee! Bas bole ja rahe ho, bole ja rahe ho…aur woh bhi sab bakwas! [Goes eyeball to eyeball with the prof] Aisa hai Sirjee, zindagi is not a classroom or conference table and human reaction cannot be put under a microscope. Pata hai why family ads are popular and they work…Kyunki we as a country and people are steeped in tradition and values where family is sacred… bahut mayane rakhta hai. Sirjee aap kitab chodhiye…bahar aaiye… zindagi dekhiye!

[The girls are hugely impressed by this speech and clap. The old lady is dozing. The prof. appears a trifle humiliated and shaken]

Abhi: [Politely] Please don’t mind her tone and aggressive stance… What she meant I think, was that people will always be drawn towards celebrities – more so if they are hot, glamorous and Bollywood – because movies to the average Indian is religion. So in that context if glam Bollywood couples [family or popular pairs] endorse products that project bonding family values and utility, the synergy is ideal.

Mala: Boss kya speech mara aapne! Kya angerzi boli! Maza hi aa gaya! Mere liye tu tum hi professor ho, yeh khadoos nahi!

Prof: [Agitated] What did she say? Did she abuse me?

Varsha and Vini: [Giggling] No, no, no prof… She said that she wished you would loosen up a little bit. Not be so academic and rigid. And go with the flow…

Prof: [visibly fatigued by the collective onslaught] I don’t know… I… er… don’t agree. I still believe that stars – couples, families whatever – distract more than help product sales simply because of the star mania in India. Did Amitabh and Abhishekh’s weird Versa ad help promote that dud car? Did the Feroz-Fardeen Khan horror ad for Pan-Bahar remotely impact the cash counter? Did Sharmila-Soha’s cutesy hair oil ad or Hema prancing with her daughters in the Kent RO Mineral Water ad rocket their demand in the market? Where is the idea that star status powers and promotes product values? Shouldn’t the focus be on the powerful and cutting edge differentiating factor rather than the star? Won’t there be a perpetual danger of people remembering the ad for the star value and forgetting the product altogether?

Abhi: Mala and the girls – along with a zillion people – are thrilled when stars feature in ads. The bottom line, as you have rightly pointed out (for the advertiser) is to promote and sell his product through entertainment. If star couples or families do the job, great. If not…

Nanima: [Suddenly awake and into the conversation] Ek baat batao… Kajol chori ko do crore milte to hamare Allahabad ke munna, uski biwi, ladka aur uski nayi bahu ko kitna milega?

[On hearing ‘bees crore” she is about to faint – but affects a startling recovery the moment someone mentions… Jalebi!]