Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can ad-Women Ever become Head Honchos?

In India’s Ad History, how many Businesses and start-ups have been powered by Women Bosses? and how have They Fared? 4Ps B&M’s Consulting Editor Monojit Lahiri does a speed-profile Snapshot of a handful of such Women and Focuses on the latest edition of a firm called Curry-Nation headed by The Ubiquitous priti nair to prove The Obvious!

Let’s face it guys, it really is a man’s world. And although women are just as smart and effective – and proving this conjecture true everyday across diverse male-dominated domains – it’s still, mostly, men who call the shots. Sad (or not!), it is but true. Otherwise, wouldn’t there be at least a handful of the gentler sex heading some of the top 20 ad agencies? Mercifully, there have been some glorious – brave, gifted, dynamic, fearless – exceptions who have cut loose to script their very own success stories.

Sure, there was the gorgeous Nargis Wadia in the late sixties and seventies, but it was Elsie Nanji (the founding partner of Ambience, rated as one of the hottest creative shops in its very first year of existence!) who set the ball rolling around two decades ago. Trained by the redoubtable Mohammed (Enterprise) Khan, Nanji has been a multiple-award winner at most of the revered shows, both at home and abroad. Presently, she is a Managing Partner of a design cell of Publicis Worldwide, Red Lion and today has established it to be one of the top five design brand outfits in the country!

Next up is Preeti Vyas, Chairperson of Vyas Gianetti Creative (VGC). Widely hailed as one of the country’s foremost creative minds, Vyas launched VGC in 1997 with the single-minded focus of transforming a sluggish market into an exciting aesthetic space through “strategic design and communication solutions”. Ranked among India’s greatest brand builders, with branches at New Delhi and Bengaluru, VGC continues to demonstrate amazing entrepreneurial chutzpah and be a true game-changer for their clients.

And so on to Priti Nair! Short, dusky, flashing cute dimples and distracting nose-ring, don’t ever begin to be deceived by the looks of this tough, feisty, fearless, gifted, much-awarded and acclaimed professional powered with creative artillery and ammunition designed to blow you away! Priti’s entrepreneurial venture, Curry Nation, has literally spiced up the ad-nation since its launch. But was it the woman in her which led on to her firm being called what it is?

The dimpled smile appears along with her very special take: “Weird as it may sound, it has to do with my passionate patriotism and passion for food! We are a multi-layered and multi-textured entity, as a nation. Same with our food. So, shouldn’t that, seamlessly, translate into our advertising DNA? Hence, the name!” Priti apparently wasn’t too worried about breaking away from a hi-profile designation in a globally respected agency (Managing Partner, BBH) – and that was because “after two decades in the business, I think I had done time and owed it to myself to do the kind of work I wanted to do, the kind of people I wanted to team up with, the kind of clients and brands I wanted to associate with, the size and direction I wanted to go with – on my own terms.”

Heroic words as these are, Priti didn’t feel quite as bold, fearless and confident leaping into unknown territory, continents away from the (earlier) secure cushions of Leo Burnett, Lowe, Grey Worldwide and BBH. “Absolutely! I was nervous as hell and terrified about the admin paperwork etc that comes with the territory. Would it dilute my creative drive and threaten the persona of the agency? However, I must say that the immense and amazing support and encouragement I got from all quarters really helped. They assured me that it wasn’t a big deal and once I got my team in place, it would all work out fine. The hiring and recruitments have started and I am beginning to breathe again!,” says Priti. What about clients? “Emami is already on board with three of their brands, Fast Relief, Hairlife and Lalima. I can never be grateful enough for the confidence they reposed in me! I had worked with them earlier when I was with Grey, and even then they had promised that should I ever plan to open shop, they would come on board. There was no pitch; the brands just walked in,” says Priti.

Curry-Nation is in talks with other clients too. And Nair is quite clear about the profile of clients. “I love working with Indian brands and clients. Greenply & Camlin were fabulous experiences. I shall focus on them. There is an entire bouquet of new, exciting categories too – healthcare, infrastructure, education, retail, realty – which need to be addressed. FMCGs are certainly challenging but our vision will consciously have a broader bandwidth, hugely engaging the Indian companies. I am open to tie-ups with like-minded people because we live in an age of confluence & collaboration, not conflict.”

