Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is PSU Advertising , changing......?

Dull, boring, Inconsequential...Public Sector Advertising has seldom been taken seriously by The Ad Professionals, critics, or even Mainstream Biggies. Has this category begun to change, Demonstrate Moves that suggest Positivity and Professionalism? Our consulting editor jumps into the argument...

A lethal and flamboyant broadside was unleashed by a young, new-age Creative Director of a hi-profile A-lister ad agency to an ad professional from a PSU-lead adshop at a brand conclave recently. “Jesus, you are with those guys? Get out of that junk-shop fast, buddy, because that’s not advertising, trust me! ‘Marching into a Golden Future’ is their idea of iconic headline! Real life-threatening! It’s advertising by, for and of PSUs! Run fast before you get unemployed,” he said.

Perhaps a loose cannon comment! However, for people who have tracked this PSU category, is the young man’s opinion really too harsh? Or is there (beneath the dramatic exaggeration) some truth? Are PSU advertisements down in the drudgery dunks?

NTPC’s Senior Corporate Communication Manager Ruchi Ratna believes that such language and hi-decibel posturing is unwarranted and some facts must be brought to bear before letting off steam. “To begin with, PSUs are not FMCGs and therefore, to compare an NTPC, BHEL, SAIL or Power Grid ad campaign to a Pepsi, Coke, Airtel or Nike is unfair, silly and irrelevant. Our target groups and consumer base are totally different and so are our basic communication compulsions and blue-print,” Ratna says. Besides, she adds forcefully, “We are a government body and answerable to the highest authorities, and therefore cannot afford the luxury of creative adventuring of the attention-grabbing kind. Hence, most of our communication is information-driven, not imagination-led, because of our agenda. However, some government outfits – banks for instance – are doing splendid creative work. SBI is a terrific example!”

Leo Burnett’s gifted and articulate NCD K. V. Sridhar (Pops), is next. The veteran agrees with Ruchi about great work being done in the banking sector and adds LIC and Maruti to the list, but laments the overall lack of vision, pace and effectiveness. “Three decades ago, PSU advertising was much more meaningful and engaging. But possibly due to the shift from a socialistic to capitalist, and fast-track economy model, PSU communication seems to be more concerned with other mundane issues and burdened by political and bureaucratic compulsions. It’s a pity because, if one sees places like Singapore and Malaysia, government advertising – even in core industries – works as a wonderful agent of change, and is not riddled with dull formats or puerile, amateurish headlines, or clich├ęd prose (invariably about nation-building and improving everyone’s quality of life) superimposed on a predictable layout comprising the face of half-a-dozen government biggies,” says Sridhar.

Paris-based graphic designer Pia Sen – who was engaged with the genre of advertising during her brief stint with an ad agency in India earlier on – has her take. “I don’t want to play footsie or be sweet n’ cute but it’s basically a total no-win situation in most cases,” Sen gives her views. Why? She believes it has (to begin with) to do with the quality of people who commission and judge the work. “How many of them are really qualified or communication-literate? So you have an amazing situation of total non-professionals judging professionals! How weird is that?” says Sen. Then there is the bidding system and of course the carnival (or circus?) called ‘Presentation’ where frequently, over 50 agencies are invited to present their work within a time duration of around ten minutes! “That some agencies still manage to do some decent stuff is a miracle!” adds Sen.

Power Grid’s, young & dynamic Sr. Manager, Corporate Communication, Naresh Kumar is less sceptical and believes that despite the obvious limitations of not having a consumer-driven product portfolio, PSU advertising has been doing a commendable job. “Today, top managements of most PSUs have recognised the changing contours driven by new-age competition and begun to look at personnel who are professional and communication-savvy to respond to these changing times with quality and speed. This has led to a lot of effective advertising in a domain, earlier dominated by communication that was less focused or target-driven because it was not required. It is easy to be critical, but to create engaging work designed to meaningfully connect with a PSU agenda is not easy. The battle continues and I continue to believe that we are only getting better each day,” says Kumar.

Ogilvy’s NCD Abhijit Avasthi takes Naresh Kumar’s case forward with passion and purpose as he says, “I have major issues with guys who choose to flamboyantly ridicule, mock or dismiss this genre of advertising – for effect! We at Ogilvy continue to challenge this stupid irresponsible and totally inaccurate line of thinking with consistent ground breaking work. Be it a range of banks (considered poison by the pseudo-creative types), or the earlier Incredible India campaigns, we enjoy great comfort levels with this category.” Avasthi agrees that most of these guys are not too advertising or marketing-savvy “but unlike many of the smart, I-know-it-all types, once you win their confidence, they are happy to trust you, full-on and respect your judgment. Unlike the private sector types, they have no illusions of grandeur and nor do they, at the drop of a hat, flash attitude or fancy jargons.”

Dr. Bhawna Gulati, Assistant Director of NABH, in conclusion provides a healing touch as she says, “This category is certainly changing. In fact, the most brilliant examples are Jago Grahak Jago and Incredible India. Earlier, the focus was on informing and making aware of issues to the public, at large. Today, PSUs have understood that they need to go further and effectively communicate their messages to the pre-determined target groups.” What she is saying does make sense. From the advertisements that are regularly released by traffic police departments to even income tax deadline ads, the effects are showing and viewers are noticing the message.

No doubt, on the factor of creativity, PSU ads might still not pass full muster; but at the very least, they’ve started changing. And a good start is the battle half won we say.


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