Thursday, September 27, 2007

“Yes Boss”

presents facts that are stranger than fiction. Honest! Ready? Lets go….

The huge Boss-man, looking disturbingly similar to an over-fed frog, seated on a massive filmy throne-like chair in a room right out of a seventies Bollywood villains den, stared hard at the young, fresh-faced Account Executive. From time to time, he sighed and nodded his head, left to right, indicating cosmic sorrow. Eventually, wisdom descended from the lotus-lipped. “Yaar kuch jama nahin! Sab Ghatiya!”

With these deadly words, he flung the eight ads (that the agency had prepared in 2 hours flat) towards him and began again. “Look beta, don’t take it personally. I like you and you know that, hai na? We’ve been interacting for the last two months, kitna masaa se kyun? I know you guys can deliver the goods if you put your dil & jaan to it…So go back and do something really creative, jo dekhte hi ghanti bajne lagey!”

The young executive (cultured, educated, soft-spoken, professionally trained in one of Mumbai’s top ad agencies) attempted to say something, but was cut short immediately. “Bachcha, aage bhi kaha, anpadh aadmi hoon main. Yeh tumhara angrezi advertising bhashan kuch samajh nahi aata. Bas achcha nahin laga to achcha nahin laga! If you people can’t give me something really hat ke, tell the others in your group that I’ll call other agencies. Line lagi hai, beta, ek phone ghumaon to…”

The man paused for breath. “My 17 year old bitiya can do better! She’s studying Mass Comm and she only told me that those designs are third class!”

Shaken and crushed at this onslaught, the young man rose, made the appropriate, polite sounds and returned to the office. On the way he wondered who these clients were and how they never existed, two months ago, in his life at the Mumbai-based agency. He was really fed up! The move to Delhi was totally wrong and he regretted his resignation, despite huge warnings from his pals.

Back at the office, his boss, instead of consoling him, blew a fuse. “Who told you to lagao speeches and teach him advertising? Do you know… He’s owned & managed his organization successfully for 25 years?” That did it for the kid. He finally, exploded. “Look here, dumbo, I‘ve put up with your nonsense about us being a service industry, but the Boss is God for a little too long. Your stupid client produces cloth, not quality advertising, okay? But you won’t understand the difference because you, like him, are basically a halwai! A 24X7 order supply dalal! You don’t understand the first thing about quality professionalism or focus – it’s only billing at any cost! That doesn’t suit me because it’s injurious to my professional health! I am quitting with immediate effect! Goodbye!” With that he stormed out of the room. The agency head (lala?) was too stunned to speak. He quickly gulped down a glass of water & reached for his favourite fix–pan parag…

Ladies and gentleman you have just read a true-to-life incident gleaned from adland. The smart, young, ambitious and talented client servicing person lured away with big bucks and promises to introduce a new work ethic, was badly disillusioned. “Doesn’t professionalism count for anything?” he asked himself in frustration and despair…
 
Of course it does! Otherwise luminaries like Elsie Nanjee, Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi, Santosh Desai, Arun Nanda, George John, Pralhad Kakkar, Alyque Padamse, Ram Ray and Mohammed Khan couldn’t be around with their outstanding contribution to the communication business in taking it to another level… We would only be lumped with “the Chawdi Bazar School of Advertising” – a genre in which any resemblance to the real thing is a startling coincidence! A group which is constantly exploring lower depths of the “Ji Huzzori” & sycophancy culture, trashing all norms of professional ethics, decorum & capabilities at the altar of bottom-line. Quality, integrity, relevance, impact – “Woh kya hai? Oye, ‘phatphat’ release kar pappe, client ad ko pass kar diya!”

The truth of the matter is simple. True blue/professionalism is about vision & values and always emanates from the top. It is the leader who sets the tone, defines the blueprint, articulates the direction, focus & philosophy of the organizational growth path. If he is of the belief that quality and growth are perfectly compatible, more friends than foes, then he is likely to earn both, big bucks and big respect from all who matter – employees, clients, peers, stakeholders & consumers.

If, on the other hand, he treats advertising like any other business – which it isn’t – then (despite making money) he will be looked upon as an unprofessional, down-market pariah, a trader/supplier who accidentally gate-crashed into the sophisticated world of advertising instead of hawking commodities at Chandni Chowk!.

At the end of the day, any entrant passionate about embarking on this fascinating creative journey into a world that deals with the business of ideas, must be warned to say ‘NO’ to these deadly ‘YES’ Boss types and resist succumbing to mediocrity...

Or rest assured, all his life his ears will be ringing with deathless slogans like East or West, our wear – under is best!

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ad-Quake

Pretentious, Expensive Dramabazi or Passionate Corporate Patriotism?