One swallow does not a spring make and one quaint femme success does not a trend break. Sure, Priti’s successful, and how; but her, and her predecessors’ successes do not in anyway whatsoever prove that the future would see many more women lynch mob up the entrepreneurial bandwagon to start up ad agencies! Yet, Priti’s example brings the quaint hope and realization that the ad world – unlike other industries – is more receptive to and protective about women entrepreneurs. Well, for whatever it’s worth, that’s surely a good start. I’ll still wait for the spring though...


Thursday, March 10, 2011

AD-Land's Latest Toing …Statistics

What’s with The Numbers game in Adville, Guys? 4Ps B&M Monojit Lahiri tries to Cut in on this Bizarre new Game in Town!

Hey, don’t get naughty ideas, okay? Toing is not that … but fixation, obsession, hot focus. And statistics (or stats, as they say) does not stand for vital or Pam Andy, but clinical numericals, got it? Jeez, we seem to be living in real sinful times when everything is put under the scanner, laid bare … and – forget it!

Okay, let’s get serious. In recent times (more than ever) stats are being yanked out to sell, promote, inform, educate, hype, persuade … wassup? Two minutes of brushing with Pepsodent removes 95% germs! Listerine announces that your tooth brush reaches only 25% of your mouth! Ek Minute is what Surf Excel takes to wipe off dirt from your clothes! One pack of Maggi wheat flour noodles is equal to 3 chapatis! Fair & Handsome promises gorapan in 3 weeks, while Pond’s White Beauty Cream offers flawless skin in 7 days. Rival Olay declares that it fights 7 signs of ageing, while Head & Shoulders announces 7 Scalp & Hair benefits! Wow, kinda hair-raising, huh?

“Not really,” says Head honcho of Virus Communication, Rupam Bohra. He believes all this is happening because there is a huge bankruptcy of ideas “and this reflects dramatically the troubled state that the Creative frat are in, in today’s Ad scene. They are under huge pressure to constantly perform and deliver in a fiercely competitive marketscape with clients looking for results – and no corny, pseudo-creative, edgy crap, please! Now, in a space where everyone is desperately wanting to be bigger than China, confusion can get confounded! Result? Transform emotion into numericals!’’ He is convinced that it is a sign of desperation and recalls a recent meeting with a client who valiantly tried to convince him that “my products, when consumed/used, are bound to make the consumer 30% happier!”

Lowe’s Creative Head (North) Deepesh Jha is suitably amused at this anecdote but brings to the table his own special spin. Jha believes that it’s not very prudent to make sweeping statements because ultimately it all depends on the focus and direction the brief wishes to connect with. “Sometimes stats need to be emphasised to power and define the ad in terms of potency and edge – like Dove soap. Otherwise too, if it makes for an interesting value-addition to the narrative, why not?,” he tells 4Ps B&M. Jha doesn’t remotely believe that it has anything to do with either creative bankruptcy or desperation. “That’s a rather naïve and simplistic way of looking at this issue. Eventually it is about who is using it, in what manner, to address which constituency, to achieve what result. Stats can be very effective if used in a relevant manner … or corny and brain dead if used in a clichéd, moronic way,” says Jha.

President (Corporate), Tata Teleservices Lloyd Mathias offers a client’s perspective. He believes that today’s consumer is far more savvy and informed than his predecessor and demands proof for his full-value-for-money transactions. This has suddenly – in many categories – eliminated or toned down the soft-sell, charming and romancing of the target group. “Of course, there are brilliant exceptions like Vodafone which continues to do its own thing – Pug, Zoozoos – because they are brand building devices. But, it depends on the marketer, product, focus, and the target audience. In today’s crazy market place, anything that gives the client an edge into propelling the purchase intent must be pounded, fast n’ furious … nobody cares about the textbook do’s and don’ts today,” says Mathias.

Ad–watcher Pravesh Mathur believes it’s clearly a sign of the times. “Be it the growth-rate, Sensex, movie-rating, cricket-rating of the best side and cricketers, per capita incomes – the number game is hot n’ happening, boss,” says Mathur. Agrees Copywriter Tania Khanna as she tells 4Ps B&M, “the proliferation of me-too brands blitzing diverse messages of funny and emotive nature engages the consumer, but also confuses her. Often it even de-sensitises her. That’s when measurable tools – read benefits – come handy. Enter stats!”

Be that as it may, stats can be misleading too. Remember the high profile and controversial Heinz-Complan face off that shook the industry and media sometime ago? It only reveals that stats can be a double-edged sword. Concludes the local wit: “It’s a lot like marriage, sex or even advertising. It’s as good, relevant, meaningful, fulfilling and effective – or terrible, ghastly, flawed, fake or misleading – as you make it, buddy!” Touche!