Thursday, April 22, 2010


In the hysterical anxiety to engage and entertain an impatient and promiscuous youth-oriented target base, is advertising forgetting its basic agenda – of informing, convincing and selling? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates

In the Hollywood of the late fifties and early sixties, anxiety, confusion and hysteria had set in due to movies not being able to engage the viewer in a way they were expected to. The reason? Television had entered the scene and the earlier ‘captive’ audience suddenly had a compelling choice not to watch the stuff they didn’t choose to. So what did Hollywood do? The secret, trick, knack, art – call it what you will – that the big daddies of movies used was to understand the strength of their medium and then strike at the core philosophy. Instead of trying to improve the substance of movies to compete with the meaningful serials coming on television, they upped the ante by ballooning the budget, scale and spectacle of movies in a way that the twenty-one inch idiot box could never hope to match! In other words, rather than giving more arty movies (meant for the ‘intelligent’ viewer), movie houses went for the larger-than-life metaphor, showcasing surrealistic scenes that could only be, if at all, imagined. And it worked liked nobody’s business! It seemed that the world was made up of more people wanting dunce, yet spectacular screen entertainment, than meaningful ‘stuff’, a reality that exists till today.

The question is, is today’s advertising scene echoing a déjà vu? Due to the changing scenario, is the ad fraternity mistaking (perhaps correctly so) style for substance, form for content? Are frivolity and entertainment the new games in town? Is engagement – at any cost – the prime motive, totally obliterating the basic agenda of advertising which supposedly was to inform, persuade and sell? Look at the latest ads around you – from that car ad showcasing a smiling celebrity in the throes of pleasure, to that cell phone service manufacturer imploring you to jump on the next tiger you see on the road to of course ‘save the tiger’, the intent is clearly to catch the viewer’s attention, than to educate him about the exact qualities of the product. What gives? Is the ad-world finally over the edge?

Priti Nair, Managing Partner BBH, in fact disagrees, “Even a couple of years ago, there were many more creatively adventurous ads. Today, maybe a fall-out of the recession, a lot less risk-taking ads are seen. Most stuff is focused, direct… boring. I think we need to push the envelope a lot more.” Lloyd Mathias, President and Chief Marketing Officer, TataTel, brings his own spin to the table, “Like any other social medium, advertising reflects the mood of the times. The simplistic inform-persuade-sell mode worked beautifully for a long time but once communication became sophisticated, technology entered, there was a paradigm shift. Multi-tasking became the order the day. It is not uncommon to see today’s kids on the mobile while hitting the net, right? So in this age of Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, advertising content has to keep pace. It can’t be as direct, naïve and simplistic as it once was. The new-age consumer would dismiss it, straightaway.” Besides, adds Mathias, for hard-core information and details about products and services that are in the hi-ticket category, the net provides it all; one doesn’t have to depend on advertising. “The job [of advertising] today is to primarily push the brand in an endearing fashion that triggers the recall factor.”

Abir Chakravarti, VP Bates, believes that the rules of the game have changed, “The famous AIDA principle – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action – works only in parts, with most of the focus on the first two. In today’s proliferating brands and media avenue universe, the function of advertising has dramatically altered. Unprecedented brand promiscuity among the youth has demanded an unprecedented focus on grabbing their attention. Also, for the entire AIDA principle to work, a 360 degree spin is required. We live in different times and advertising is trying to keep pace. Sure, there are plenty of occasions when guys and brands go over the top. That’s an irresponsible cavalier approach and totally uncalled for!” And Ujjal Sinha, CEO of the Kolkata-based Genesis Advertising, has the last word. He believes that by and large, today’s ad guys have lost the plot. “In their anxiety to go global, they seem to be aping the West. There is a definite sense of insecurity powered by the mistaken belief that the more bizarre, big budget and spectacular the ad, the more it will resonate with the public. It’s a giant leap in the wrong direction…” Now that is another story altogether. 


Thursday, April 08, 2010


We revisit the rhetorical question and jump across to a few women for their responses on why hasn’t the equality query been solved, despite eons of man-woman existence

Relax-feminists, libbers, bra-burners and the army of smart and successful women who are burning the top slot of their respective ‘spaces’ with mind-blowing work and professionalism! The article is not to question or challenge their proven commitment, focus, ability or capability in the area of performance or achievement… but to examine why (despite their proven track-record) the ‘big one’ eludes them. We asked a few people and the feedback was as entertaining as enlightening...

Poonam Singh, a young MBA aspirant believes that women have it in them to be “inspirational leaders because they use the Transformational style as opposed to men’s Transactional style. They are willing to listen, empathise and understand a colleague/subordinate’s problem.” However, Singh believes women have one “serious chink in their armour” – the aspect of emotionality. Unlike men who are focused, one-dimensional, business-like and hard-core pragmatic, women can [and often do] goof up in taking important decisions driven by the heart, not head.

Another student, Eshani Jha stands the stated weakness on its head and emphasises, “It is this very emotional quotient that makes her a better leader.” At the end of the day, she defends, it’s ‘people’ whom you lead – not computers, machinery, buildings, glass, concrete or stone – and therefore the inspirational leader is one who invests as much of the ‘heart’ as the ‘head’. Media House executive (a working mother in her early thirties) Mridula Sahay approaches the issue with her cautious maturity befitting the station in life. “I would hesitate to jump to conclusions or unleash opinions without pulling back and seeing the big picture.” She believes that ‘leadership’ is something that is inborn and (like in men) you either have this trait or don’t. It is seldom acquired. “If this issue [vis-à-vis women] is raised today it is because lesser women are there holding down leadership-status appointments, than men. The reason is basically historical. Women are perceived as the home-makers, while men are the providers, going out, doing jobs of work and earning a living. This places the two in different domains. Leadership – obviously – is more relevant and legitimate in the work place and therefore it has (traditionally) been linked to men. Today, with more women breaking the glass ceiling to invade the once ‘Men Only’-space, questions like these will invariably arise. This represents a tacit recognition of women’s presence in the higher echelons of business and industry and augurs well for our future.”

The critical question is: If leadership is about management, supervision, control and guidance in an authoritative mode, women are born leaders because they deploy and leverage these traits, successfully, everyday! But then, why is there still a huge coterie that still does not perceive women as true ‘leaders’? “Rampant gender-bias, and sex discrimination,” says Priya, a New York based IT employee for a multinational. “But there’s also the fear of experimenting at the top – women, by genetic makeup, cannot withstand the stress and work overload that men can. Therefore, shareholders feel extremely afraid to test out something totally new,” she adds.

Fittingly the last words are provided by an iconic woman who brilliantly fills several spaces with magical effectiveness, Aparna Sen. “Firstly, we need to understand the meaning of the word effective. Popular (male) belief will equate it with success, related to result, performance and achievement. For me, the word resonates with a different glow… It translates into the desire and ability to understand, mould, form, shape and inspire ordinary people to extraordinary heights. It takes into account everyday women who languish in the shadows, an unsung and unheralded community, because they are not high-profile corporate divas like the Indra Nooyis, Sulajja Firodia Motwanis, Vinita Balis, Shobhana Bhartias, Naina Lal Kidwais or Kiran Mazumdar Shaws. For me they are more effective because minus the massive infrastructure or resources of the workplace, these sublime creatures keep doing their stuff everyday, rising above a million problems, fighting against all odds, to emerge victorious.”

Woman, your time to lead will come; but not now... not soon...