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.