Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is Ogilvy’s monopoly as creative hot-shop No. 1 over…?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri lobs this deadly bomb, among the ad-frat, with its mouth open. Stand by for the explosion!

For over a decade, one agency relentlessly (with boring predictability?!) dominated the Indian ad scene with all cylinders firing. Men-in-Black blitzing centre-stage, they were perceived as the true-blue OOD (Object of Desire, dumbkoff!) to starry-eyed aspirants, envious rivals, admiring peers, enthusiastic media and zonked-out clients alike! They dared to re-define, re-invent and re-script the rules of the game to win friends and influence people by the heaps – including snooty, khadoos, phirang jury members plonked at hi-ticket, glamorous, globally revered ad fests! Fronted by the Ranjan Kapur-Piyush Pandey duo, Ogilvy repeatedly broke new ground to scale new heights, opening up new and exciting ways of challenging the very concept of ‘Creativity’ of a nation that worshipped the past while wooing the future; that celebrated unity amidst diversity; that was ready to look beyond the haw-haw stereotypical brown saab’s vision to embrace communication that was desi and entertained, enthralled, informed and persuaded in one lethal sweep.

Today, has this hugely popular and successful vision, creative (business) model, take (somewhere) gotten predictable, boring, clichéd? Has their once-refreshingly perspectives become a no-big-deal affair? Have other agencies like JWT, Bates, Leo Burnett, Contract and Lowe made regular forays into this once ‘reserved’ space with growing success? Is Ogilvy’s monopoly as the undisputed dada in the creative sphere over? Is the margin between them and the red-hot contenders sphere slowly narrowing, dangerously? Is it time to pass on the baton (or at least share the top spot) with another?

“Yes. It had to happen. It’s the law of nature. That Ogilvy has dominated the creative scene all these years, is a tribute to their outstanding talent pool and Piyush Pandey’s dynamic leadership. No two ways.” Leo Burnett’s head honcho Arvind Sharma, however believes that in today’s highly competitive market both clients & consumers are constantly looking for fresh takes & at the end of the day, yesterday’s freshness is today’s cliché. “Besides, no one’s got a lifelong copyright on creative excellence! Also I see the significance and importance of TV weakening in the next few years – Ogilvy’s biggest strength. That’s their main prime media with everything else emanating from that. For example if you didn’t see the Pappu Pass Ho Gaya TVC, the co-lateral is unlikely to make sense. Re-invention is called for at a time when challenges & opportunities in the ad scene are going through paradigm shift at a nano-second pace!”

The new golden boy of India’s ad scene JWT’s Agnello Dias [Lead India, Teach India, whose campaign took Cannes by storm] is up next, “Everything considered , its fair to say that the once wide gap between Ogilvy & others has narrowed considerably. A bad day at the office for them, today, is good news for others, all primed and ready to strike! Hence the time when even their ordinary ads were way ahead of others is clearly over. They are still up there, with their nose ahead, but its touch & go time. Anytime, anybody could have a grab at that crown. Its not an undisputed case, anymore.”
Dias, however salutes Ogilvy and credits them for successfully raising the bar in their search for excellence on the way to the top. “Today many other agencies are playing their version of this game, with exciting effect. Suddenly, its open house!” Dias ends his perspective with a solid bite, “When I was with Leo Burnett, six years ago, I remember kids were prepared to give their right arm for Ogilvy! It was ‘the’ place for them! Today that scene is, however, history. The world has moved on. Maybe Ogilvy needs to introspect.”

“The ad-space, traditionally, has been divided into two groups- the Suits & the Yahoo!s. The former – client servicing guys – have been calling the shots for donkey’s years, but in recent times seemed to have mucked it up royally! This has caused grave embarrassment to themselves, their colleagues and the profession. The other group – creatives – decided not to take any further crap, stepped in and took both control & centre-stage and have been rocking ever since, with great success.” That was Prahlad Kakkar speaking. The bearded iconoclastic, rent-a-quote maverick points in the general direction of Ogilvy and insists they are the ones who started it all. “They led from the front, set an example by encouraging, fostering, nurturing & protecting their creative people & legacy they wished to celebrate & preserve everyday. They made themselves both responsible & accountable for every single piece of work that went out and for eight years swept the polls [clients, awards, peers, public imagination] in unprecedented fashion. They showed guts and talent in equal measure in doing it their way. Today other agencies are following their example in how to make it happen.” Kakkar believes that Ogilvy still continues to do great stuff, but others too are not far behind.

Sagar Mahabaleswarkar has a nervous smile. A key player of Ogilvy’s core team since the mid-nineties [till a year ago when he switched lanes to move as CCO, Rediffusion] the creative honcho says he’s been hearing this theme-song from way back then, so this issue is not a new one. However the reason for this new hoo-haa about Ogilvy’s reputation being threatened is simple. “Till a few years ago, all ad-watchers will agree that JWT was nowhere in the creative radar. Suddenly in the last couple of years a couple of campaigns have catapulted their position, status and reputation! Why? Because they came in from the cold to centre-stage! This fires public imagination and media blew them through the roof! It’s a great, fat, juicy, media story! Who wants to hear about the boring number one?” Sagar believes that the tougher part of being No. 1 is staying there. “Remember what a sensation McCann created with Thanda Matlab & Happy Dent sometime back? Where are they now?” However, he concedes that with the rules of the game changing the equation between conventional & non-conventional media, Ogilvy has taken a bit of a hit. “Their strength lies in print & TV. The emphasis on non-conventional media at awards spells bad news for them. They need to address this problem quickly.”

Josy Paul, Chairman & NCD, BBDO, India ends the debate in flamboyant fashion. “Ogilvy is all-pervasive, man! Just like the Indianisation of the English dictionary, there is an ‘Ogilvy-isation’ of our adbiz. There are any number of Ogilvy guys gracing hot-seats in hi-ticket agencies and doing what they were taught there. Whether its Prasoon, Bobby, Sagar or guys in Lowe – the Ogilvy blueprint is there for all to see. I’m sure they feel more pride than threat!” 


Thursday, December 04, 2008


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri attempts a checkout on a time-tested ‘war’ that frequently invades the ‘creative’ space of most ad agencies!

As every moron knows, an ad comprises of words and pictures. The word component is the domain of the Copywriter and the visuals, the Art person. Interestingly, although their combined creativity, skills and craft went into the making/creation of the ad, they functioned separately. This meant that the Copywriter wrote his stuff and handed it over to the Art person – usually with some guidelines – who then proceeded to visualise it in an appropriately meaningful manner. The duo also (frequently) came from different ‘social’ stratospheres. The Copywriter, usually, came from a Convent/Public School background, was fluent in English and totally comfortable with both the command and nuances of the language. He was also heavily into what this world offered – theatre, poetry, literature, cinema, cocktail parties… this invariably made him the ‘spokesperson’ of the creative team and the front guy during briefing, interaction and presentations. The Art guy, a hugely gifted person, normally was an Art School/College product, not terribly comfortable either with the English language or its fancy manifestations. He/she was happy to do the work assigned to the best of his/her ability and go home, quite content to live in the shadows…

In the year 2008, does the Art-Copy divide still exist – in any form? Does the subliminal khunnas in the Art guys still remain with the Copy brats for constantly stealing their thunder, unfairly? Do the Copy-hotties still luxuriate in the old smugness… or in this new world-order, is all that a thing of the past with convergence finally replacing conflict?

Ogilvy’s talented Delhi-based Creative Director, Titus Upputuru takes first strike. “Weird as it may sound today, this kind of crazy division of labour did exist, once! Three things slammed it out. One, the concept of ideation [replacing the earlier juvenile words and pictures ying-yang] that demanded collaboration, shared thinking and brainstorming. Two, the tacit recognition by the Art guys that there is a world of difference between Art [aesthetics and design by-the-book] and Art Direction [creating powerful seductive communication that will sell in the market place] putting an end to the dreaded, old-fashioned Art College syndrome! Lastly, the entry and popularity of Design Yatra – an art-specific fest held every year, where hot-shot globally acclaimed Art and Design Gurus come down to India [Goa?] every year to conduct workshops with our art guys.”

Redifussion Y&R’s brilliant NCD, Sagar Mahabaleshwkar agrees. He remembers the time when there was a distinct LOC between the Copy and Art guys and believes that the globally renowned Young & Rubicam were the ones who demolished this divide and got them together. “In India, I think, Ogilvy followed this model early on with the Piyush Pandey-Sonal Dobral team leading the way. They were brilliant and successful all the way. Soon, others followed.” The creative honcho believes that this had to happen in response to the paradigm shift and changing contours of the new consumerscape as also the direction in which communication was headed.
“The era of smart words and pretty visuals were over. In a fiercely competitive market place, ads that were clutter-busting and powered with solid persuasion-quotient were the ones that were most likely to make a difference. Hence, joint brainstorming was the obvious solution. This resulted in the Art-College type Art guys recognising the significance of a well-argued, convincing communication capsule and the Copy guys recognising the fact that, many times, a powerful visual with minimum copy could do the trick. It was a learning curve for both providing a win-win situation for all concerned.” He cites the hilarious example of the globally revered creative Guru, Neil French, who once asked him if he knew why Art Directors went bonkers… and Copywriters didn’t! “Seeing my blank expression, he explained, that unlike writers who leveraged reason, argument and logic in their work, the Art person just freaked out on imagination, with all cylinders firing. This put so much pressure on one side of the brain that at one point, they flip their lid!” Ogilvy’s poster-boy Creative Director [impishly?] chooses to rain on this parade! Sumanto Chatopadhaya reckons that while the scary teller-system approach of Copywriters passing on copy to the Art person through a cubby-hole for visuals is over, the Copywriter still remains the public face of the team. “The reasons are obvious. English is the language of business communication and the writer is, mostly, more articulate and confident in that language than his Art partner. This allows for a higher degree of comfort level during interaction with clients. Also, for TVCs, usually script ideas emanate from the writer. Of course there are exceptions like my colleague Rajiv Rao, an Art person, who is brilliant and sufficiently articulate when he chooses to make a point. But then exceptions prove the rule, right? Hey, I hope my Art Director colleagues and associates don’t kill me after this sound byte!”

