Thursday, April 23, 2009

Does Creativity have an Expiry Date?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri quizzes a cross section of people from the ad and film world...

“Come, grow old with me. For the best is yet to be,” spouted dada Shakespeare. Quirky, edgy genius Woody Allen marched to a different beat. “When I told my 15-year- old kid some years ago that I planned to visit the museums in Rome, she said, make sure you keep movin’ pops … or they might mistake you for an exhibit!!” So what is old (read: anything over 40) age: Blunder years? In a country where 44% of the population is said to be under 25, is old more cold than gold? Extending the logic, is ‘creativity’ then, most definitely, given an expiry date? Has grey-haired eminence and wealth of experience, been suddenly (and dramatically) shoved into the dustbin, considered irrelevant and useless? Does all this get even more magnified in a here n’ now profession like advertising where new-age fads and trends, powered by nano-second technology, demand being in-the-loop all the time to seduce the impatient, promiscuous and impulsive youth market?

“Absolutely boss! I think – with some exceptions – most of the plus 40-types in the adbiz must be handed out VRS slips! Or moved out from the main frame and given stuff they can handle. The change, across the spectrum, is too fast for them to keep pace. The very concept of creativity is being re-defined everyday.” That was 28-year old Atul Bishnoi, CD of a Mumbai based ad agency. The grand old [evergreen?] man of adville laughs away these broadsides with characteristic flamboyance. Retorts Alyque Padamse, “Before uttering another word, I’d like to invite Bishnoi to sit on my lap and finish his orange juice, milk, Complan, Bournvita, Horlicks or whatever it is that he has!” Ego intact, he proceeds to offer his educated take. He believes that “creativity addressing human needs can never be dated” and remains skeptical about agencies suddenly moving to youth-mode because of the buzz. “That is insecurity and a complete lack of smart thinking. As long as your ideas are young and fresh, you rock. Age is only a number. My advice to the paranoid oldies: Don’t retire – re-tyre!”
Ogilvy’s hot-shot spoof champ (of Sprite fame) Ajay Gehlaut steps on the gas, straightaway. “It’s sad, but true that awe, respect and reverence for the grey-haired brigade is a thing of the past. In today’s world, speed with quality is the name of the game and youth appear to be hotter players in this space.” He points to a galaxy of young NCD’s, CD’s, even CEO’s (Prasoon Joshi) warming the hot-seat – something unthinkable two decades ago. “In this digital age, five years is considered decent experience. In the gaming scene, you have whiz kids at age 16! Its freaky, man! Information not wisdom is the new mantra.” Shyam Benegal, the iconic film-maker – who started out as a copywriter! – brings his brilliantly evolved spin to the table. “While all this energetic, excited, hi-octane stuff is true, one must realise that it is restricted only to the ad scene, which is only one narrow aspect of the creativity base/universe.” Benegal says that it is not a new thing at all. In earlier times too, youngsters defined the adbiz “and either you were kicked upstairs – or kicked out!” However, today out-of-the box and freak-out stuff seem to be the hot tickets and clearly the younger lot is much better at it than the oldies. Why? “Because as you grow older, maturity arrives and with it a sense of perspective, rationale and analysis – none of which really contributes to the free-for-all creativity demanded from today’s adland.” Structure, discipline, training have all evaporated into thin air. A very special, hallucinatory kind of mood and colour seems to be the flavour of the day, a willful suspension of disbelief stretched to the ultimate limit.” Chetan Verma, Corporate Communication Chief, PowerGrid, brings his informed views to the table. “I definitely think creativity comes with an expiry date and the reasons are simple. Never before has almost any product/service category enjoyed such huge youth-specific target groups and in this environment, thinking young [hence] is a must. Also, adaptability, flexibility and thinking-on-your-feet to hit the ground running are attributes that lend themselves much more to the younger lot than oldies. In a nano-second, consumer-driven world where tastes, beliefs, wants, needs and desires change at an alarming speed – frequent based on impulsiveness – no prizes for guessing which constituency can best track it - and crack it! Admittedly, there are spaces and segments that engage the older lot, but [everything considered] creativity and youngsters are indeed made-for-each-other.” Interestingly, the two kids who come on next, to wrap up the debate, beg to differ! Spiky, the hip-hop Creative Consultant at Leo Burnett, Mumbai, believes that age has nothing to do with creativity and cites the examples of M.F. Hussain, Piyush Pandey, Pops and Mohammed Khan, who remain icons. “Fads, fashions and trends admittedly are stuff beyond their bandwidth but there is an entire universe that need their specialised attention, skill and finesse. I think experience and maturity provides invaluable value-addition.” Shubhra Tandon, the young and attractive servicing dynamo – DraftFCB Ulka, Delhi – agrees totally. “I think, too much hoo-haa is made of this under-25 war-cry. Sure, its true, but c’mon yaar, there is life beyond the FMCG world!” A sharp head on young shoulders, Tandon believes that at the end of the day, advertising is neither about scoring brownie points, jargon-flashing nor a cold recitation of facts and figures. “Its about establishing a connect with life (and people) based on experience and human insight that are likely to touch, move (and therefore) convince more people to come around to their way of thinking”. A smart agency, she believes is one that has a blend of both. “Remember confluence – not conflict – is the most desired viagra in these recession-hit times!” 


