Friday, October 25, 2013

Do Whacky Named Ad-Shops Score Over Others?

4Ps B&M investigates the growing list of OMG, new-age agency names that could prompt the conservative, old school types, to reach for their smelling salts or fast-track towards the nearest ICU!

A few months ago a close friend of mine called up, slightly hysterical and insisted he needed to see me, pronto! Alarmed, I invited him instantly. He arrived, looking like death warmed-up. I immediately enquired about his health, whether his Biwi No.1 had left him for SRK, his daughter with the tattooed dude down the road, his son with a druggie buddy ...? He appeared irritated (a good sign suggesting human feelings!) and impatient. “Don’t talk nonsense yaar, it’s nothing like that. You remember my elder daughter and that big session you had about career-avenues? She followed your advice and joined an ad agency, but ...” here he visibly ashened “but God, how can one ever utter that name in public? Will my daughter ever get a decent suitor in the matrimonial market once they hear where she is employed?” He paused, looked up towards me and croaked “Six Inches! That’s the name of the ad agency! Can you believe it?”

On the way to the bar to quickly provide my friend with the ol’ friendly life support juice, I couldn’t suppress a small smile. He was not from Adbiz and hence was clueless about the fact that there was life beyond the old, traditional names like JWT, Ogilvy, McCann, Lowe, Lintas, Grey, even Mudra, Ulka, etc. In recent times such whacked-out names like Nuts N Bolts, Scarecrow, Eggfirst Advertising, Saints & Warriors, WhatTheHell?, Cut The Crap, Fresh Lime Soda Creatives, Flaky Mellow & Grounded, From Here On, Bang In The Middle, Virus, Brand Curry, Curry-Nation, Grasshopper, Goosebumps, Taproot ... are pushing for centre-stage, with more set to, undoubtedly, follow. Wassup? Has Adville finally become – officially – a Pagalkhana?

Moon Moon Dhar, the feisty CD of the Delhi-based adshop Perfect10 – she gave the name – believes that these new-age names should provide zero reason for any progressive, sane, intelligent person to take that tip to the shrink! “Boss, isn’t effective advertising about the AIDA factor: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action? That’s what these freaky names hit. Same with Perfect10. To the true-blue movie buff of yesteryears, it could well evoke images of the sizzling Bo Derek starring in the film of the same name. To ad professionals, however, the message is simple: a benchmark, a yardstick for true, effective professionalism that delivers the goods,” she tells 4Ps B&M.

Goosebumps head honcho Ratan Kumar agrees and lets out where his unusual agency name came from. “In today’s Adville, where competition is fierce and gaining an edge anyhow and anywhere is hugely advantageous, standing out is the key. This name came from a stunning line delivered as a part of a pitch by my ex-boss in Leo Burnett. He said: We are really farmers. We raise goosebumps. I was blown! I couldn‘t dream of choosing any other name when I struck out on my own,” says Kumar.

Grasshopper Communications big boy Arjun Banerjee – whose allied services come under the name of Green Thumbs & Grownups – confesses that he never ever wanted to go the straight, boring route. “Idly, sitting over a drink one night and wondering what kind of name would best define our agency’s soul, I saw this grasshopper in my room cheerfully hopping from one spot to another. Bingo! Movement, energy, hitting new spots – isn’t that a cool way to get started? That has remained our prime focus,” Banerjee tells 4Ps B&M.

The Virus guys – Rupam & wifey Oli Bora – believe that it’s a great idea to let your ideas be contagious and infect clients with them! “That what brand Virus is all about. Also it seamlessly lends itself to brand extensions – Virus Digital, Virus Films etc. – without disturbing the soul of the desired (provocative) mandate, direction or focus.”

Head honcho of Brand Curry, Subrata Chakraborty is up next with his very own take on his shop’s spicy name! “When we opened shop in 2004, we were very sure that we didn’t want to be another Anglo-Saxon zerox! We wanted a signature that epitomized local roots with global vision. A celebration of desi designed to resonate with global clients. See Manhattan through a Meerut prism! Curry was a word that connected seemlessly with global players irrespective of whether they had been to India or not. I also – at a seminal level – suggested spice, colour, excitement. What better branding for a brand new shop determined to be different in letter, spirit ... and name?!” says Chakraborty.

