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?!