Must-read book on advertising

22 Nov,2012


Trying not to see
By Kurien MathewsWikipedia describes Elephant in the room thus:

“Elephant in the room” is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.


It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue.


All of us in advertising, for almost as long as I have been in it, have suffered and have been greatly affected by ignoring or not addressing some very obvious truths that have been staring us in the face. Forget about addressing it; we never even spoke about it, and went about our lives pretending that everything was just fine, and if there was a problem it was just temporary and would soon go away.


Around the time I joined advertising, nearly three decades ago, everything was in fact just fine. No too many elephants in the room. If they were there, they were baby elephants, the playful kinds.


In those days talent was good and abundant. Advertising was glamorous. Money was plentiful. Clients respected agencies, and thought of us as people who generally knew much more than them. We wined and dined. Almost everything was done in English, and then translated. Commercials were broadcast on one channel. No one asked for discounts. It was fun with many other such wondrous things in place.


In his book, Anant Rangaswami speaks of many, many Elephants in the room today. All carefully chosen. All well articulated.


These Elephants started emerging, one by one, somewhere in the mid 90s- perhaps with the arrival of satellite TV and the birth of the AOR. Suddenly the sacrosanct 15% was thrown out of the window. Before you knew it, agency revenues started shrinking and the demands on them started increasing. Simultaneously, the brighter MBAs found that there were other fun jobs that paid better, and then the vicious downward spiral of low pay, lower quality talent, suicidal discounting and the need to find revenue at any cost started.


Soon more Elephants started appearing in the room and by the beginning of the new millennium the room was beginning to fill up, fast and furious.


But no one cared. No one wanted to talk about it either.  If there was the odd murmur, it was quickly rubbished. Ostriches, all of us.


In ‘The Elephants in the room’ author Anant Rangaswami not only points out to all the Elephants so glaringly visible to him, but he does so without holding back or being polite or gentle. He tells it like it is. He names names, speaks of incidents, and at places proposes action as well.


If you have anything to with the business of building brands then this book is a must-read for you. While it is about serious business it is a fun read. Best of all, it is free - comes only in the form of an e-book, which can be downloaded from


Kurien Mathews is Chairman & Managing Director, METAL Communications Pvt. Ltd, Director, Rage Communications Pvt. Ltd and Director, Conscious Food Pvt. Ltd



Trumpets and snorts: A book review of sorts
By Paritosh Joshi1984. That was the other book with a date in it that popped into the mind. A book that caused a proper noun, Orwell, to be recast as an adjective, Orwellian.


And so to “Elephants in the Room – The Future of Advertising in India, 2016”, Anant Rangaswami’s self-published book launched with minimal fanfare on November 19.


Prognostication is often grim business. With a date in the name, you are sort of prepared to deal with dystopic speculations on where Advertising is headed. The author doesn’t disappoint. This is sentence no. 1. “Let’s not fool ourselves; it’s going to be a tough few years ahead”.


It is not unusual for business professionals at a certain stage in their lives to turn to writing and wish to be published. A few decades spent winning more business battles than they lost and they fancy themselves to be keepers of recondite truths that are hidden from the little people. Hindsight, a self-congratulatory attitude and a desire to elevate banality to wisdom compel them to couch their “insights” in prolix prose.


Anant’s book, refreshingly, is at the exact opposite pole.


The ‘elephants’ that populate this book are incipient problems that the Advertising industry will face over the next few years. The author has the journalist’s insatiable appetite for conversation. From the lowly Account Manager to titans that bestride the narrow world like Sir Martin and Sir John, he talks to them without fear or favour. His inquisitiveness is unbridled and uninhibited. The ‘elephants’, therefore, are distilled from empirical knowledge and documented anecdote, not idle speculation. From the endless hand-wringing over talent scarcity, through the challenge that digital specialists pose to the traditional creative agency to a near future where many of today’s marquee names from the advertising industry may retire, each ‘elephant’ warrants a chapter where the author attempts to lay out the problem as he sees it, a prognosis of where it will go next and prescriptions that may alleviate or remedy that problem.


