Thursday, July 19, 2007


Snowed under with ads hysterically sold on entertaining, 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri wonders whether there’s been a slight confusion in priorities!

Man, its one hulluva time in ad-land!

Today’s ads (especially TVCs) are mind-blowing… Splendid examples of riveting audience engagement, carefully crafted and designed to woo and impact a promiscuous (and forever) distracted viewer-base with the (ominious) ‘remote’ always at their fingertips. “Our job in these scary competitive times is simple: delight and surprise,” explains a Mumbai based hot-spot maverick (with his drooling, devoted acolytes, nodding energetic approval). “Not bore the pants off them with grim and boring product facts or figures. That will only inspire. zzzzzzz!” Adds another pony-tailed member of the ad-frat, “Times have changed. The world is on a perpetual and frenetic fast-forward. To catch the flirtatious eye of the prospective customer, one has to be unique, special and different. In this backdrop, ‘entertainment’ is the acknowledged hot-line, the great leveller… Films, songs, books, events, happenings, news – we borrow and spin-off from any and everything that promises visibility, noticability and stopper-value. At the end of the day, in this crazy clutter, grabbing and freezing eyeballs is the name of the game, baby-cake!”

Clap-Clap. Wonderful. Fabulous et al… but excuse me, isn’t advertising a means to an end… an end called ‘selling’? Are prizes, wah-wahs, medals and gongs more crucial than ‘sales’? Has advertising in the recent times, become too self-absorbed, drawing too much attention to itself and too little in closing the deal related to the purchase intent? Has advertising become a ‘high-wire’ act with the creative guys freaking out to impress other creative guys with the ‘Big O’ coming from ‘their’ recognition, applause and appreciation, ‘not’ of clients? Is the ‘S’ word, unfashionable, dumb and corny in a time where no one does anything as crass as selling; they do the sophisticated thing. Build brands! No one looks at the sales figures. They track scores! Has advertising become ‘the’ product itself with ABBYs, CAG, Goafest, Cannes, et al as the prime target of one and all?

Kolkata-based, veteran adman (and sometimes actor, he was Satyajit Ray’s hero in the second of the maestro’s city triology Seema Baddha?), Barun Chanda believes that this phenomenon in some fashion has always existed. “There have always been the arty or smart-arse types who make it their business to blow away their clients with showy and spectacular, but irrelevant concepts. They’ve, on cue, garnered the appropriate gasps and wows but hardly ever touched the crucial areas of selling! It’s not a crime but a ‘sin’! The agency should be sacked immediately,” Chanda says. However, Chanda believes that often the clients are to blame too, “Because the promise of glitzy awards amidst glamorous settings at home and abroad works as a seductive carrot for them.” To director sahiba Leena (Shabd) Yadav, “The entertainment quotient works as a super-seller. Used in appropriate manner – Happydent, Cadbury, Fevicol,, Airtel - they rock! They go beyond the cut and dry product features to create an emotional synergy and connect that ensures top-of-the-mind awareness.” However, she is quick to add that flippant and casual endeavours, hoping for short-cuts to accelerate consumer preference is doomed “because it neither entertains nor sells!”

Lowe’s Executive Creative Director, Preeti Nair Chax advances the case further. “We live in a deadly crowded ad-space with products and ads coming out of our ears! In this scenario, entertainment can offer a fabulous solution as a clutter-buster but ‘only’ if crafted with care and never losing sight of the product-is-the-hero angle,” she said. She cites the example of Fevicol, Miss Palampur, Surf, Greenply,, ICICI Prudential (among others) as interesting examples of leveraging the entertainment quotient in a positive manner. “However celebs (especially Bollywood) should be handled with great responsibility and special care because their red-hot personas as entertainers can easily demolish the very reason for them being present in the ad – to sell the product!”

To Parveen Chawla, a smart, young and sensitive Delhi-based ad person, it appears tragic that “entertainment suddenly is on a flier!” She believes it has something to do with the popular bimari of manoranjan inspiring Bollywood honchos like Sunjay Dutt and Sunny Deol growl lines like ‘Apun ke style ka mamla hain’, or ‘Ye andar ki baat hain’, lending to a whole new dimension to the term, ‘thunder down under’!

So, whats the take-out? While it is indeed a given that in today’s stress-ridden life, entertainment is increasingly perceived as a welcome therapy and our movie-making technology is world-class, the problem is (ironically) that this lethal mixture of cool creative focus and stunning new age technology provides for a riveting ad capsule that undoubtedly engages, entertains, (even enthrals) in fine style ‘but’ frequently at expense of the selling proposition. Result? We see scores of brilliantly crafted TVCs that delight and surprise – as the high priest’s decree – but do they really turn you on to buy? Do they, in any fashion, impact your mind-set, alter belief or inspire change in perception towards the product or service advertised? The honest answer (most of the time) has to be ‘no’. With exceptions, form and style (entertainment quotient) seem to enjoy a winning run over content and substance (selling proposition) leading to terrifying audience take-out: Remembering the ‘Ad’ or the ‘celebrity’ in it but forgetting the ‘product’! 