The last words, fittingly, must come from Adworld’s new super cat Paddy of Leo Burnett, whose Luxor ad created a sensation at Cannes. “I think the divide is history with Art Colleges themselves taking the initiative of making the students more savvy in the verbal area. They are now totally clued-in into articulating, explaining and defending their work in selling-mode instead of just letting their work do the talking.” He also believes that global exposure has played a huge part in this turnaround with art people realising that collaboration will only add value to the end product.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Has Our Big Bang At Cannes Rocketed Us To The Global Arena?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri checks-out with the Adfrat

The Toast of the Fest! The Stars of the event! The Flavour of the day! India – with an unprecedented tally of 23 metals (including the first-ever Grand Prix, Integrated Lion & Cyber Lion) swept across all categories, and re-enforced by physical presence in all major juries – scored big, both at the hustings and the mind space of the global guru’s gracing the glamorous, glitzy and hi-profile ‘Oscars’ of the ad world! Accolades came thick and fast from hot-shots like Terry Savage (“They have done extraordinarily well this year”), Craig Davis (“brilliant ideas can come from anywhere. Bravo!”), Mark Gross (“Their work is beginning to stand out because they are getting to know more about the medium, its nuances and what should be done in that medium. They will now move only upwards …”), Rodney Fitch (“India has indeed scored very high!”) and Colleen DeCourcy (“India is already thinking on the new media as well and the creative talent is being groomed to think in that direction. That is a good sign. Clearly the expectations will be more, next time.”)

Looking back today, does all this indicate ad-India’s coming of age in the global platform? Or are these early days? Or is too much being read about a hyped firang awards, which has no connection with the ground realities defining India’s market space?

Siddhartha Roy (Executive Director, RESPONSE, Kolkata) fires the first salvo. He believes that in today’s globalised world, “Cannes is important and our work being awarded there demonstrates our worth in the international arena – reason enough to celebrate!” His main reason to rejoice however is “an exciting climate of creativity, powered by the new-age client’s genuine desire to buy into fresh, cutting-edge ideas is clearly visible. This augurs well for the future.” Equus Red Cell’s Swapan Seth is not so sure. He reckons that while modest jubilation is in order, too much shouldn’t be read into this scoring. Why? “Because, barring some outstanding (produced and released) work, Cannes continues to be claimed by … Scams!”

Ujjal Sinha (CEO, Genesis, Kolkata) however refuses to be so cynical. “Globally, India today is rocking! From DAVOS to IT, its Incredible India all the way! Cannes, sort of (appropriately) seemed to fall in line.” Sinha however cautions about getting carried away and emphasises that we have a long way to go before we consistently are able to deliver world-class communication slugs.
Alyque Padamsee agrees. “Without meaning to be a kill-joy or Devil’s Advocate, I have to say that this hoo-haa shouldn’t be taken with a pinch of salt!” The revered ad-guru believes that to be actually perceived, recognised and respected as a creative powerhouse, a country has to have at least ten ad agencies consistently producing cutting-edge stuff, time and time again. UK is a classic case in point. “Otherwise you are nothing more than a hyped, glamorous, flavour-of-the-day! Brazil, Spain, Australia, Japan … all these countries, at some point or other, were huge, but where are they now? Incidentally Americans aren’t too enamoured by Cannes. They view it, as an European event. For them, ONE SHOW, D&AD, CLIO, MOBILIS .. appear hotter.” The flamboyant Dorian Grey (or is it Dev Anand?!) of Indian advertising signs off with style. “At the end of the day, while being jubilant and energised about the success is fine, we must decide whether we are looking for Sprinters … or Marathon men?” The red-hot ad-land – Bollywood star Prasoon Joshi refuses to enter the fray and strikes a benign, Buddha-like pose. “Why are we always chasing labels, arrivals and departures? Has India arrived? There must be a zillion personal takes. For me, its important to enjoy this awesome journey instead of doing a paralysis through analysis! We have definitely covered significant distance and are poised to cover lots more. Lets – individually and collectively – try and contribute as much as possible to take this forward instead of hysterically trying to play judge & jury!”

TBWA’s big daddy George John warmly congratulates all the winners and believes, “it can only act as a terrific confidence-booster to set our sights even higher. Regarding going over-board, lets not play spoil-sport and rain on their parade. Savour it…” Sushil Pandit of THE HIVES adds his own spin to it. “For quite some time now, we have been doing excellent work – both in the area of ideas and execution – that has moved our markets, consumers and brands. The trend continues. The difference is that this time, it resonated there as well! If Cannes acknowledged and rewarded our stuff … then yes, it happened this time.” Pandit is convinced that the dramatic zoom in our fortunes have occurred largely due to the fact that “we have learnt to intelligently leverage the processes of Cannes … context stuff that works with these guys.” Hence to the question of whether India has finally arrived at Cannes, the answer is: ‘yes’. To the (bigger) question whether India has (generally) arrived, the answer has to be: Long Time Back!” Dentsu’s Gulu Sen agrees. “The buzz has been around for some years now, but with this, we’ve actually struck ‘big’! It’s a lot like the Olympic gold! And the Grand Prix for the brilliant Lead India campaign was most appropriate. It was a magical combination of passion, purposes and perspective.”

The final words – cataclysmic? – must come from Lowes’ celebrated iconoclast Balki.

“We have always believed that clients are way ahead of agencies (in their understanding of the market pulse and judgement of quality work) and consumers miles ahead of the so-called august members of international juries! They don’t deal in esoteric abracadabra or corny jargons, but material that resonates with the precise target group they are meant to address – consumers! In short, we don’t believe in awards and Cannes is most certainly not a reflection of any individual agency’s – or the ad community’s – creative prowess. Period. ‘Touche’! 


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Why Are Masscom Students Such Misfits In Ad-Land?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri probes this disturbing issue

They were the kids who were supposed to be the saviours of the attrition-hit adbiz; the god-sent answers to the galloping exodus of good people suddenly upping and leaving; the bright main-hoon-na brigade all charged to fill in the blanks rendered by the defectors… but guess what? Eight times out of ten, they’ve turned up turnips; well-meaning disasters who didn’t seem to have a clue about the ‘real’ world! Agency and clients continue to crib about these kids “coming from another planet and totally out-of-sync with the ground realities that govern our business.” Shouldn’t the faculty and powers-that-are initiate them into what awaits them once they are out in the battlefield? Isn’t it their responsibility to get them as industry-ready and friendly as possible?

“Actually, its one of the great tragedies of our education system that we pay a pittance to teachers, compared to people in other disciplines in other sectors. Hence the institutes – exceptions apart – attract a lot who have practically no industry experience or people who are not good enough to be absorbed in the mainstream and find it convenient to hide out as faculty in these joints.” That was Santosh Desai, the high-profile CEO of Future Brands. He is of the firm opinion that communication is a far richer, purer discipline than marketing [which borrows heavily from other empirical sciences] and at best is nothing more than a makeshift science. “The atmosphere and environment – for example – that prevails in an advertising agency with its unique work culture, demands and expectations is an entire universe apart from a traditional, conventional workplace. The result is, frequently, there is zero-connect and near non-existent value-addition. For example, Advertising being an idea-led business, is there any focus regarding the critical aspect of how to form, shape, add value, reject or react to an idea?”

Motorola’s dynamic and articulate Marketing Director, Lloyd Mathias is up next. He believes that most traditional Masscom Institutes in the country, unfortunately, choose to be [comfortably] inward looking, still concentrating on old Case Studies from Harvard Business School. “In today’s day and age, this is totally irrelevant! They need to understand that if the kids have to go out and work in an Indian environment they ‘must’ necessarily connect with the Indian reality.” Mathias then goes on to make a strong case for the biggies, the movers n’ shakers – Omnicom, WPP, Publicis – to get together and arrive at a common solution where an environment/climate is created to allow for a more enlightened faculty and sharper, industry-friendly student community.

The new Golden Boy of Indian Advertising [the soft-spoken, low-profile Agnello Dias, JWT’s NCD, whose amazing Lead India campaign fetched India her first-ever Grand Prix at the recently concluded Cannes Ad fest] adds his own evolved input. He believes that Masscom – as a discipline – is a fluid science and has to be understood in that vein, from day one, by everyone engaged with it. “The problem with most schools and institutes is that the curriculum and syllabi seldom bears any connect with the present or future … it seems to be entrenched firmly in the past! The result is that while the jargons, terminology and catch-phrases are picked up, nothing that is truly relevant is. Why? Because even between the time they’ve done the exams, got their results and started looking out for jobs, the dynamics of the business could’ve changed … and where would that lead them?” Ivan Arthur, veteran, creative, heavyweight of JWT in the sixties, seventies and eighties rounds off this debate on a truly positive and meaningful note, offering solutions that everybody [including these distinguished practitioners] are looking out for. He points towards Walter Saldhana’s Aicar Business School in Neral, Maharashtra. Its an institute, which is pragmatic, rooted to ground realities, living in the here and now. It promotes learning-by-doing as its defining philosophy. “We set up an integrated communication agency in the campus that actually handle live accounts. Students are taught the processes and costs of acquiring and managing accounts. They also have to learn the pain of losing some of them. Clients pay the institute for the work done by students, of course with close and active supervision of the faculty and mentors, all experienced ad professionals. Clients include names like Eureka Forbes, IMS Learning, Old Spice, IL&FS and Aicar B-School itself. The practical experience is supported by robust classroom sessions, which deal with diverse subjects … world literature and mythology, aesthetics, semiotics and cultural anthropology. We believe that beyond being effective managers, they should be well-rounded human beings with those softer edges of refinement and sensitivity.”

Are you listening Santosh, Lloyd, Aggi and everyone out there?

Way to go, guys…!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Gurus... on how they cracked the Big Idea!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri evokes the spirit of 3 of the greatest masters of their craft... and lays it on the line!