Social commentator & head honcho of Future Brands, Santosh Desai believes this phenomenon is a sign of the times. “Early on Suits ran the agency business and being politically correct & dignified was part of their persona. The aberrations and freako stuff was strictly for the creative types who anyway were not meant for public consumption! This went well with the JWT, McCann, Clarion, Ogilvy, Interpub – names & shops that were firang and came with a sense of awe. Today, creative people call the shots and clients are cool interacting with them. Somewhere this loosening up and shift of focus has made a difference because what they bring to the table is something way beyond what the stodgy suit does,” he tells 4Ps B&M. The more important challenge, believes Desai, is for the start-ups. “It is a David versus Goliath scene from the word go! Irreverence and a sense of adolescence marks their persona and what better place to begin attention-grabbing than the very name. Strawberry Frog (for example) can come as cardiac-arrest material to an ad guy of the seventies whose idea of the off beat were (such tame?) second agency names like Interface (Ulka), Contract (JWT), Edge (Everest), ACIL (Clarion). These new, whacky names bring a sense of fun, energy and edginess to the business which is not always insanely focused on being only politically correct.” However, Desai warns in many cases, these agencies fizzle out because after that first big bang, the follow up can’t keep pace either with the expectations or requirements.

Gorgeous veteran Nargis Wadia – traffic stopping CEO of Interpub of the sixties and seventies – is up next. “I think it’s really an evolutionary thing. When we started out, advertising was in a nascent stage and we were self-conscious about the way we conduct business. Respectability and dignity leading to credibility were given high premium and were pursued rigorously. That manifested itself in the names of that era. Today it’s a more casual time. Creative expressions come in different garbs and clients are perfectly comfortable with it. Hence these unusual names! Also, they are clutter-busting moves ensuring noticeability & memorability in a space crammed with tons of Adshops,” says Wadia.

Hot-shot marketing honcho Lloyd Mathias believes that ad agencies are really late-bloomers compared to rock bands and design/film production outfits in the name game. “I remember in St. Xaviers College, way back, we formed a band that was instantly banned called ... OUR SOULS! The establishment didn’t see anything really spiritual and labeled it blasphemous!” Mathias is totally ra-ra about this trend because he believes it captures the flavour of both, the cool times we live in as also perfectly epitomizes – in letter and spirit – the new-age spin on this business of creativity. “Remember bizarre is the new normal in a space where imagination rules and is being reinvented everyday,” adds Mathias.

The last words must come from Delhi-based Avijit Dutt. A renowned screen, theatre & ad personality, Dutt believes that the newbies needed “to think outside the carpentry shed, forget the box! In this scenario, the first seduction is in the curiosity of the name, something that expresses uniqueness and memorability, raises a chuckle and hopefully hopes to bogey into the sunset, with their clients.” Well, why go far? Check out superstar SRK’s funky & disruptive name for his film production company: Red Chillies!


Friday, July 12, 2013


4Ps B&M examines an issue that continues to plague the industry … but remains its worst kept secret! Is it normal industry practice or over-reactions from the creative dilettantes?

As a curtain-raiser, a brief flashback to what one of my earliest gurus – the late, iconic Subhash Ghoshal – told us when we were about to get started as trainees in the JWT Kolkata of the early 70s, would be in order. “We are in the service industry and exist only because of our clients. Never forget that.” He also made it clear that the jobs of the two were clearly demarcated. “Our job is to understand everything about his product and communication requirement and offer him cutting-edge need-based solutions. The client is to clearly define his needs and pose challenges that charge us to offer communication that catches lightning in a bottle!” Since creativity was the driving force, opinions – informed, focused, sharp, insightful as well as frivolous, stupid, dismissive, even downright rude – he warned us, would fly, but it was critical that we retain our cool and dignity befitting our role as good ambassadors of both JWT, and the profession. However, it was equally critical that we don’t “cave-in, sell-out or play yes-men to any/everything the client says because we are not suppliers but consultants – collaborators and equal-partners on the same side, united in the common agenda of informing, educating, persuading and selling the product/service to the target group.”

