Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Brand Endoresment About Ethics … or Consumer Connect?

In other words, should Celebrities Worry about Ethics while Endorsing Brands? Should they be Answerable to calls of ‘Political Correctness’ while becoming brand ambassadors? Or should they be Simply allowed to do what they are best at – Attracting Attention for The Brand – and not be Questioned beyond that?

Squeaky-clean cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar’s firm and categorical no-no to endorsing a big-buck liquor endorsement deal must have surely fetched him an additional zillion fans, mothers, bhabis, dadis and nanis heading the list! To brush aside Rs.20 crores for the sake of principles (in today’s blatantly materialistic and consumerist world) is something not many other celebrities would be able to do? However, the question that then pops its head out in a provocative fashion is: Is product endorsement about ethics or consumer connect? Do fans give a damn about ethics and morality of their favourite celebs when purchasing or selecting a brand? If the Little Master, actually, did greenlight a liquor brand endorsement deal, would his clean-cut, decent image really be hit for a six? Should celebrities even be answerable on this parameter?

Delhi-based theatre director and actress Lushin Dubey says that any celebrity has to be “very cautious and intelligently discriminating.” She acknowledges the fact that she has a certain image with her fans and therefore has a responsibility to not let them down by portraying or depicting something that may shock, surprise or outrage them. “I don’t smoke; but even if I did, I would rather endorse a classy wine than a cigarette, because it would send the wrong signals in every way... This is beside the fact that cigarette smoking is injurious to health. As for wine, my doc says it’s fine!” says Dubey with a laugh. However, the flamboyant iconoclast Prahlad Kakkar believes most of all this is garbage & poppycock as he tells 4Ps B&M, “Which century are we living in guys? As a celeb (cricketer, film star, whatever), who told you that your fans and the public really believe or expect you to be the most seedha-saadha, god-fearing, family-loving character, or else you are doomed to burn in hell?” The hot-shot ad film-maker firmly believes that today’s readers, viewers, listeners and consumers are intelligent enough to figure out the truth for themselves and don’t need to be prompted, tutored, brainwashed or sold images of celebs that are (comically) hypocritical or way off-centre from the image they project.

“Glam babes and hot studs representing life in the dangerously fast lane would look like pathetic, ludicrous sissies and lame ducks endorsing milk, orange squash, or the untold ecstasy of Horlicks! Get real guys! If a celeb smokes or drinks, what’s wrong in getting him to endorse the same? Haven’t SRK, Akshay Kumar, Dharmendra, Bhajji, Shilpa Shetty, Yuvi and Dhoni, in the past, endorsed liquor brands? Haven’t Akshay, Jackie Shroff and Kay Kay Menon, sometime back, endorsed the poison-weed? What’s the big deal – aren’t these guys still around?” says Kakkar.

But the London-based Bikram Ray, an oriental studies exponent, believes it’s a tough one. “While Kakkar certainly has a point about new-age consumers/fans being less puritanical and hysterical on the ethics/morality button than in the past, the fact is, somewhere, something’s gotta give! Remember the Tiger Woods explosion and deadly fallout (from fans to advertisers) once his serial infidelities blitzed the media? Woods was the model champ... until he strayed. Agreed, endorsing booze in 2011 is – should be, at least – totally innocent and a non-issue. But for celebrities (like Sachin) with sparkling reputation, their fan-base being what it is, and India being what it is, feathers will be ruffled, questions will be asked and a mountain will be made out of a molehill, yaar! Why even go through all that?” asks Ray. Social commentator Ananya Chatterjee is hugely amused and believes that there is – for a large number of blind fans – a false sense of herd-mentality and morality at play. “Does having a drink make you a drunkard? By the same token, endorsing a brand of liquor should hardly be an earth-shattering, breaking-news item prompting fans to reach for smelling salts, ring up ambulances or head for the puja-room!” says Ananya.

Very recently, Ranbir Kapoor refused to endorse a fairness cream brand, apparently because he felt strongly against it as the brand promoted stereotypes. But the same Ranbir Kapoor has in the past admitted to having been into alcohol, even drugs. He, as did other celebs, also recently quite easily accepted an award from the Teachers liquor brand. Isn’t all that a paradoxical opposite to his fairness cream stand? What about the cold drink commercial that he does? Aren’t carbonated soft drinks supposed to be unhealthy to kids? So what gives?

Well, finally it comes to the fact that when a celebrity decides to endorse or not to endorse a brand due to their personal choices, they are simply exercising their freedom of speech (and action). Says Shubhoshekhar Bhattacharjee, CEO, Planman Motion Pictures, “If they do endorse a politically incorrect brand like cigarettes or alcohol, blame the government for allowing the product to sell rather than shooting the messenger. Celebrities should have the complete freedom to make their own independent choices of endorsing any and every brand that is legally allowed to be sold. If society has any issue, it cannot ostracise or judge.”

In a country where cricketers and movie stars are idolised, worshipped, venerated, revered, and where – despite galloping consumerism, materialism and urbanisation – an indescribable puritanical schizophrenia exists which challenges all canons of logic and rationale. And then there’s the icon Sachin – “the original Mr. Clean,” as per actress Shreya Jha – who creates his own unsurpassable moral benchmarks and standards. And to expect a mere celebrity to follow Sachin’s path would be equal to asking a mortal to play God.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

Too Much, Too Soon for New-age AD Kids?