If advertising is truly a business of ideas, then the creative process – which really means ideating – must be hounded, invoked, ruthlessly pursued and celebrated every day, right? Boy, is that a tough call? The (late) distinguished writer Dorothy Parker once described creativity as that magical fusion “of a disciplined eye and wild mind!” Point is – how disciplined… and how wild?!

To most creative people (in adbiz and outside) the moments that are easily the most painful, traumatic and nerve-wracking are the start-up! Beginning is always a nightmare! Invariably this curtain-raiser (or what colourful, flamboyant creative hot-shot George Louis calls foreplay!) is filled with a zillion nervous, useless, irrelevant (sometimes even superstitious) rituals! That last ciggie must be smoked. That last cup of coffee has to be consumed. That last call has to be made. The windows have to be closed, opened or adjusted. The chair must be placed just-so for inspiration and comfort (whichever came first!). The comp must be dusted and re-dusted. This tortuous game of procrastination carries on and on until someone blows the whistle (Publisher? Client?) to signal: Buddy, your time starts NOW!!

Chillingly familiar, right? In this kind of a scenario, everyone has their own method of tackling this bugaboo. It would be interesting to do a checkout on how the legends and gurus and Dada’s tackled it, right? Let’s start with the acknowledged Big Daddy of the creative revolution on Madison Avenue, the one n’ only Bill Bernbach! Pragmatic and unromantic as it may sound, the creator of timeless masterpieces like ‘We’re number 2, so we try harder’ believed that that the most important inspiration while writing an ad “is the product itself! I can’t say that often enough. Looking for ways to make the people want it… that is crucial.” He was also very critical of questions like what makes a good writer. “I don’t know! You can’t be mathematical and precise in this calling. This attitude leads to a dangerous worship of research where the primary preoccupation seems to be the load of facts got… and not how provocatively and engagingly we present those facts to bored & uninterested consumers.”

Up next is the great Leo Burnett. While he totally endorsed Bernbach’s view on “saturating oneself with product knowledge,” he took it further. “I believe in solid, in-depth interviews of people I am trying to sell to. I try to get a picture in my mind of the kind of people they are, how they plan to use the product, what motivates their purchase-pattern and triggers their interest-area?”

Burnett then moves on to reveal a fascinating secret that even intrigued the likes of David Ogilvy… a great big folder tucked away in the lower left-hand corner of his work-desk, called the corny language dossier! “It’s like this. Whenever I hear a phrase in conversation – or any place – which strikes me as being particularly apt in colourfully expressing an idea, bringing it to life or accentuating the smell of it, I quickly scribble it down and shove it in the folder. Then, about 3 or 4 times in the year, I run through all the stuff, chuck out a lot of it and retain those that seem relevant to the kind of work we’re doing. I write a memo to inform the creative group and staff about this. So my ear is always tuned for putting usual things in unusual settings/relationships that – both – get attention and aptly communicate the big, core idea. I also have another bulging file. I call it ads worth saving and it’s an on-going thing, been with me for some 25 years! I go through them too. Extremely rejuvenating, both …”

Who better to round-off this amazing tell-all discourse than the legendary David Ogilvy. What did he do to make his stuff rock? “I try and loosen up if I’ve got to write some ad or get some ideas, otherwise there is a likelihood of feeling sterile and un-inventive. Many people – and I am one of them – are more productive and fertile when they’ve had a little to drink. I find if I drink 2 or 3 Brandies or a good bottle of Claret, I am far better able to write. I’ve also found the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, a useful start-up for ideas.”

He then warms up to present a fascinating insight. “The posture that I take when I finally close the door and have to write an ad is this: I always pretend that I am sitting beside a woman at a dinner party and she ask me for advice about which product she should buy, why and where she should buy it. So then, I write down what I would say to her! I try to make it interesting, engaging and personal – I don’t write for the crowd; rather from one human being to another in the second person, singular. And I try not to bore the woman to death by trying to make it as real and personal as possible. Incidentally, I have a theory that the best ads come from personal experience. My best ones certainly have. They have a sense of conviction, passion, validity and power of persuasion that is unquestionable…”

Right guys, got it? Thus spake the legendary gurus. Now, suitably inspired, get back to work. What? Starting problems? Oh God!


Thursday, October 09, 2008

“Advertising? Naah!”

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri attempts a checkout to this disturbing phenomenon of kids moving away...

Creative. Fun-biz. Arty. Glamorous. Culture-specific. Intellectual. Cerebral. Idea-driven. Business/market-friendly. Life-enhancing… Advertising has always spawned a zillion descriptions and definitions. It was that rare calling that fused mystique with market-forces in one magical sweep. It was that rare profession that embraced both the pin-striped B-School types and the bindas Art-College guys without hiccups or hassles. It was that rare career-path that attracted the brightest and best creative minds, desperate to be liberated from the stereotypical jobs (Law, Engineering, Medicine, Bank, Government) available in the market to explore avenues that informed, engaged, entertained, even empowered. Whatever happened to that magnetic pull? Why is Adland losing its allure as a desirable career-destination? What has triggered this deadly drought?

Motorola’s Senior Director, Sales and Distribution (India and South West Asia), Lloyd Mathias is convinced that it has to do with the slew of alternative career-choices available (on a silver platter) to today’s bright kids. “Where were the choices, even a decade and a half ago? It was all so closed, restricted and stereotypical. Also, tradition and convention played a much bigger part, so one usually followed the path that was safer and risk-free. Today the spread available allows for more adventuring,” shares Mathias. He also believes that money plays a huge part in this dramatic re-alignment, “The kind of packages that fresh B-School grads are offered can be mind-blowing.” Finally, he points to a distinct lack of iconic and inspirational leaders whose vision and values prompted, persuaded and motivated an earlier generation to go for it. “Today, it appears to be an each-for-himself and god-for-all situation! It’s more individual personalities – than team – that are celebrated. Maybe it defines the times we live in…,” he adds.

Sid Roy, Executive Director of the Kolkata- based Ad Agency, Response agrees, “In these consumer-driven times, bright new-age kids, confronting the perils of peer-pressure every day, fall victims to the big-bucks syndrome. Quite natural. The options. The packages… and most importantly what it promises them in terms of lifestyle statements… no Ad Agency job can touch that! Also, the profile of this new-gen – unlike the previous one – is different. It’s about impatience, speed and now! Experience and Gray-haired eminence has been buried. It’s performance today that matters! How the work impacts bottom lines!” Roy believes that while all of this is not a bad thing, it has led to “a generation of net-literate, Googled, book-illiterate types. A constituency that lacks vision, values or wisdom and hopes to compensate by getting all of life’s answers through the Internet. Scary!”

McCann’s Sandip Mahapatra brings his own original spin to the subject. He believes that the once hallowed space reserved for all kids who didn’t fit into the mainstream job-scene has now fragmented into many pieces, each offering juicy, exciting and lucrative bites. “So the whackos don’t only have Advertising Agencies to fall back upon where their creativity is concerned. There are movies, TV channels, music channels, designing shops along with a million niche outfits catering to their creative skills, so why will they make a beeline for Adland? That special Calling Card – which involved charisma and mystique – no longer exists in its exclusive, pristine grandeur anymore,” expresses Mahapatra. He dismisses the popular contention of money being the biggest deterrent in Adbiz with, “If the business was so paranoid about it, you can bet they would damn well do something about it! It’s not about not getting good guys, but about not needing good guys!” He decodes his (shocker?) thinking for easy consumption. “The kind of importance, dependence and significance once invested in a servicing person has totally disappeared,” explains Mahapatra. Why? Because there are today specialised vendors to do jobs – previously assigned to him to oversee – that can be accessed directly with quality, speed at a lesser budget. In short, the new-age client is a different creature and so is the new-age vendor. So, what great value addition can the Ad Agency provide?

Senior ad professional, Esha Guha is thoughtful. “I wish I could really place my finger on that one critical reason… I guess it has to be a compendium of all suggested. However, a reason could be the disappearance of fun, magic and the brand of excitement which only Advertising offered. Earlier, it didn’t have computers and jargons, but had a galaxy of amazing, magical people who, brought life, colour, zing and chutzpah to a calling that was meant to be nothing more than marketing’s hand-maiden,” explains Guha. She believes that while focus, sophistication & technology have transformed the markets’ cape, with competition adding to it, somewhere “the heart has gone out of the hurrahs! Its cold, calculated and clinical atmosphere in the workplace, where emotional or creative leeway is neither required, understood or entertained. “In our time it was celebrated. No wonder, as someone brilliantly put it, the Merchants have taken over from the Magicians… Ah well, the price of progress I guess,” Guha shares. Darr gaya? C’mon guys , chill……. Darna Mana hai because DARR K AAGE JEET HAI, remember?!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Male gaze

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri attempts a peep into male-zone to investigate the accuracy behind the projections and portrayals of this creature in today’s ad space

Hey c’mon guys, everybody – and that includes screaming, fire-eating libbers and their docile, quaint, demented toothless aunts – has opinions about how women are portrayed in today’s advertising, right? What about ‘MEN’ … what’s their scene? Is the poor sucker also taken to the cleaners by a militant mob or the portrayals, generally perceived as realistic, honest and true-to-life?

Ad person Moon Moon Dhar believes the latter and for good reasons. “There is a sea change when you compare today’s guys with those of the last generation. The perspectives, mindsets and attitudes of my father, husband [and hopefully] my son are worlds apart! I think this has been captured, with reasonable accuracy, by today’s ad people. There actually exists avatars of the man-boy, spoilt brat, goof-nerd-dumbo, caring type, Mr. Responsible, the sexy hunk, the stylish dude… the range and bandwidth is there reflecting the gradual evolution of the male. The Dharmendra-type has been replaced by the sensitive, caring sort … and it shows.” Journo Sapna Khanna agrees. She believes that stereotypes cannot – be it Bollywood or Advertising – disappear or be wished away overnight. After all it is tried – and – tested seduction in the public space designed to single-mindedly trigger the purchase intent and therefore needs all the artillery [read: masala!] it can get. “However, within that framework, most of the recent male-centric ads appear spot-on. The era of the MCP’s and overbearing louts are over. Today’s males are sensitive, caring and involved with family matters. They take pride in sharing space in the kitchen, PTA’s and children’s functions at school. The boundaries are blurring.” She cites her own example where her boyfriend of six years is “today my husband of 16 years!”

