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!” 


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