That was titan-speak, but today, in year 2013, does client-interference happen as frequently and does it still embrace the charming definition of “the insanity of barking when you have a dog!” Let’s face it, advertising – like Bollywood – is a nervous space, forever driven by frenzied guesswork, hunches, buzz, hearsay, whatever. Pecking to death a perfectly well-formulated and approved idea, is not unknown, nor the client “perching on our damn shoulders like some goddamned nagging conscience” as one fatigued creative put it. “They should stop being C-grade writers & art directors and concentrate on playing the role of an inspirational impresario instead,” adds another. Tongue-firmly in cheek, ex-JWT Creative Director Dulu Sen lets fly a zinger: “As the great H. G. Wells once wrote, no passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone’s draft!”

Power Grid’s Naresh Kumar fires the first salvo offering an interesting client-perspective. “The answer has to be a yes and no! Yes, because there are definite instances – both in the PSUs and private sector – where clients are more opinionated than professionally evolved and bring this to bear on the job. Due to this inadequacy, they prefer to play safe, toe traditional lines and go for consensus instead of taking the lead and responsibility to break new ground in terms of joint-collaboration towards creating meaningful, interesting yet relevant communications.” However, as an ex mass-com student with advertising agency experience, Kumar prides himself in being a thorough professional with a solid, two-decade experience of successfully handling the entire gamut of PSU communication portfolio. “This has resulted in awards and being recognised as a communication practitioner of real worth, enjoying high comfort levels with every Ad agency I have ever interacted with, leading to excellent work. We both know where we are coming from so there’s mutual respect, total transparency and zero bullshitting – something bound to happen when clients are clueless and opinionated allowing agencies to play shrewd supplier and move on,” he tells 4Ps B&M.

Next-up is Delhi-based agency Perfect 10’s Creative Director Moon Moon Dhar with her own take. “Client interference – especially in the PSU orbit – frequently happens when the wires are crossed!” She explains that many times the key honchos representing clients at a presentation are not from the communication discipline and therefore lack the required understanding, perspective, direction or appreciation of this special calling. They bring technical or financial aspects which – usually – are irrelevant to the presentation focus and confuse the issue. Sometimes, they insist that these elements be incorporated … and agencies give in because they feel its not worth fighting for. “Look, we are not here to change the world. It’s often no more than just a dumb job for a dumb client! However, there have been instances when clients have been brilliantly pro-active and their inspirational direction, guidance and mentoring have resulted in magic! Alas, these are few and far between…” she tells 4Ps B&M.


Thursday, May 16, 2013



Consulting Editor 4Ps B&M Monojit Lahiri questions the relevance of slogans in today’s era, and, umm, tastes the thunder

Once upon a time, slogans & advertising were truly the made-for-each-other blend, indeed as perfectly matched as the iconic Wills Filter template created for the ITC brand of the sixties! In 2013, do slogans have the same, compelling draw, enticement-value or fun-factor that they once enjoyed? A significant bunch of ad-watchers and trackers believes that many of the big brands don’t consider it necessary or cool to fall back on slogans anymore, considering it both hackneyed and horribly predictable. They believe that readers, viewers and listeners have moved on to a more communication-savvy and literate space where visual/aural devices and linkages are more impactive than the [y-a-w-n] catch-lines. Others disagree and believe that if slogans are intelligently and creatively fused into the brand promise, they will continue to both rock n’ roll! So what gives?