Gorgeous theatre activist Lushin Dubey, however, begs to differ. She believes that today’s advertising sexily, glamorously, stylishly – with all the techno gizmos available at their disposal – pirouettes, preens and postures but doesn’t even begin to portray the real thing. And what is this real thing, Maam? “The simple fact that today’s men are schizos! They are struggling to find their space, define themselves, discover where they are coming from and where they want to go … in short, figure out who they really are or want to be!” She believes that today’s guys are trapped between yesterday and tomorrow and don’t quite know how to react. The advertising, hence, is superficial because if one were to scratch the glam surface, all the smart poses and pretentious, confused emoting would disappear revealing the real laadla, spoilt, mama’s boy. “This genre of advertising appears to concentrate more on entertainment than truth! Agreed not all of it is hogwash but its like Bollywood – heavy sugarcoating of the message!”
Ogilvy’s very own dude Sumanto Chattopadhaya, plays it cool n’ easy and prefers to look at the big picture. The Executive Creative Director [South Asia] believes that today there is truly a wide representation of the portrayal of the Indian male in ads, “sometimes a confection of the Bollywood-Hollywood stereotype with a tiny sprinkling of reality, other times how these creatures actually wish to see themselves … overall interesting observations of human behaviour.” He cites the example of a car ad in which the boss perpetually humiliating his young subordinate receives a huge ego blow, when the young man drives off in a fancy car! Then there is the cool college dude – a stereotype that keeps popping up in a plethora of ads from snack food, cold drinks, deo to jeans. The adolescent fancy (sometimes boy gets the girl and sometime goofs it) punctured or reinforced, appears to hold big-time appeal. Then of course there is the family man responsible for the well being of his family, although women are stepping into his turf with great speed and efficiency. Lastly there is the man-child who – when it comes to his health – is dependent on his wife. Remember the Saffola ad?

Everything considered, most intelligent, educated and informed ad-watchers – without baggage or agenda – will agree that today’s male-driven ads definitely enjoy a stronger connect with truth, fact and reality than before. The carefully nurtured myth of the male, perpetually in control, in charge and driving everything that matters [with the women, cooking, knitting or child-rearing in the shadows] is clearly over. In fact, recent surveys have indicated that men detest being stereotyped as “shallow himbos wanting to go solo and jump from one girl to another.” The survey reveals some startling, seminal facts … 77% look for girls who are potential wives. 75% believe in soul-mates and admit crying when dumped by their girl. 69% promise they would never cheat. 57% enjoy cooking at home and [most importantly] 56% believed that being a good father or husband made them feel manly!

Wow! We say Amen to that…


Thursday, August 28, 2008


Is Indian Advertising Finally Breaking New Ground?

"4Ps B&M’s Monojit Lahiri probes this new and amazing initiative that leverages the power of advertising as a dynamic agent of social and political change"

Lets face it. Advertising (to the aam junta) has mostly meant a shrewd, smart, glam and entertaining route to woo the consumer into committing himself/herself into purchase-intent mode. However, the recent landmark ad campaigns of Lead India and (now) Teach India – promoted by the TOI group – could work as a wonderful surprise. Seldom, if ever, have public service campaigns [across Print & TV] being powered by such passion, intensity and focus… and at no time in the annals of Indian advertising history have they received such a massive, spontaneous and collective positive response from the [usually] invisible, apathetic and silent majority. A proud Grand Prix winner at the recently concluded festival of festivals – Cannes – Lead India represented a truly defining moment in our advertising history. Presently Teach India appears all set to repeat history...

Is this amazing public service advertising model (beyond the usual FMCG stuff) likely to impact the adfrat in general to seriously engage with causes and concerns that colour the big picture, as a part of their new agenda … or are these only straws in the wind,one-off hits that are likely to be forgotten in the raucous, cut-throat, crowded and competitive environment of adville?
In short – Is Indian Advertising finally breaking new ground?
Agnello Dias, JWT’s Chief Creative Officer and prime mover [in close collaboration with his agency’s and the client TOI’s team] of this landmark initiative believes its too early, presumptuous and self-congratulatory to assume that its made / going to make a huge impact on the adfrat. However, the Idea Cellular work and some others seem to indicate that it has left its mark … Dias hit the ground, running when he says “Lead India was never meant to be the huge show it finally turned out to be. It was meant to be a single ad commemorating the nations’s 60th birthday. Mr. Bachchan’s enthusiastic response triggered the deluge and very soon it assumed a life of its own!” The basic premise, the Grand Prix winner explains, was to reach out to the aam junta and ask them to stop cribbing, put their money where their mouth was, raise their hand and voice to be counted. In short, be the change they desired.

Presently the Teach India campaign (“a much smaller one”) has taken off with Aamir Khan playing brand ambassador. “Aamir is much more than a mere Bollywood super-star. He presents care, concern and compassion in hands-on fashion. Its not tokenism. Intelligent, curious and extremely demanding, he took a while to be convinced, but once he was, he came to the table with all cylinders firing.” Aggi says that Mr. Perfectionist actually took home class five books to study them and prepare before coming to class to teach! “If a popular star can help further a good cause, why not leverage his star power? Why only look at the negative side?”

Esha Guha, the attractive and dynamic CEO of Newfields appears to be in two minds. For her, the blitzkrieg represented a clever, smart, well-thought out and innovative brand-building exercise for the stakeholders of the TOI group. However, the lady is quick to concede that everything considered, the effort certainly needs to be applauded. “Why? Because unlike most Corporates, who specialise in lip-service and tokenism while creating this genre of communication (with a shrewd eye on awards), Lead & Teach India both invaded the public space, full-on! The amazing response, across the board, meant that they at least had their heart in the right place.”

Feroz Khan the much respected, brilliant theatre (Tumhari Amrita, Ramlal, Gandhi vs Gandhi) director who made a glorious debut with his critically successful Gandhi, My Father last year, however refuses to be blown away either by the big prize at Cannes or the monster numbers that came with the initiative. He remains skeptical & suspicious and puts it down to yet another case of shrewd, sharp manipulation by a media house trivialising (blend social issue with entertainment to provide easy-to-digest infotainment) what could have been something truly meaningful. He points out to the irony underlying the whole effort, whereby a publication that has abdicated leadership (through non-belief in the position of an editor) in its single-minded engagement of primarily ‘monetising’ its space through ad-revenue, champions this very cause! Taking the point further, Khan believes that the real mockery came when they converted it into a feel good Reality Show! “It seemed to have been consciously dumbed-down for popular consumption with the introduction of a motley crowd comprising politicians, film stars & popular figures occupying the public space who did not necessarily define the spirit, substance or soul that powered the endeavour.” Before signing off, he asks a question more akin to a reality-check: “From the time the curtains fell on the Lead India campaign till now, has there been one single reference recall, interview or fact-file published or aired in terms of follow-up? I only hope that Teach India, a fine idea, does not follow a similar route.” Ouch! Different strokes for different folks, I guess! 


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ads v/s Movies a Cannes Report Card!

4Ps B&M’s Monojit Lahiri investigates the disturbing disparity between these two

First a quick intro for guys who came in late or are supremely innocent about the ‘Cannes’ phenomenon! Founded in 1939, the Cannes Film Festival is generally considered – apart from the Oscars – as the most glamorous, hi-profile and artistically relevant event on earth. Located in the south of France, this hot n’ happening affair combines high art and commerce, magic, mystique and market forces in one seductively tantalising embrace. A spectacular global platform where the film fraternity converge to celebrate cinematic excellence without boundaries, the entire drama is played out amidst a sublime backdrop of sea, sand, sun coloured with an endless carnival of fun and fiesta. India has been enjoying a presence for over 50 years with the late, great Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali making huge waves in 1956, with other eminent directors also coming in for high praise across the decades. However, beyond the Bollywood dazzle it has been 14 years since an Indian film has been green lighted by the jury to enter the competition segment – a matter of both shock and shame from a country, which produces the largest volume of movies on earth!

By contrast, it was only in 1993 when India’s adbiz – represented by Piyush Pandey and Pradip Guha – for the first time touched down on the French Riviera to attend the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, commonly perceived (in the global adfrat) as the advertising Oscars. With time, India’s adbiz slowly but surely started finding its voice. In the last five years however, the Indian presence – in terms of jury members, awards, nominations, accolade, appreciation and acknowledgement – has indeed taken giant strides with this year’s edition lending it a new dazzle and glow. Scooping up a total of 23 metals – including the coveted Grand Prix & Integrated Lion and wins across all categories – India was indeed the toast of the Fest.

Why this sad and savage disparity? What’s the problem?

Shyam Benegal, the hugely respected film-maker who unleashed the new cinema movement of the early seventies with Ankur, Nishant and Manthan, leads the debate. “Advertising, culturally speaking, has become an integral part of the globalised world, while films are much more culture-specific. The result is that, in both technology and worldview, ad films are more West-friendly and therefore easier to crack than Indian cinema which, loved by our audiences and the diaspora, appears Greek to Cannes!”

He is not surprised at our poor performance. “Ray’s films, which swept every major international award, were original, real and rooted in a cinematic idiom that was universally understood. I think the likes of Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap and gang could do the trick. They have strong, individual voices …”. Like Benegal, Bharat Dabolkar believes that most of the stuff we produce connects well ‘only’ with the Indian community, completely bewildering the phirangs. “Advertising, conversely, powered by todays huge multinational and global presence, enjoys a naturally easier passage to the West. There is a strong compatibility.” The brilliant Prasoon Joshi (who straddles both these worlds with style) believes it’s really a matter of focus. “I can’t speak of earlier times but today, our adfrat has the ability and confidence to go eyeball-to-eyeball with the best and our recent outings at Cannes reflect this, dramatically. No wonder, in keeping with the global flavour of the day, we are targeting awards … and getting them! It may not always be a totally conscious move but somewhere, the desire to raise one’s hand and be counted on a global platform is there. In the movie area, thanks to the Bollywood-isation of the world, we seem less concerned with phirang awards and therefore less focused in that direction. We are happy with the way things are and don’t appear desperate for global recognition. Not a big deal!”