Why Are today’s Youngistan in Adville Losing the Wow Factor? 4PS B&M‘s Monojit Lahiri Investigates

It’s always been there, but in recent times the whisper seems to have amplified into a veritable roar with guys who are recruiting or looking for talent. The problem, they say, is two-fold. One, chronic shortage of appropriate talent in a booming business scenario – with more seats than right bums, available – has forced them to kick ‘existing talent upstairs’, irrespective of maturity or experience, with out-of-whack remuneration packages; and then pray like hell that miracles (read: grinning, satisfied clients!) happen. Two, frequently sit back and helplessly watch some of the really gifted kids enjoying hyper-designations at hyper-speed have a blast... and then job-hop! So, whatever happened to good ol’ loyalty, dedication, experience and maturity and the Guru-Shishya thingamajig?

Subhash Kamat, head honcho, BBH, is first off the block & cuts to the chase in a flash. He believes the trend has largely to do with policies relating to recruitment, training and retaining talent with the appropriate appreciation-reward factor. “As economies head north, it is critical for industries to scale-up & keep pace with this growth in terms of vision and values. This has not happened with our Adbiz. Recruitment & Training – at most agencies – continue to be given short shrift, a cosmetic, line-job thing, dumped the moment there are budget constraints. Same with rewards. Mentoring too seems to have taken a hit. How many Piyush Pandeys do we have as inspirational leaders?” Kamat tells 4Ps B&M. He adds to this the prevailing disease (impatience) of today’s generation & their mad hurry to step-on-the-gas & move to the next stop – account, task, career, whatever! “Tough to fight that, my friend,” ruminates Kamat.

The National Creative Director (NCD) of Bates 141 appears to be more circumspect. Sagar Mahabaleshwar reckons that that was then, this is now, and since change is the only thing that is constant, this churn is inevitable. “Not only in Adland, the world is changing rapidly across the board and so adaptability with speed and quality is the ruling mantra. In this scenario, unfortunately, traits like loyalty, solidity and steadfastness – admirable traits as they are, revered and cherished back then – have taken a hit. That’s where the youth score. No wonder there are tonnes of under 35 guys and gals rocking big designations with confidence and effectiveness,” Mahabaleshwar tells 4Ps B&M. However, he concedes that the exact opposite also happens and magnanimously takes a part of the blame. “We were lucky in getting someone like Piyush to mentor us, as friend, philosopher and guide. Have we been able to provide that kind of personalised leadership to our kids? I guess it cuts both ways,” adds Mahabaleshwar.

Ogilvy’s hot-shot creative ‘dude’ Sumanto Chattopadhyay is up next and brings his own special spin. “Right at the outset I have to say that we in Ogilvy have been extremely lucky in this area. The reason is that, unlike most other agencies, we have a definite process and our Creative Directors (CDs) are trained, ready and in-the-groove professionals, fully aware of the implication of what a CD stands for in a holistic way, when they hit that slot,” says Chattopadhyay. In fact, his observation is that in many agencies, talented creative kids who, however, still have to gain maturity and are at least “four levels away from the designation are scooped up and made CDs, which would never happen here. The result is that the “too much, too soon” factor kicks off, big time. A CD is not just about doing great creative work. It has a much larger canvas and has to deal with motivation and leadership as also managing clients, colleagues, bosses, juniors and of course creativity that entertains and empowers. I think, as our record shows, we have been able to hold up this model pretty decently. No major hiccups – ever!”

What better way to wrap up this debate than invite the brilliant creator of the ‘Youngistan’ campaign, Soumitra Karnik, to share his perspective on this issue. Passionate and articulate, JWT (North) ECD shoots from the hip, fast n’ furious: “I started out two decades ago and really went through the grind – and I thank god for that! Today what is happening is bizarre! On the one hand, while the agencies are doing exceedingly well, they have become very stingy with money and are hiring hordes of people to serve as foot-soldiers to do the client’s work. Quantity is clearly over-powering quality and the effect is bound to show, at some point. On the other hand (mostly in urban centres) the kids come from well-to-do families, so money is not an issue; ‘Designations’ are and they consider it the real sexy tags and that’s what they get freely and delight in showing-off! Their work style is crazy too. They roll in at around 11 a.m., do the Facebook stuff most of the time, rustle up some headlines and ads before planning their evening programme – what do you expect? Sure, many of them are very bright, but the focus, dedication, commitment and desire to persevere and learn the craft, seems to be mostly missing. It’s a shame, because many of them are very brilliant and definitely have it in them to make a solid contribution, but too much attitude and too little seriousness of purpose appears to be the problem. Could be because of the promiscuous times we live in, or an embarrassment of riches in terms of alternative career avenues… whatever… but the loss is as much theirs as ours.”

So, at the end of the day, is youngistan – from whom “wows” were expected – eyeing dil maange more territory? Do they find advertising frivolous and engaging only as a time-pass activity to move on to something more substantial? Guess what, we never asked them!