It’s quite amazing, really. Like love (which the world celebrates in hysterical fashion once a year because that’s the only day allocated to it), patriotism is also on the freak-out mode every August 15th. Never mind the rest of the year, on Independence Day, our great political leaders & champions of trade & commerce, business & industry pull out all stops to demonstrate their passionate patriotism in all their tri-coloured glory! Pledging the sun & moon or waxing eloquent, these eminent figures with their (mock?) heroics through speeches and ads really turn on the patriotic charm full steam. The creators of ads, of course, are a breed apart! Combining ghisa-pita clich├ęs with contrived, corny attempts to forcefully connect the product/service with the spirit, tone & tenor of the day, they offer specimens that make any sane person gasp with different degrees of amusement, shock & horror!!

Two questions that immediately zoom-in demanding answers are… Firstly, how can (so called) professional communication practitioners actually dish out this brand of inane, mindless, boring, predictable and amateurish stuff light years away from anything engaging, enriching or imaginative? Two, instead of spending billions in terms of ad-spend to celebrate Independence Day (or is it handcuffed to mediocrity?), wouldn’t it be a better idea to channelise the funds towards powering a meaningful cause or addressing a critical concern relating to the disfranchised disadvantaged children of a lesser God? Who, for Christ’s sake sees, notices, reads or recalls these ads anyway except the ad agencies who create them & the clients who commission them?

There are differing voices. Once upon a time - say 15 years ago or so – Independence Day ads were largely dished out by the government or PSUs. Not any more. Private sector, today, has also jumped into the fray, pumping in big bucks to push patriotism powered product/service ads through the roof. Why? Do they really (professionally speaking) consider I-Day as an un-missable platform to connect brands with big bucks? Arvind Sharma (CEO, Leo Burnett) believes that there is more to it than meets the eye. “Basically, it should be viewed as a public manifestation of corporate India’s new-found pride and confidence of being Indian and to that extent, it appears both legitimate and appropriate to tap into their pursuit of bonding with the consumers.” He cites the example of the classic Cadbury ad unfurling the flag and some infrastructure ads as good “fits.” As for others, “It’s cashing in on the mood of the day irrespective of focus or perspective… nothing unusual in this genre.” Regarding the quality, he believes, it’s an individual call. Good agencies are likely to produce good work, while mediocre ones will produce what they produce “and that’s true across every genre across the board. Don’t blame the messenger. He’s just the piano player!”
 
Another school of thought puts it down to nothing more than “insecurity.” A decade and a half ago, hardly any communicator could ever dream of (seriously) creating and running an ad that would push a brand riding on Independence Day emotions. One guy started – maybe for novelty value. Other followed and suddenly it wasn’t about logic, selling or focus at a professional level. It wasn’t about what got you doing an ad for I-Day, but rather what you lost by not doing it, while the other guys did it! It was - and has become a kind of “herd mentality” movement, an ego issue, a keeping up with the whoever’s-of-the-world game! You are not perceived as a ‘politically correct’ organisation (pun intended), if you don’t run these ads!

JWT NCD Josy Paul agrees. He believes that most of the stuff dished out on August 15th does zilch to make any sane/normal person puff out his chest with patriotic pride and it’s largely because it seems to have been done “either to mindlessly honour a time-tested tradition or saab ko khush karne ke liye! Unfortunately very little thought is invested in making it engaging, interesting, imaginative or fresh in thought or insight, towards blending a product promise with a patriotic spin. It can be a truly exciting challenge and a terrific opportunity to attempt clutter-busting stuff…”

Paul speaks of the time when he recently visited a plant in Roorkee during its inauguration and how, when the national anthem was played, his hair stood on end and he wept! “For me, that was hugely moving and meaningful, symbolising rootedness in the soil where I stood. I don’t get that same feeling for any of those ads nowadays.”

Badal Das, a Professor of Sociology, bemoans this 15th August aberration as “an amazing opportunity, lost.” He reckons that it is not everyday that the cut-throat world of business has an opportunity to actually exploit the emotional-patriotic space in a creative fashion without really focusing excessively on the sell factor… “a canvas which is invitingly open for exciting inventiveness with a captive audience – in patriotic mood and mode – ready to absorb the communication across media. After all it is a very special day and even the most hardened sceptic will be willing to relent in the face of the popular mood of the moment. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, what we are deluged with are variations of dull ads. Sad…”

While the jury is not fully out on this one, some take-outs are worth …taking out! The Rehman ad or the Hamara Bajaj ad or an India-Pakistan cricket match seems to achieve far more in terms of patriotism or soaring spirits than most of these ads put together. Why? Because, everything considered, these ads don’t seem to be able to add any value to the core content; all they seem to do is force-feed words and phrases that attempt to signify the spirit of the occasion. Result? They look and sound corny, boring, unimaginative, uninteresting, fake, propagating nothing more than hollow posturing…

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