The flamboyant and straight-from-the-hip shootin’ Prahlad Kakkar wraps it up without mincing words, making mince meat of today’s Bollywood! “Look at the bozos who crowd Bollywood (pretentiously referred to as Indian cinema) and look at the guys who fill the adspace – they are continents apart! Most film industry creatures represent the lowest form of humans who walk on earth! They are extortionist, manipulative, have no sense of accountability, pride or responsibility, constantly engage in new and devious ways to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, drive the producers crazy with their demands and drive the writers nuts with their starry tantrums; an overpaid, under-talented, pampered lot, they are really bad news! So whatddya expect? Masterpieces?!” In contrast, Kakkar is proud of the adguys who are “smart, educated, alive, aware, upper crust, intelligent, dedicated and committed to value excellence. They have both, a pan-India and global perspective. No wonder they rock! One thought that Corporates would crack the whip and discipline the spoilt stars … but guess what? The stars flattened them out by intimidating them with their star-power!” The enfant terrible of the ad film world believes that films that are driven by passion, born out of vision and the creative impulse are those that fall under the Rs.5 crore budget. They are ‘not’ under pressure, have no silly stars and don’t need to compromise. “Its one from the heart. This kind of film could, one day, revive our (lost) glory at Cannes” … touché.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Women on Top... Why not in Ad-Land?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri probes this mysterious imbalance and tries to figure out where the problem lies... and why

Once upon a time, Advertising was considered an arty-farty, boutique biz – a cosmetic adjunct of the FMCG universe mostly illuminated by English-speaking, theatah-loving, culture-vultures… Even back then, it attracted women, some of whom were extremely gifted creatures who distinguished themselves and made a name. Nargis Wadia, Tara Sinha, Nuru Swaminathan and Sayeeda Imaam come to mind. Today, as ‘woman-power’ zooms ahead (with an over-the-top media tracking and celebrating the movers n’ shakers like there’s no tomorrow) it appears strange, odd and inconsistent when one sees hardly a single woman gracing the top slot (CEO, President, Chairperson) of any of the big ad agencies around. Clearly it’s not about talent, drive, creativity, intelligence, focus or dedication. Then what is it? Vertigo (read: fear of heights!) lack of ambition? Reluctance to reach the top at any cost? Gender bias? Or the age old hassle of having to balance a career with home and family, with no prizes for guessing which way the cookie finally crumbles for her …?

The iconic Helayne Spivak (the celebrated worldwide Creative Director & Chief Creative Director, North America, JWT in the early nineties) when asked about the shortage of women in top positions in adbiz had (famously) stated that “no matter what you do, how many clients you impress, accounts you help swing, awards you pick up and respect you garner from peers – there are still those groceries you gotta pick up, remember?!” Ms. Spivak then goes on to add that women don’t really seem to be welcome to the top ranks. “Otherwise there would be more help for us – like childcare, flexible hours, things that help us with our extra responsibilities. Ultimately it’s a juggling act. Its trying to keep everything up in the air and sometimes it falls… and what usually ends up falling is the family.”

Sayeeda Imaam, who brilliantly fronted the creative department of JWT (HTA), Clarion & Contract across the seventies, eighties and nineties (and now operates in Consultant mode) has a different take. She believes that enough women enter the field of advertising, marketing and media. They enjoy their work and even excel in it, with the newness, creativity and absence of monotony providing them a continuing high. “However seniority and hitting the top slot messes it up because it comes in the way of things that excited them – the ferment of cracking a problem and honing an idea. Suddenly delegation comes into play and there are fewer situations to go hands-on. This leads to a boring sameness”. The other reason is that there is nothing to prove in terms of scoring over a man. “Being better in the area of professional excellence is not a big deal any more. It’s happening around us, all the time (Lynne D’Souza of Lintas being the latest example), everywhere. Women basically come into the business for the joy of it. They quit when the joy has lost its edge – or has to be relegated to others as she (yawn) moves up!”
Grey Worldwide’s NCD Priti Nair comes next. The tattoo-flashing hottie, without fuss or frippery, comes straight to the point. “It’s a very personal, difficult and complex call that women have to take; men (usually) have no role in it. Whether the total priority is with the job, a balancing act of fifty-fifty or a part-time assignment is completely a woman’s call. Once the children come, it gets even more difficult.” Nair believes that advertising today is a hugely high-pressure profession with travel, late night shoots, deadlines and constantly having to deliver the goods in a frenetically competitive space, coming with the territory. In this kind of an environment, playing a caring wife, devoted mother and sharp ad-woman together can be mission impossible! So, sadly, there are dropouts. What about madam Nair, herself? She has survived seventeen years, even after marriage. “Sure, but I don’t have kids, no? If I did, I am sure I would have pulled out (pauses) and, gawd knows, made life hell for people in the house! C’mon yaar, after almost two decades of working in such a fast-paced, creative and exciting environment, sitting at home and changing nappies or – whatever – would definitely drive me nuts!”

The still-gorgeous Nargis Wadia, (who headed Interpub through the seventies, eighties, even nineties) and who turned a zillion heads during her hey days with her chutzpah, glamour and intelligence – rounds off this debate on a personal note. “Speaking for myself, although we did quite well, I could never step on the gas like, say a Tara Sinha, because I definitely lacked the killer instinct! Also (you’ll laugh) I frequently felt awful for the agency who’s business we took away!” The other reason was that most men who were bright and talented, refused to work in an agency where a woman was the Boss! “There was a definite gender bias with the result that we could only hire fresh talent. Has it changed? I don’t know … maybe a little, but …”

So what’s the score? A recent survey indicated that women make better leaders than men in strategic drive, risk-taking, people skills and innovation; where – alas – they lose out are command and control of management operations and focusing on financial returns. Women are bold, ambitious, mischievous, colourful and imaginative. They can also be competitive, visionary and have a strong presence. Men were seen to be more task-focused and concentrated on getting the job done rather than dealing with relationships. They believe that revenues, budgets and profits are the only game in town. Financial hits is what it’s all about. Hence, they are more comfortable with hierarchies; title silos and processes … touché!


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jab we met...presentation skills weds theatre techniques!

Padamse, the flamboyant, ever-green exhibitionist theatre person turned ad-guru, switches lanes to peddle a new offering. 4Ps B&M’s Monojit Lahiri takes a ringside seat to grab all the action, up-front and full-on!

If there is one person who has continued to define and re-define the meaning of “double life” every moment over the last five decades it has to be the ever-colourful, ever-vibrant, cool n’ sexy Alyque Padamse! Fittingly, his latest whammo is a ‘dramatic’ one – leveraging the skill-set of theatre to power presentation and communication skills of Gen-next communication practitioners, all set to propel Indian’s adworld higher in the global arena.

“The London Institute of Speech & Personality Development – of which I am the Chairman – is an idea whose time has come,” gushes the aging advertising and theatre guru. He believes that it is designed to be a life-altering module created to empower participants of all age groups (with special focus on the younger lot) with fluency in conversation and 360 degrees communication skills. It is a diploma course created to enable them to actualise their full potential in both the personal and professional space, says Padamse. “Powered by the prime mover, Rhea DeMelo (CEO) who is a proven communication and behavioural training expert, and supported by crack team of specialists, it is the Big Idea of the day!”

How did it all come about? Padamse says the real trigger came from his younger daughter Shazahn who was painfully shy and suffered (like Dad?!) from a learning disability. The parents tried, in vain, to draw her out. At one point Padamse suggested theatre. She almost passed out! The Father however persisted and convinced her that nervousness was only a manifestation of energy and excitement. Eventually, after much pushing, she gave in – hesitant, scared, faltering – but within a few months, she actually rocked! “She had conquered fear, embraced confidence and bloomed in front of people and audiences. Right now, Shazahn is auditioning at Yashraj, imagine!”

Great – but can theatre really help chuhas to become loins?! Padamse certainly believes so. Offering a mock grrrrr before answering, he says that he has always believed that a live presentation is a ‘dud’ show if the presenter lacks the personality (style, panache, communication skills, confidence) to pull it off. “Communication is not merely words… it’s words, embellished on the wings of emotion, passion and personality.” Padamse socks a killer punch when he declares that “every individual today has the chance and potential to be his/her organisation’s most powerful brand ambassador, but the requisite skills need to be honed and nurtured.
Enter theatre workshops. This 360 degree technique is unique, exciting and effective because it triggers a dramatic, never-before re-invention of a person’s personality in a dramatic way. How? What’s the procedure? “Step one is inviting the person to read out/speak. This is then video-taped and played back after the completion of the course. The difference – like in Shazahn’s case – can be magical and mind-blowing!” explains Padamse. Then there is the ‘colourisation’ of the voice (which lends it that cutting-edge vibrancy) followed by vocabulary. “This is getting to be a scary area and needs all the help it can get. It’s truly pathetic!” Up next is dressing and the way people wear their clothes. “It’s often so shabby and immediately sends out the wrong signals! It has to be appropriated to the image you need/want to project both at the corporate and personal level! Remember, clothes make the man.” Then comes the attitude – change from lackadaisical and laid-back, nervous or disinterested to positive, assertive, focused, convincing, enthusiastic, confident. Finally, humour. “No one demonstrates this better than Lalu Prasad Yadav. Humour almost always works because it makes people comfortable, helps them loosen up and gets them in a good mood,” he offers.