Lloyd Mathias – a brilliant, marketing practitioner who has done valuable time in Pepsi, Motorola and Tata and presently director of the Gurgaon-based Green Bean Ventures – believes that there’s been a sea-change in the very nature of the beast. “Across the 60s, 70s, even 80s, print and radio were pretty much the prime media drivers, where slogans naturally lent themselves as seductive and entertaining persuaders. However, with the advent of the TVC and now Digital, the entire scenario changed as did the perceptions of media consumption. While it didn’t totally dump the slogan to the trash can, it called for a review. Pepsi is a classic case in point where, from Yehi hai right choice baby to Dil maange more to Yeh pyaas hai badi to the latest Oh, Yes, Abhi, the transition has been organic and effective.”

Ogilvy’s cool dude creative maverick Sumanto Chattopadhyaya agrees. “Mathias is spot-on. Audio-visual & Digital have truly changed the rules of the game and ushered in a paradigm shift where visual/aural devices and linkages come through with greater enthusiasm and acceptance. However, intelligently and insightfully leveraged, slogans can still be both effective and memorable, aiding the end game in the business of influencing purchase intent.” The Bandera look-alike cites the example of Ogilvy’s Asian Paints Sunil Babu and loves Hoodi Baba as interesting examples of taking the concept of slogans and onomatopoeia to another level as also the outstanding example of Airtel’s Har ek friend zaroori hota hai (now, adapted in a movie title as Har ek friend kameena hota hai!) in celebrating the role and relevance of a great slogan. Ad and theatre hot-shot Bharat Dabolkar laughs and insists on using strong words. “Any dumbo who believes that the slogan is dead is talking nonsense and is obviously communication-illiterate! Never has it been more important than today when product parity and me-too-ism is rampant, since the USP is dead and buried. Slogans are [and have always been] the great differentiators, be it the timeless Utterly butterly delicious of Amul, the Har ek friend of Airtel or I love you, Rasna. Didn’t the late Mrs.Gandhi and more recently Barack Obama sweep popular imagination with their mesmeric slogans, Garibi Hatao and Yes, I Can respectively? Not slogans, but creativity is dead, my friend!” Shruti Gupta finds Dabolkar’s argument “both quaint and typically old-fashioned in keeping with his generation’s mindset. It’s not value judgement but facts that prove that new-age manufacturers and consumers of communication – across all avenues – don’t exactly get all dreamy eyed by slogans like their dads did in a more simplistic, non-cluttered and competitive time. Sure, slogans are used, but it’s not a sacrosanct rule and not at all compulsory.” The 27 year old Mumbai-based graphic designer believes that advertising has truly moved on and visual/aural devices offer equally potent, exciting and effective options. The Titan and DoComo signature tunes are brilliant examples of aural linkages that are creative and offer endless audience delight. “Oh really?” counters Shubhra Tandon of FCB, Ulka. The 27 year old copywriter reels off endless examples of stunning slogans that remain etched in memory. Starting with Taste the thunder and Dar ke aage jeet hai, Daag achhe hain, Har ghar kuch kehta hain, Definitely male, Swad zindagi ka, Thanda matlab Coca Cola, and more.

Halt! So who’s winning? If a slogan is about a brand pithily summed up and encapsulated with words which slam home the proposition in an engagingly entertaining manner that evokes a clear thought about the brand, isn’t that purrfect and cool? If, on the other hand, it appears too restrictive and suffocating, has done time, outlived its utility and needs to be put to rest while being replaced by a solid visual/aural device, should it incur the wrath of the purists, all set to leap out of mothballs or graves – whichever came first – and howl invectives about corrupting a sacrosanct template? For a safe answer, I will go to two classic slogans and invite the adwallahs to not “think small” and to “just do it”! Amen.


Friday, April 19, 2013

csr as agent of change


4Ps B&M examines the real potency that powers these three noble alphabets and arrives at some rather interesting conclusions

In the beginning come the definitions. First off the block is a true-blue pundit, C. B. Bhattacharya (E.ON Chair Professor in Corporate Responsibility at European School of Management Technology in Berlin) who believes CSR is “an exploration of marketing strategies and consumer behaviour that demonstrates how under-leveraged intangible assets like corporate identity and reputation, membership and brand communities can strengthen shareholder relationships”. He believes it is a dynamic fusion of doing good with doing well and business value can be reaped if organisations are prepared to move from a shareholder-centric space to a stakeholder-centric one. Another suggests that CSR is really about “strategically positioning a company in society so that it can actually take advantage of public concerns like poverty or global warming, rather than be damaged by them”.