Thursday, July 05, 2007


Of Course-Yes-Definitely!

At a recent ad-show, my erudite friend was suddenly seized by the spirit of enquiry. With seriousness writ large on his face, he drew me aside, took a deep breath, cleared his throat and let fly…Why (he asked with scary passion) is creativity in the ad- business forever linked with the usual (Piyush, Prasoon, Balki, Chax, Pop, Angelo, Josy…) suspects? Don’t tell me (he continued incredulity colouring his tone), that nothing significant, interesting, engaging, creative, fresh or original has ever happened beyond their gaze… or no outstanding talent has ever emerged outside their mafia-dom? If it has (and surely it has!) - why has neither the work nor individuals ever been celebrated, written-up or publicized like the over-hyped Mumbai lot? Is it because of a lazy, un-interested, un-informed, star-struck and Mumbai –fixated media forever dazzled by the sizzle, not the steak? Is it because the truly creative minds-of the non-Mumbai kind–don’t really go grey pining for marquee-status, bright lights or frivolous Page 3 razzle dazzle, choosing instead to concentrate on their work, perfectly happy with the peer respect and recognition they receive? Is it because hype, hoopla and posturing is an intrinsic part and parcel of the glamorous Mumbai culture and the new age savvy, creative guys have learnt the art of leveraging it with consummate skills and panache?

Arindam Nandy, Senior Creative Director, Response (Kolkata) believes that the issue must not invite over-reaction and should be understood in the right context. “First things first. Anyone making a sweeping statement about Mumbai being the only hot-spot for advertising creativity needs to visit his friendly neighborhood shrink-fast! There definitely exsits loads of talent, unfortunately not matched with equal amount of opportunity to allow it to catch fire!” Nandy cites the example of his own city, a place (traditionally) bursting with creativity, ideas and imagination. Unfortunately, the business (mostly) are East-India-centric eliminating (immediately) any chance of national perspective or all-India footprint. This, despite the greatest innovative brilliance places the work in the “regional” category, diluting the “interest quotient” of the media. He rationalizes, “It’s pretty much like Bollywood and regional cinema. Until hot ‘n’ heavy national clients with big ad spends hit the scene, this marginalized and also-ran status will prevail. Sad but true.”
Delhi-based creative consultant Mayank Gaur however is in no mood to play footsie, be politically correct or play coy. He slams it with all cylinders firing! He begins his fusillade by quoting the legendary baseball’s stars deathless line “champions discuss baseball. Fools discuss statistics.” Warmed up, he lays it on the line, “This issue has to do with two major aspects. One Mumbai’s sickening self-congratulatory complacence leading to a kind of arrogance that makes them believe that the sun actually comes out of their a…e! Two, the pathetic dumbling down of a media completely sold out to the Page 3 culture.” Gaur wonders whether their so-called Mumbai stars have ever bothered to look beyond their water-tight, closely-guarded incestuous, in-ward looking and self absorbed universe to check out the kind of work in range and brilliance coming out of the other centres. He detests the fact that just because clients are small and regional as (opposed to national big-ticket) the advertising is dismissed as insignificant. But brilliant-work, he emphasizes, remains brilliant work, irrespective of national footprint or humongous ad spend. It’s the power of the idea and creative insight that matters or should matter, surely! “The litmus test is to achieve creative brilliance riding on modest resources. Live the ‘small is big’ idea. Anyone can score brownie points having stars and all the required infrastructure on your side. It’s the small, modest, unsung shops breaking through with great creativity that should be applauded.” Gaur concludes his little tsunami with “at a time when the best ideas often happens in the loo, this Mumbai-nonsense is truly idiotic and juvenile. Quickly pull the flush yaar!”

Swapan Seth, CEO of the Delhi-based Equus Red Cell brings his own spin to the debate. “I really don’t think the issue is whether Mumbai is the cathedral of creative or not. It is just that the industry is largely present there. As is the film industry.” He believes that media location also has a role to play and that Mumbai-based publications tend to talk more often to people in Mumbai, which he is quick to add is equally “understandable.” Seth also highlights that the personal aspect of people must also be borne in mind. “There are people like me who speak when spoken to and to the point. I think there is considerable talent here in Delhi. Even Kolkata. Or Bangalore. It’s just that Mumbai creative people are so in your face that you feel that they are all there is to creativity.”

To Anuja Chauhan it’s really a non-issue because she genuinely believes that “Mumbai IS where the action is and the Piyushes and Prasoons ARE THE KHANS of that universe!” The talented creative director of JWT Delhi – (responsible for most of those celebreated and higly visible PEPSI ads over the last decade) – agrees that there is good work happening in other centres “But Mumbai is like Hollywood or Bollywood, the real and perceived capital of glamour, mega stars, big bucks, big league players, hot n’ happening environment” and combined they produce a lethal and magical package that seduces both media and ever-curious public. Since that is the nature of the animal, is it any wonder that most creative guys of any worth gravitate towards that city? And the big boys of the Mumbai ad-world may rejoice. There may be many takers, but very few are plotting painstakingly to usurp their hot seats... oh but it will take a lot to battle the masala magic of Mumbai...