The Master Presenter then swiftly moves on to explain the ‘theatre’ inputs factored into his programme at the London Institute. Improvisation heads the list. “Life is not tailor-made and there could always be awkward questions from the audience. We teach them the art of how to deal with these blinders effectively.” Then there is the Brain Gym – a very special module that enables people to use their ‘unused’ creative muscle through stimulating exercises, till they rock! Interactivity – a critical component of communication – comes next. “We change the traditional perspective by tutoring candidates on how to ask the questions that will provoke answers from the audience! Then there are separate techniques to be deployed when one is participating in an in-house meeting, showcasing a conference as a principal speaker or appearing in an interview with a blue-chip Corporate. There are also ways on how best to leverage Power-Point, Video-Tape, whatever… to enhance impact in the presentation process,” says Padamse, adding that he believes that one is always presenting (a thought, a message, a plug) to hit target. Whether it’s to extract more pocket money from his/ her kanjoos baap, patao a hot babe, sweet talk a restaurant manager or a college lecturer when in trouble with cash or attendance… coming through persuasively is the key to win and influence, everybody, everywhere!

Okay, fine, good, nice, but has theatre as a confidence builder really taken off with expected target groups? Padamse explains via his experience with the still-nascent (it kicked off in early May) London Institute and is off like a shot. “You bet it has! Corporates like Tata Steel, Infosys and Reliance have already signed on. The general reaction was, why on earth didn’t you kick start this programme earlier?” And how does Alyque intend to peddle his new set of wares from here-on? “Remember today’s HR departments are clued-in and focussed. With our specialised, in-depth range of real-world communication skills on tap, we are going to soar,” says the ad guru turned entrepreneur. Now for the corporates to give their verdict on the ability of theatre techniques to add value to their employees??


Thursday, June 19, 2008

BRANDING R. I .P. {Uhh...’Rust’ in Peace}

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri endeavours to unravel a new-age, revolutionary, path-breaking philosophy that puts the age-old and much-revered concept of BRANDING to sleep… forever!

“The days of branding being the prime discipline to communicate the consistency of a given product and the reliability of its promise, are clearly over...”

Branding, for decades, has been hymned, celebrated, exalted, venerated and worshipped as the gospel truth by any marketeer worth his FMCG lapels! The ‘High Priests’ have pronounced that the brand is god and the ad executives, GCROE(S) – Gods Chosen Representatives On Earth! For decades, it has been acknowledged as the single most important aspect of business. Its success equals the business (it drives) success. Branding’s prime objective remains the same – to make a product or business look distinct and different from competition and epitomise the vision and values it represents to gain that decisive cutting-edge lead…

Chris Jaques, the iconic founder of Spark Innovation Consulting – which specialises in developing innovation strategies to ignite specific business areas – pooh-poohs this entire empirical evidence and supports his logic with a clinically chronicled five-point rationale. He believes that the days of branding being the prime discipline to communicate the consistency of a given product and the reliability of its promise, are clearly over. There’s been a paradigm shift in the ‘market-product-consumer’ connect with the money going into the services not products, slot. He supports it with hard facts. “Wal-Marts’ revenues are three times bigger than the entire revenue of both Proctor & Gamble & Unilever combined! Citibank & ING, too, are twice their size. This is the age of service not product and service marketing requires a totally different set of rules. Services are customised, not mass-produced.” Expanding this line of thinking Jaques argues that most of today’s real killer brands “are built on concepts, not products.” He goes on to explain how Apple produced the iPod with iTunes. “First they commissioned an idea and a design from Ideo. Next, they bought chips from Motorola and put them in a casing from Foxconn. Then they hired developers to create music software. At another level, agents were going tongs n’ hammer negotiating access to content, which incidentally was created by publishers and artistes. Apple only packaged it all together, managed it and sold it. It produced nothing!”
Heated, the iconoclast continues that if a brand is predictable today, it is most likely to be dead, tomorrow! “Disney develops a new product every five minutes! Sony produces around 5,000 new products a year. Zara can translate a fashion design from the Paris Catwalk to the shelves in 15 days. Innovation is the new god!” Myth-exploding arrives next. “Even if one wants to create a predictable brand message over time, one can’t. Why? Because there are over 50 million blogs, 24x7, flashing out messages about brands. These messages are based on customer experience, personal agenda or social rumour, not strategic positioning! Further brand terrorism is a deadly fact, alive and kicking with China being a soft target. The Formalhyde stores battered their Beer brands. The Triclosan gossip savaged their soap and toothpaste sales. Rui Chenggangs’ nationalist blog shut down Starbucks in the Forbidden City.” Finally, in conclusion, he offers that in today’s market-scape, business is the brand and brand is the business. The brand is absorbed, imbued and encompassed in every conceivable experience that the consumer experiences and encounters – and therefore, in effect, every action a company takes.

The take-out is cataclysmic! Traditional notions of marketing has been stood on its head, with revolutionary new methods blitzing through. In this new scheme of things, marketing organisations are advised to shut shop and become marketing organisms. The maverick Jaques explains, “An organism is a living, breathing creature whereas an organisation is structure-bound and systems-driven. Further unlike the organisation – centralised and controlled – it is decentralised and instinctive, constantly empowering its people and technologies to respond in different ways to different customers in different circumstances at different touch points.” The message is simple: In this new world, the focus is not about 360 degree branding. It’s really about how brilliantly you can manage that critical “one degree” that matters…


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is “Grey” The New “Gold”?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri highlights an issue that is on the verge of taking the ad-frat by storm – the over-50 spenders!

Resurgent India is passing through tumultuous times! In a scenario where over 50% of the population is estimated to be “under 25”, youth is god, revered, hymned, celebrated, worshipped and generally perceived as the hottest target group for marketers. What about – er – oldies... the fifty-plus crowd? Nah, chadde, mock the greedy hawkers of products and services dismissively and emphasise that zooming-in on the low hanging fruit called ‘youth’ – symbolising aspiration, want and purchasing power – is where its at. The oldies, they claim, are a boring, washed-up and irrelevant lot, without excitement, adventurous spirit to experiment or desire to live the good life. They are also, usually, broke like hell, which makes them a totally un-sexy constituency!

Perceptive marketers, who have their ears on the ground and track the pulse of everyday life, believe times, they-are-a-changin’. They believe today’s 60’s are the new 40’s – an entire universe away from the fuddy-duddies of yesteryears. There has been a dramatic change in the script, which has resulted in a totally new picture. For example many of the deadly afflictions that caused death in the past… TB, Typhoid, Small Pox, Cholera et al… are history due to the giant strides modern medicine has made. People – generally – are living much longer, in healthier mode, working through the 60s, post-retirement, even sexually active! Unlike earlier times, its not pack-up time to take sanyaas from worldly pleasures and generally concentrate on either looking after the grand children, running household chores for the busy son … or connecting with religion in a scary way! Japan – sharp as hell in these matters (with a population where over 20% are over 65 and by 2015, every fourth person will touch the same figure) got into the act, pronto. Reports allege that at least two mobile phone companies actually design phones for Gen Grey – a sharp, insightful (and profitable) move considering most mobiles are hugely techno-powered since they are largely targeting the younger set.

Have our marketers and ad frat read the writing on the wall? Does this situation prevail here too? Well, if not in such large numbers, in a smaller way it does... “Some categories – insurance and finance – have attracted advertisers to beam their messages on this target group, but overall, there is ignorance, reluctance and confusion,” says a savvy ad-watcher. He believes that conservative, orthodox and conventional mindset and myths vis-à-vis this community still exist strongly, placing Gen Grey as a group that is “low-value, tight-fisted, close minded, obsessed with the earlier (revered) principle of saving ‘not’ spending.”
They could be hopelessly off-centre and the reasons are not hard to find. The oldies (read 50-plus) of the earlier generations were truly different because they were defined by the times and circumstances they lived in. Mostly, he lived in a joint family – in his prime – had parents to look after, kids to educate, sometimes, even aged relatives to care for. Security and future were his main, over-riding concerns and priorities. Today’s 50-plus is young at heart, financially comfortable with techno-savvy kids doing well in cool jobs and (sometimes) even a portfolio manager to oversee his investments. Further, myths like ‘the older you are, the lesser brand adventurous you become, lesser responsive you are to advertising, lesser willing you are to spend’ have been hurled to the trash can! Hawk-eyed marketers are going beyond financial and Insurance products to energetically woo this target base. Says the ad-watcher, “In today’s battle for Gen Grey’s wallet, a Rifle not a Shotgun, is the need of the hour.” They could – indeed are – taking cues from the west where adwallahs are doing sharp numbers with this crowd. Revlon, recently, launched a brand called Vital Radiance targetting, hot n’ heavy, the plus-50 women. American car-makers too have started focusing on (baby-boomers) the 50-plus men because this group “accounts for half the US spending,” leading them to confidently believe, the older Gen Grey of today get, the deeper, their pockets become! Renowned and respected Behavioral Scientist, Ashish Nandy agrees. “I am 70 and sometimes feel my age but people associating with me, don’t seem to share this feeling!” They can’t really be blamed because, active as hell, Nandy is perpetually on the move – in the capacity of a much-in-demand speaker at Seminars, Symposiums and other forays – at home and abroad. Did his father, remotely do anything similar? He smiles. “He started feeling old the day he hit sixty!” Nandy believes its really a generational thing and perceptively points out to the two dramatic aspects that has driven this change – mindset and consumption pattern. “In my youth, one couldn’t dream of a 50-plus gentleman wearing shorts, tees or jeans, unless he was hugely anglicised, fashion-conscious and came from rich, upper class stock. Today, it is fairly common to see Gen Grey moving around in these, without the slightest trace of self-consciousness. I guess this has motivated marketers to include them in their target group.”

Suddenly the Gen Grey guy is not the over-the-hill, bored, broke, depressed bozo imagined but an active member of MOFS (Male Over Fifty Spenders). Sure kids understand brand and technology, but when it comes to spending big bucks … and by the way it is reported that 18.8% of India is 50-plus, so we really are talking monster numbers, here!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Celebrity Endorsements - The beginning of the end?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri traces the big bucks story and wonders whether the latest IMRB-IPAN report will disturb the honeymoon between celebs, advertisers and the consumers...

