Guest column by Vinod Natesan: Moving on from F words

22 Apr,2013

By Vinod Natesan


If Indian advertising has been trending recently, it has been due to the Ford Figo Fiasco. And F words have since been used liberally around it.


Festering at Goafest

Controversies still continue around Goafest, India’s answer to Cannes. Leo Burnett and BBDO followed JWT on the scam trail. Leo Burnett’s radio spots for Tata Salt Lite were not paid for by its client and BBDO’s entry for DHL couriers was found to be very similar to work done in Singapore by Ogilvy for Allied Pickford. Both ended up having to return their awards. It is likely that many more agencies may also join that club if plagiarism is proved. Goafest therefore, has every likelihood of festering into a Goafarce.


Finding the fountainhead

There is indeed a need for the Indian advertising industry to introspect on where it is headed and what it needs to do.


Marketing companies need advertising agencies, simply because agencies can do something which they cannot, even if they had the spare time. That “something” is the talent to unleash the drama in the given product, in a memorable manner, through mass media. The agency therefore has to have a DNA pool which produces ideas that can be monetized both by the agency and the client. Awards, to an extent, build credibility for this claim, since they represent an endorsement by the peer group. This is the only rational reason for awards and for Agencies to go hunting for them.


In an interview, the head of a network mentioned that awards actually translated into the agency being able to make better margins for the services rendered. The awards provide credibility to the claim of superior creative firepower within the agency. Agency heads have therefore been pushing for metals to be won and showcased. While this is perfectly a valid ambition, the means adopted to meet this requirement have been suspect at times.


Frauds and followers

Talent spotting and nurturing the right talent possibly has been a casualty in agencies. Allegations of recruitment interviews becoming “idea shopping festivals” are rife. Creative Directors are alleged to move jobs with their own cliques in tandem. These cliques reportedly include “preferred” vendors for film making, model coordination, photography and even printing! Cabals emerge as power centers, driving away those who are not party to the “setting”. These often include talented, but upright professionals. Plagiarism of ideas within the agency and names being excluded from creative ownership lists are also refrains heard often. Absence of genuine talent could very well be a consequence in the agency. As an Indian saying goes, “You cannot grow mangoes from jackfruit seeds.” Scams, plagiarized work and work done by freelancer, all find their way into award shows.


Filmi fever

Celebrity endorsements in India have been the norm recently with astronomical sums being paid to “brand ambassadors”. Rather than ideas that are rooted in the product truth, it is the “celebrity fit” that seems to guide creative ideas. The brand differentiation is therefore linked to the celebrity endorser. Apart from the risk and implications for long term brand health, what is worrisome is the questionable nexus between the celebrities and the Creative Directors. Brand ambassadors end up endorsing film scripts written by the CD’s and finally starring in it. Ads done to curry favor with movie stars are not exactly award winning stuff. Scams therefore suddenly find life around the awards season.


Fooling the client

Random viewing of commercials and ads in recent times leaves most people perplexed. Even basic comprehension can sometimes be an issue. In a majority of the work released, the “consumers’ voice” is clearly not heard and the “consumer insight” is therefore conspicuous by its absence. The work therefore, has body and craft, but no soul. It would not provoke the consumer to move even a muscle. It is something that alienates clients and results in scam entries at awards. With the economy sliding into stagflation, advertising spends have begun to diminish. Patience with the Agency’s non-performance at the market place would probably have worn thin. Celebrity endorsements have been fatalities in many brand plans. Plagiarism for many clients is tantamount to counterfeiting and faking of intellectual property ownership. Releasing of brand communication without due approval would mean violation of copyright and the contract itself. Quod erat demonstrandum, agencies putting priority to awards over market share, and indulging in scams and plagiarism, may soon discover that an irate Client has put paid to the relationship.


False favours

Given their self-absorbed life styles, one would be forgiven for claiming that Corporate Social Responsibility is something that is preached but never practiced by agencies and people who populate them. However it has been a happy hunting ground for most creative agencies. Many sneer that these campaigns are akin to the devil quoting the scriptures. But the scriptures have somehow been used well enough to win awards in this category. It is, however, a big question mark whether the target audience ever saw this campaign and if it was given sufficient media weights to cross the threshold level. A tea brand recently did a highly rated campaign for encouraging people to vote. The voting percentage however dropped drastically in the following elections in Mumbai, the capital of Indian advertising.


There is also lax follow-up when it comes to these causes. Adoption campaigns have been created, but not a single soul has continued with the effort to see where this issue has progressed to. Gender discrimination and domestic violence have been causes celebre in the advertising world, but people accused of sexual harassment still find favour and patronage in these circles. It is as if even charitable causes are being plundered for personal glory.


Finally, the way forward

It is clear that lust for awards without the consumer connect would only lead to a rape of the brand. Something that is clearly unwanted in India. To free itself from the shackles of the ills plaguing it, the Indian advertising fraternity needs to move towards genuine passion for the work, and nothing but the work. Then would come the greater glory and the good. God be with us.


Vinod Natesan is a 21-year veteran of the industry and today runs a boutique brand and marketing consultancy, Mayan Consultants International. He can be reached on Twitter @vinodnatesan


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2 responses to “Guest column by Vinod Natesan: Moving on from F words”

  1. Abhisar Gaur says:

    Brilliant article!! The problem of misusing talent, not nurturing and developing resources is really worrisome as you pointed out. Additionally, the fact that ad agencies have lost their vision for developing brands and are just churning out substandard work without any relevance to either the consumers, culture or products is a source of much anxiety. A few positives aside, there is still a long way to go.

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