Economist Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar pooh-poohs this, begs to differ and quotes (in his website columnist Chrystia Freeland’s take on CSR as “a fetish encouraged by the philanthropies that feed off it and funded by the corporate executives who have found that it serves their bottom line”. Social Commentator Santosh Desai joins the party with an interesting anecdote about a company’s head honcho sending a truck load of relief material to the Bhuj earthquake victims worth Rs.10 lakhs and wanting to create a campaign to announce this, worth Rs.3 crore! “He saw no contradiction and instead believed it was a legitimate platform for his brand, powering a pro-active marketing initiative that could enjoy great emotional rub-off and position his company as a warm, human and empathic corporate entity. It seemed to be a part of the corporate video game where rules of the real world don’t apply. It’s all about a great opportunity to communicate brand value,” Desai tells 4Ps B&M.

Veteran Ad Guru Alyque Padamsee moves away to openly confess that he is a tad bored by the killjoys and cynics that dot the Adfrat and prefers to see the brighter side of issues. “Agreed CSR initiatives may not always accomplish all that they wish to, but it’s not the intent that is at fault, but monitoring system. Be it government or private sector biggies, if these are carefully attended to and addressed, all would be fine,” says Padamsee. He also believes that if done well, it definitely helps image-building and giving corporates and government/PSUs a warm, human face.

Theatre Director, Actor and Communications Expert Avijit Dutt brings his take to the table. He wonders whether in today’s space “CSR is a mission or corporate ego at work”! He believes that these three alphabets are seductive buzzwords gathering momentum in a consumerist environment. True charity is (according to the Upanishads) where the giver neither remembers nor reminds us of the amount given “but here trumpets blow, even if in mute tone, to announce this fact. The government’s mandate for all companies to spend 2% of their PAT makes it even more directionless. Earlier CSR was the nature of voluntary action that business could take, clearly defining the intent of companies desiring to cut loose and go the extra mile. But now…”

Chairman & NCD of BBDO wraps up this debate, in style. Josy Paul is of the opinion that “true integration is when the idea integrates with society”. He believes creating acts not ads is the need of the hour and CSR is not something that you do as an add-on, but integral to the brand. He cites the example of their Aviva Life Insurance effort with their humongous act called Great Wall of Education. “This catapulted into a movement mobilizing people across the country to donate books and ended up collecting over 2.5 million books! Call it CSR, brand communication, whatever, it’s about communication being rooted in the social and cultural moment,” Paul tells 4Ps B&M. Gillette’s “Soldiers Wanted” and Tata Tea’s “Jago Re” campaigns, Paul believes, are two more commendable strikes in this direction and adds that it also includes ground action and online engagement.

So, finally does CSR rock in today’s times? It’s like this. No company exists in a vacuum. It operates in a society and its impact/behaviours – ethical, social, economical, environmental – will be open to criticism and scrutiny. Today’s societies demand more film co-operation than simply offering products and making profits. They expect that they trade fairly, uphold human rights, and protect the environment. CSR pundits believe that there are three points to it – charitable giving, community investments, and commercial initiatives. ITC Chairman, Y. C. Deveshwar (in a 2007 AGM) had pronounced the final words with passion and purpose: “Corporates in India have capability, vision and entrepreneurial skill to forge a more prosperous future for the nation, even as they sharpen there competitiveness and grow there business globally.”

However, in a world increasingly obsessed in knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing, this calling, function, corporate philanthropy, mandate or strategic commodity that adds to the credentials of a company, remains an area that, beyond rhetoric, will ultimately be saluted or scorned totally by its intent and impact. Nothing more. Nothing less.