Okay, its been said a zillion times before but it warrants repetition, one more time, simply because the disease just wont go away! India has only two – sorry Politicians, you don’t count! – religions: Cricket and Bollywood. Come what may, they guarantee you excitement and eyeballs, like nothing else. Advertising, forever searching for devices and touchpoints (read: bakhras!) to engage in a meaningful and rewarding manner with its customers, naturally, zeroes into the juicy terrain of these two with breakneck speed, sometimes, not bothering to either look at the speedometer or the impending roadblocks!

Has the journey been smooth? A quick pan of today’s scenario.

Master Blaster and cricket’s hottest icon, Sachin Tendulkar, has always led the pack – in this area too. Apart from his earlier portfolio, he has of late, been signed on by Kishore Biyani’s Future Group as Brand Ambassador for its upcoming range of products, which include energy drinks, shakes, diet supplement powders, sports goods, cricket gear, bats, balls, vitamin-enriched natural juices, treadmills, exercise mats, cycles and eyewear. Pepsi too has signed him up to endorse a sports drink Gatorade. Aviva too has picked him up for a child plan, unit-linked plan. The comeback guy Saurav (Dada) Ganguly has been picked up by consumer electronic firm, TCL, German sports lifestyle brand PUMA and INX News, a new broadcast channel. Tennis star Bhupati has been signed up by ApolloTyres, while Barclays have frozen on Golfing ace Mikka Singh. (These however are exceptions).

Ah, coming to Bollywood, have the ad guys turned on the heat?! Gorgeous, new star scorching the headlines Deepika Padukone leads the youth brigade with Kingfisher (brand ambassador) and watch-maker Tissot, along with Levi Strauss.

Bipasha Basu continues to fly high on the road with Kinetic’s Sym Flyte, as also (for some inexplicable reason) real estate developer, Emgee! Elegant and classy Sushmita Sen – more seen in ads than movies, sadly – blitzes the adspace with Olay, Tag Heuer, Kiah Diamonds and Pantene. Kajol’s going strong with Perfetti’s Alpenliebe and some others. Cousin Rani Mukherjee – Bollywood’s popular Queen of Hearts – has Good Knight mosquito repellent, Titan Raga, Fanta, Dabur Vatika, Nestle Munch, & Aveo. Bubbly Preity Zinta has Rexona Roll-on deo, Godrej EON air conditioners, BSNL telecom and new airline GoAir. The fabulous Lara Dutta and cool Bobby Deol are the face of trendy fashion name Pantaloon.
In the men’s zone, superhero Hrithik Roshan remains hot as ever with Acer, John Players, Parle, Tata Sky, Sony Ericsson, Radico Khaitan… up next is the rockin’ Chhote Nawab, Saif Ali Khan with Taj Mahal tea, Royal Stag, Yamaha, Newport, Colgate, Lenovo, Aveo… Then there is Akki, with Grasim Suitings, Thums Up, Microsoft Xbox 360. And about the Big B and SRK, (bulging with endorsements), who doesn’t know?

All these glitzy and glamorous endorsements are, undoubtedly, wonderfully rewarding for the stars and hugely rewarding for the insatiable (can’t have enough!) star-hungry TV viewers. But, at the end of the day, does it do anything for the clients’ products advertised? Remember the (ageing) yesteryears dream girl Hema Malini hawking mineral water Kent RO and (would you believe it) – Bank of Rajasthan!

Where on earth is the remotest connect or credibility, for chrissake? Equally weird is hi-profile lyricist Javed Akhtar endorsing Jaypee Cement! Bips and real estate? The Big B and Navratna hair oil? Naseer Shah and Om Puri doing equally crazy stuff? Admittedly, for the star its mega-bucks in double-quick time (with Mallika Sherawat reportedly netting a staggering Rs.3.5 crore for an ad campaign!) but what about the poor sucker who doles out the dough?

No humming and hawing any more. The Jury is out. A new survey conducted jointly by IMRB & IPAN reveals some startling facts. Conducted with a sample size of over 2000 respondents, across 12 cities (small and big metros). 86% of those interviewed admitted that the ad that they most remembered had a celeb, but only 3% said it influenced their buying decision. The IMRB head-honchos seemed clear that “more than the celeb pull, factors like quality, price and experience ultimately drove consumers purchasing pattern.” Further, “only 22% of this sample believes that the celebs actually use the products endorsed. In the South, the figure is even lesser, 13%!”

So, should celebs be dumped? “Not really” believes IMRB’s Pal, “At a primary level celeb endorsements help to break the clutter but beyond that… it is doubtful whether they add any real value.” The bitter truth comes from the very survey itself.

The Big B & SRK have so many endorsements across product categories that 15 % of people have “wrong” brand recalls for the towering inferno and 9% for Badshah Khan. Can you blame them?

Remember there is absolutely nothing more dumb or grossly unprofessional than having your audience/customers remember the ad but forget the product!


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Snapshots! adland’s affair with the Indian woman...

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri does a check out with a few celebs on this edgy image issue

First things first. Only guys in dire need of an instant brain transplant perceive advertising to be the unsoiled harbinger of truth or relentless brand ambassador of reality. Advertising is after all (first and last) a crucial marketing tool mandated to do a job as effectively as possible. Toward achieving this end (like Bollywood) magnifying, hyping, dramatising, exaggerating and colouring comes with the territory. “Agreed,” says the hugely respected Asia Pacific President of Leo Burnett, Michelle Kristula-Green, “but are we reading the writing on the wall correctly?” In a hard-hitting presentation made a while ago in Delhi, titled MIS UNDERSTOOD-WHY SHE’S NOT BUYING YOUR AD’S, she let fly some disturbing whoppers based on her findings on an extensive survey across Asian markets – China, Japan and India. Woman, she said, accused advertisers of portraying them in a man’s version of what they should be like. Further, she added, the basic communication slant was way off on five solid counts: money, sexuality, humour, emotion and authenticity. The survey also revealed that unlike the West, woman here weren’t comfortable with blatant portrayals of sex. It was more an internal paradigm shift where they’ve learnt to handle and appreciate sex appeal as part of their intrinsic feminity rather than an exhibitionistic, brazen and titillating man-baiting USP. Finally, in Asian society, “girls are taught to view emotions as their strength NOT weakness hence they seem to respond to a message that is authentic & real – warts and all – more positively than one that is beautifully packaged but phoney.”

How does this argument rock with our guys in celeb-ville?

Ad Film maker (and now celeb Feature Film director), Pradeep Sarkar refuses to bite. He believes that like in the movies, the shift toward realism has begun in the ad film scenario. “You will see a lesser degree of the superwoman, supermom and superwife persona today because the industry has started to recognise and respect the readers/viewers intelligence and thus offer slices of life in the communication that both entertain and connect. No wonder the new war-cry in today’s ad-scene is yaar, make it less addy! Meaning, don’t make it look like a typical ad; make it look real.”

High profile head honcho of PNC, Pritish Nandy however scoffs at any mention of advertising being associated with truth or reality. “To me, advertising is nothing more than a 30 second recreational capsule designed to provide a breather from the brutalities of India’s newscape. Into this, of course, is insidiously built-in the profit motive.” Warmed up, he offers his views on advertising’s depiction of woman. “It’s very interesting. They throw up two stereotypes, neither of which is anchored in reality! The first is the “firang” model, the sassy and sexy international (Kate Moss?) import who sashays across up-market glossies, Sunday supplements as also our TV screens. The creators of this persona believe that teaming with the brand owners, they can successfully hawk style, attitude and looks because, after all, what you see is where the action is! This leads to the conviction that consumers will surely buy into this image because in today’s globalised India, the Western look, style & pizazz is the flavour of the moment.” This tragi-comical colonisation of their mind, Nandy believes is, mercifully, not shared by the Indian consumer and reflects the ad fraternity’s total disconnect with reality. It brilliantly symbolises what today’s India is NOT!
“The second is the homegrown Kanta Bai / Lalitaji model. This representation attempts to propagate old-fashioned values of thrift and choices. The models also are (consciously) unglamourous, plain, non-threatening, cosy and cutesy hitting the security zone and evoking visions of the virginal, innocent, blissful past. Pity is, that it symbolises India of yesterday, not today! It is a corny and romanticised version that just doesn’t resonate with today’s life and times.” Where is, Nandy wonders, today’s real woman – of complexities and contradictions, magic and mystique – that any sensitive male sees everywhere, across a nation on the move? Gifted director Aparna Sen (36 Chowringhee Lane, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, 15, Park Avenue) joins the fray. She believes that the Indian women is represented in a truly pathetic fashion, forever one-dimensional – North Indian, fair, urban – with occasional, unimaginative and degrading forays into tokenism. “How is it that beyond this cardboard, stereotypical cut-out, one hardly ever gets to connect with a real, believable, flesh & blood type! When was the last time one saw a woman from the South, East or North-East as ad models”? While Sen appreciates the crafting, technological highs and slick execution of these endeavours, she feels very strongly about the real Indian woman being hi-jacked by a predictable and soul-less stereotype, completely powered by a consumerist culture and vested interest.

Okay, so what gives? I believe advertising’s endeavour is to identify, dramatise, even magnify some “real” emerging trends. The actual portrayal is seldom clinically and cold-bloodedly accurate; it is more a mythologised version, but everything considered, one certainly gets to see a fascinating representation (across the spectrum) with the housewife playing a starring role! Suddenly, this harassed, sacrificial, 24X7 slogger, gatekeeper and provider of her family’s joy and well-being has morphed into a zestful and joyous participant as well. She seems to be able to say YES (rather then the earlier, automatic NO) with more élan than before. She seems to also enjoy a much greater sense of control along with the ability to be playful with her husband, rather than treat him as the authoritative, fearing, lord and master. She is no longer defined by the role she plays but slips in and out of her several roles – (daughter, wife, mother, daughter-in-law, working woman) with a greater degree of style, conviction and confidence. Overall, she seems to be much more together and aware of who she is, what she’s doing, where she is coming from and the effect she has… and she uses that more consciously than ever before. In fact, the most dramatic paradigm shift has been in this area – not the so-called westernised, hot-babe segment (“Am I looking good and smelling nice”) where the paranoid and insecure chic is constantly looking at every mirror available to check-out whether she measures upto the Gladrag’s Diva or Femina’s hot princess desperately waiting for approval and affirmation from the world.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

NCDs become CEOs!