What makes the exercise utterly unusual is the author’s unabashed willingness to name names, individual and corporate that are the protagonists in this unfolding epic. To be clear, there is not one reference that might be considered libelous or intemperate, though there will be several that will cause people to squirm.


Now while the author is almost consistently objective in his assessment, he is human enough to let some deeply held beliefs; they are logically constructed so they cannot be labelled prejudices; show through. One such, which I have had the pleasure of debating with him on many occasions, is the role and functioning of the Advertising Standards Council of India. He devotes a sizable chapter to the theme and in the interest of full disclosure I record my vigorous disagreement. There will be a rejoinder in these columns soon.


Here is my big problem: The urgency that informs the book, while making it a real page-turner, does it a huge disservice. This is not a rash pamphleteer whipping up a mob to frenzy but a thoughtful commentator’s significant contemplation of important questions that plague, arguably, the wider Communications industry and not Advertising alone. Identical or analogous problems exist, inter alia, in the broadcast industry. And none of these problems will suddenly disappear in 2016. Media & Communications professionals, particularly those holding senior responsibilities would all be well advised to read what Anant has to say in “The Elephants In The Room”, now and for many years to come.


And finally this. I wish, I really wish, that I had bought this book and not got it gratis as I left the launch party. Content creators, particularly when they create content as important as this, have the right to demand fair economic value for their work. Now Anant will almost certainly see this as his responsibility towards the industry he calls home, we will be unable to show our appreciation and gratitude if we can’t pay for the cry of the conscience keeper.



Elephants in the Room: Essential reading!
By Pradyuman MaheshwariI’ve read the book twice over. Well, actually, two-and-a-half times. First to decide what part to pick for an extract… that was a pdf which Anant shared with me a few hours before the formal launch. I did a rapid read, like the ones you do when reading those tomes that come out from government or regulator documents posted online.


So how many enemies will I make, Anant asked me at the launch. I muttered a couple of names but also told him that the book was brilliant. And unputdownable.


The half-read was when I had to actually pick the extract. I decided on two to give MxM readers a perspective on what to expect from it. The first on whether it should be a suit or creative who should head an agency. And the other on Goafest.


The last time I read it was after Paritosh Joshi suggested the idea of this joint review.


The Elephants in the Room is not an academic account of what ought to be done by the industry. It’s no white paper. Yet, in its chatty style, it highlights all that needs to be stated about the business. Racy in style, it’s almost like some of his blogs on Campaign India put together. Except that here they are longer, and the issues are dealt with in detail.


I tend to agree with his views on industry associations – the AAAI and ASCI specifically. There is much scope for improvement, in fact what’s needed is an overhaul. The Advertising Club also needs to get into activities that attract the youth. And above all: Goafest. Why have it in Goa in April?


So, my sub-140-character review continues to be what I gave on the morning after the launch: Unputdownable. If you’re in the biz of advertising, download now!


I wouldn’t want to get too much into the book, and would urge readers to download it off Firstpost, but I have two peeves about the book. Or possibly three.


The first: In the attempt to make it quick-and-racy, I think Elephants in the Room rushes through some of the issues that impact the business. For instance, corruption. I could list a few more.


Second: The focus is Creative. It delves into digital, talks a bit about media, but it’s essentially the big creative agencies and gods who have been discussed.


And, third: why the hell has Mr Rangaswami not priced the book. Why offer it as a free download? Printing a book doesn’t take an arm and a leg. I would’ve been happy to have MxMIndia publish the book. Or possibly Firstpost could have.


The Elephants in the Room is an excellent book. It’s essential reading for all those in advertising, and all those who deal with creative folk and creative agencies.


Pradyuman Maheshwari is Editor-in-Chief and CEO, MxMIndia



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One response to “Must-read book on advertising”

  1. Lynn de souza says:

    Having the book downloaded free is a great move – it ensures that its purpose of making everyone aware of the elephants is met – 3000 downloads in two days is a great achievement. if Anant wishes to be “paid” for his effort monetarily, which I doubt (I think he would be happier having his message go down well), then he should consider getting his readers to donate a voluntary sum to a cause of his choice.