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Has Youthquake struck Ad-Endorsement-Land?

Is ‘young’ the undisputed flavour of the day? Are yesterday’s sweethearts suddenly, dreaded victims of the don’t-call-us-we’ll call-you disease? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri surveys the scene...

 Recently, a screaming headline in a tabloid grabbed my attention. Out of work Sush loses ad deal to petite Asin. A gorgeous, glamorous, sophisticated diva like Sushmita Sen, given the heave-ho (for a product she’s been associated with for years – Pantene) and replaced by young, pretty [but nowhere as charismatic or enjoying pan-India popularity with the upmarket crowd] South Indian actress Asin, of Ghajini fame! Why, even the great King Khan – whose other name seemed to have been ‘Pepsi Khan’ – is, reportedly, dropped from Team Pepsi in their latest outing. Ditto for yesterday’s queens Ash Rai Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta, say adbiz and Bollywood insiders. On the cricket front too, similar tremors have been felt. Yesterday’s icons Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, V.V.S. Laxman, even the sensational Sachin Tendulkar, have suffered anything between a meltdown to a slowdown. It’s the T-20 kids – Dhoni, Yuvraj, Ishant, Raina, Zaheer and gang – that are zooming centre-stage and replacing them in the endorsement sweepstakes. In Bollywood, new dazzlers rocking it include Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Asin, Genelia, Jiah Khan, Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padkone, even Farhan Akhtar! With half of our one billion population said to be under the age group of 25, marketers are indeed getting hot n’ heavy in the business of torpedoing this target base, all the way!

Is it working… and what drives it? Who better to kick-off this debate with the very person who founded and coined the ground-breaking term youngistan – which for Washington Post defines young India as also TV channels and political parties identifying the new India – Soumitra Karnik, Creative Head of JWT’s Pepsi team who says, “Much as I am tempted to say that I suddenly dreamt it all up one stormy night – like fake directors or smart plagiarists! – I didn’t! Its just that, while reading up something, the words ‘Young’ and ‘Hindustan’ struck me as interesting cues for coining something new, fresh, simple along street-speak lines that would resonate with the target base. That’s how it was really born. If it captured popular imagination instantly, I guess its largely because it was red-hot topical, had the required bindaas tone to it and reflected the mood, colour and voice of today’s most important segment-youth.” Karnik doesn’t munch his words and packs in a solid punch when he says that today’s marketers live in the here n’ now and grab only what they believe will rock their product. “They are pretty much like fair-weather friends – and why not? They have a job to do. If its not working, then its goodbye time! The new kids on the block, both in the Cricket and Bollywood arena, reflect this reality in dramatic fashion, right? The age of loyalty is over, boss. It is the age of Return on Investment (ROI)!”
Industry-watcher Ashish Kukreja however, chooses to rain on Karnik’s parade. He reckons all this is “a bimari and fad grabbing the new-age marketers, looking for a quick kill. It has no logic, focus or perspective. Its just a brainless follow-the-herd mentality. Where is the brand-fit? Does a Yusuf Pathan or Praveen Kumar go with the profile of a Pepsi?” Dentsu’s Gullu Sen believes that Kukreja must have both his head and eyes examined immediately because he seems to be living in another planet! “Soumitra is spot-on! Youth is definitely in and the role-models for big buck celeb deals are selected completely on the basis of who’s the flavour of the day. No question about that! It has to do with that segment the product is targeting and with the kids’ universe getting more impatient, adventurous and promiscuous towards brand usage than ever, shifts in role-models take on critical dimensions,” avers Sen. And L. K. Advani’s recent visuals of pumping iron to attract the young voter, is further indication of the might of youth power, right?!

At the end of the day, other aspects come into play too. For one, there is a definite fatigue-factor when one single celeb endorses a brand forever, especially in today’s impatient, novelty-driven times. Two, age does matter. Three, success is the key (Dhoni’s dynamic leadership and subsequent success strike-rate has, allegedly, got him endorsement to this staggering amount of Rs.300 crore!). You can’t have a poor run of scores – either in cricket or Bollywood – and expect the sponsors to keep pampering and batting for you! Nestle dropped Rani for South Indian actress, Trisha, who also – ironically – replaced Preity in the Scooty Pep Ads. The once-bubbly Zinta [now seen more in IPL do’s than the screen!] was also relieved of her endorsement with Perk, Lyril, BSNL and Santro. However, all is not lost for the likes of Ash – who was recently replaced by Katrina in the Nakshatra Diamond endorsement deal – and gang. The power of two (thanks to the humongous and insane curiosity, influence and impact that both Bollywood and cricket attract, ably-supported by a zillion mags, publications, tabloids, TV channels and Internet sites blitzing gossip, scandals, rumors, juicy, naughty and startling news bytes 24X7) is gaining huge momentum and so the John-Bips, Saif-Kareena, Ajay-Kajol, Ranbir-Deepika and Ash-Abhi combo can keep earning those big bucks – before another recession arrives, that is!