It’s myth- exploding time, guys! Suddenly cash and creativity are no longer crass, weird, warring or strange bedfellows anymore, but pro-active, hi- profile, compatible entities, merged into one being, in some of the biggest marquee shake-outs , blitzing Indian adscape in recent times. monojit lahiri does a checkout and investigates whether there is a contradiction in this new shuffle or, is it – finally – an idea who’s time has come!

Okay, first things first. Did you ever imagine that a day would come, when a guy juggling creative briefs and providing cutting-edge, insightful solutions would be the same guy bogeying with projections, business targets and business development strategies?! Excuse me, aren’t these diabolically different and separate jobs, demanding specialised expertise and skill-sets? If the cataclysmic goings-on in the highest echelon of adbiz are any indication, the answer has to be a firm and categorical NO. In recent times, at least three hi-profile National Creative Directors have joined the exalted status of Piyush Pandey and Prasoon Joshi, by donning the hat of Executive Chairman as well. They are R. Balki (Lowe Lintas India Pvt. Ltd.) Josy Paul (Omnicom Group, BBDO) and Sonal Dabral (Bates David Enterprise). Hey, wassup? Are the lines blurring or what? Are we really entering a whole new era where cash and creativity will rock together?

“Yes we are, and it’s only natural that such a thing should happen”! That’s Leo Burnett’s hi-profile NCD, Sridhar, aka Pops take on it. He believes it’s a logical extension and progression of how advertising has evolved over the last decade in this country. “Never before have clients been so anxious to engage with the consumer (the more up-close and personal, the better!), enter his/her mindscape and imprint his footprints. This is light miles away from the strategic brand positioning route, championed furiously, in earlier times. Today, we live in a commodities age, where unique positioning is a very tough call because every product has everything that the other product has. In this complex scenario, where is that ‘critical differential’ that separates one brand from another? That’s when brand personality came centre-stage. The moment this happened, smart clients began to look for ‘the’ guys who had the sensitivity, vision, insight, ability and craft to understand the nuances that drove the creator of this brand personality and deliver it, meaningfully,” he shares.

This was indeed a watershed, marking a paradigm shift from (the earlier) ‘product benefits’ to ‘persona’, across categories. Number-crunchers gave way to people who could crack and track the shifting contours of consumer psyche. Also, speed was of essence with Annual Reviews giving way to Quarterly Reviews and brand managers being accountable for the bottomlines. Hence, since the creative guys seemed to understand the intricacies of the game and know-how to score, clients thought it would be a better idea to go to them directly. Another transformational leap was the ‘kind’ of creative people who are making waves today. Adds Sridhar, “Unlike earlier times, when the ultimate joy came from writing a memorable line or drawing a killer visual (and nothing more), today’s creative people are pro-active, involved and want to be a part of the brand-building experience. They want to know everything and believe it’s their job to see the big picture – not just write an ad or do a visual and go home. They are interested in the advertising business and entrepreneurship and want to create wealth for the clients. They speak with pride of monetising creativity in a responsible manner. That transition has definitely happened – more power to the movement!”
The un-putdownable Alyque Padamsee (adland’s evergreen Dev Anand, the hi-profile Lintas adman who headed the organistaion between the early eighties and nineties with great flamboyance, innovation and success) insists that he struck target only because he knew the ‘hisaab’ game very well! As a reputed & established theatre Director-Producer it was his job to not only provide quality plays to his audience, but also get involved in the ‘dirty work’ – locate & identify sponsors, arrange funds, check out auditoriums & hall rates, et al. “Hence, along with creative brilliance, sound, pragmatic executive ability is of critical importance.” Creative super-stars of yesteryears who headed agencies – Kersey Katrak, Frank Simoes, even Mohammed Khan – Padamsee believes, inevitably ran into heavy weather because of this lapse. He admits that its too early to write off the new, exciting creative guys heading agencies, but confesses (tongue firmly in cheek) it pains him to see Piyush furiously tearing his trade-mark moustache after long & hassled sessions with the union or deciding how much increment to give to whom, or which new car should the office assign to which category of personnel. “It’s tough to wear two hats & still look cool!

Mohammed Khan slings this argument out of the window instantly and emphasises that equitable distribution of expertise is the name of the game. “The greatest example & role model is Saatchi & Saatchi, where one brother navigated the business-side, while the other looked after creative.” Khan can’t figure out why this big song & dance is being made about something that is an accepted norm worldwide and India “is probably 50 or maybe even 100 years too late!” He speaks of his own example where, every time he opened a new shop, he had the right partners. “At Rediffusion, I had Ajit Balakrishna. At Contract, there was Sam Balsara. At Enterprise, there was Rajeev Agarwal. The ad business is ultimately a creative-led one, & no big agency anywhere, ever, has ignored the name of the creative guy who started it. Check it out.”

Priti Nair is up next. The sexily tattooed NCD of Grey Worldwide instantly goes slam-bang into the subject. “Boss it’s very simple. The end-creative product today totally defines the focus and strength of an agency. It’s not really a new phenomenon but the palpable, tangible and real difference is that creative today showcases the personality of an agency as never before. Every single department functions towards facilitating this prime objective because on it lays the agency’s flight towards the stars.” Nair believes that this creative dominance has happened because of the media boom, Internet, multi-national invasion & various communication avenues opening up, making the cutting-edge creative product the true-blue reflection of an agency’s persona.

“At the end of the day what drives a brand, or what consumers see, read, hear & react to is ‘not’ strategy, planning or research... It is the creative. If that is so, then this transition of NCD to CEO is perfect because then, (formally), every single function will work clearly towards realising this pre-determined objective. Hence, collectively, the direction & energy is totally one-dimensional.” Further, Nair emphasises, with technology access available to one & all, there is zero product difference, no USP, drastic time reduction in launch dates… all this only puts more pressure on making creative the ‘only real’ criteria between a product’s success or failure. “Nobody understands this better than a creative animal. No wonder most sophisticated clients today want to deal directly with the creative guys, because they know it is they who will translate their vision into a compelling value-proposition designed to seduce the consumer’s mindspace into delivering the right results.”

Nikhil Nehru (the reputed & hugely successful VP of JWT, North, during the eighties & nineties) does not quite tango with the ‘Priti’ woman’s drift. While he un-hesitatingly salutes the creative talents of this new breed of CEO’s, he wonders whether there has not been a disturbing seismic shift in the blueprint. “The more I look around the agency scene, the more I tend to believe that the focus seems trained much more on ‘personalities than organisations.’ This is unprecedented. Sure you had superstars in earlier times too, but the organisation always came first. I am not sure that prevails today. It’s about names towering above everything else, aided and abetted by a pathetically dumbed-down media, that is perpetually looking for sensationalising everything. It’s about Brand Piyush, Prasoon, Balki… and whoever else… although Piyush has consciously striven to carry the organisation and team with him, playing out his role as an inspirational leader with passion and purpose. Whether others have – or can follow – is to be seen.” Nehru is also not quite sure whether (in this scheme of things) everyone works in a collective, unified way towards realising the same corporate agenda. “I sometimes get the distinct feeling that one-upmanship and who’s-pipping-whom to-the-post precedes everything else. After all, creative guys have huge egos, insecurities and competitive natures, which could blur their vision of the big picture. When celebrating the individual becomes the signature tune, leadership takes a huge hit, as does the basic premise of man-management. What is likely to happen is that except the charmed inner circle of the boss-man, others will be made to feel as orphans, leading them to look elsewhere… Leadership is as much about bonding across the board as inspiring everyone by example. It has to be inclusive and pluralistic – not Page 3, standalone razzle-dazzle.”
Strong words indeed, but Balki deflects these uncomfortable apprehensions to the back-burner, while airing his own views… and the new Executive Chairman of Lowe certainly has very definite views on the subject. “Frankly, I don’t think I am doing anything drastically different than what I did earlier. I head the advertising part of the business, which means I look after the ideas that drive the growth of my clients’ business and remain responsible for creating products that deliver the goods. And what is the end-product? Interesting solutions to client’s problems.” The affable bearded head honcho brilliantly projects the changing profile of the new clients. “As clients get more and more aware of an agency’s business they get lesser and lesser worried about how they (agency) manage their own business… and more interested in how they manage their (clients) business interest. In this scheme of things, the conventional, water-tight, pecking-order and hierarchy of yesteryears has no place. Clients don’t give a damn about whom they are interfacing with – creative, planning, client servicing – as long as they are confident about the person making a difference.” He believes too much is being made out of this role playing and the fact that – presently – the creative guys are at the helm of the affairs is a coincidence. “Clients are looking for people who can produce results. Right now, it’s some of the creative guys. Tomorrow it could well be a planner, management, whatever. Clients are in a hurry to break through artificial barriers and via media obstacles and go straight to the ‘chef’, the person who deals single-mindedly with the business of ideas that will impact his business. Regarding other stuff – as Mohammed pointed out earlier – there will always be a solid Business Head whose core competency lies in managing that area. As always, clients understood and recognised all this much before the agencies did, hence for them, it’s not a big deal. It’s the agencies – forever more reactive than proactive – who are yelling from rooftops!”

So at the end of the day, what’s the conclusion? It’s this. The entire advertising process (read: delivery mode) today has changed dramatically, with the creative product (what you see is what you get) being the most significant aspect. In this kind of a scenario – powered relentlessly by an insatiable media and awards syndrome forever plonking it centre-stage as major glitterati events – the NCD is projected as the hero, the glamorous mover ‘n’ shaker, the guy who makes things happen! Wasn’t it only a question of time before the formal coronation took place?