Sanjeev Kotnala: The Darwinian Evolution in Advertising

11 Mar,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Darwin’s Theory explains the evolution of living beings. It hints that we tend to discard and lose control of a skill or expertise if

  1. We rarely use it
  2. We are conditioned to think that it is of no use
  3. We find better alternatives


Similarly, on the other end, we evolve, create, discover, develop and further strengthen important skills essential for our survival. Business evolution demonstrated this effect in form of services and formats. And advertising is no different.

Let us for a moment consider the art of print advertising. There was a golden period when print was the lead medium. We had senior creative resources proudly involving themselves in campaigns that were primarily created for print. We had long copy, short copy, smart copy, engaging copy, brilliant headline and in sync visuals. The still shoot pre-production meets were a demonstration in the art of detailing. If the visual did not give you professional orgasm, copy teams would wield magic and the campaign would came alive.

In those days, you had not many ways to alter or Photoshop. If you had to do it, it was extremely expensive. With the introduction of ‘System’, the first causality was detailed planning. Now you could think of driving with eyes off the road. The art director remote supervised knowing corrections could be handled cheaply on the system.

At the same time, the affair of creative with the new girl in town ‘TV’ was finding new pleasure spots. Slowly with TV, and then with the mobile, the focus shifted to audio-visual or at least visual centric. The same people who would eulogise copy started questioning who reads it anyway.  In a Darwinian way, copy started getting limited to headlines and maybe some body copy. The copywriter’s role was now restricted to provide a single sentence cryptic clue to an overtly over layered visual communication.

Further evolution banked on ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ making copy almost extinct. In many cases if tag lines was the copy.

Additionally, no one in the industry noticed or applauded print work. But even a mediocre TVC could get better exposed and remembered. Creative did not carry clippings with them. The TVC was seen and easily referenced.

With print ads still being released and newer categories evolving with it overall revenue continued to grow.  The gamekeepers in media (print owners) failed to notice the sudden drop in interest in print. They never  reacted, not even to do damage control.

We are currently witnessing similar evolution from traditional (read TV) to Digital. The creative is happy with the extra time they get. There is no pressure to make every frame count and deliver the story in 20 seconds. The format is easy and low cost. The cost of experimentation and failure is low too. More so ‘Digital’ is highly responsive interactive ‘System’. It allows tweaking and corrections online instantaneously.

I fear that soon creative will forget the art and science of making smart TVC. They will make AVs, six-second story statements, three-minute films, interactive audio and many more equally engrossing formats.  The idea of storytelling, engagement, and involvement will find its true solution. TV will feel the pinch sooner than expected both in media deployment, creative quality and client’s interest. Internet may become the lead medium much earlier than we think. Remember, this is a vicious cycle. Inefficient creative makes low impact, gives low ROI and in turn kills the interest, involvement and then the  medium.

Moreover, this is one industry that may boost having highest number of professional and support bodies per 1000 people engaged but does not discriminate on qualification and experience. Everyone is welcomed to test his or her hand. There is no real licensing or professional requirement. No qualification is required in this nomadic profession, which is insecure about next revenue slice. It has been trained to quickly shift and adapt to the newer opportunities. It makes it easier if it needs lessor expertise and effort.

We have seen it happening to Strategic Planning and Communication given the strategic role they used to play. These were roles that agencies performed and were respected for. In the period when advertising agencies were splitting like the Russian federation, they let go of many advantages to seek glory in niche areas. They forgot the need for consolidation and scalability. Other than few smarter larger bodies, most failed to see the multi-brand multi-vertical structure in their clients and learn from it. Result, slowly they stopped questioning briefs and market dynamics. Waiting for this opportunity, in walked consultants and advisors. Most of them were the rigid unaligned senior resources from advertising industry itself.  This led to ‘vendorization’ of the profession.

In a Darwinian evolutionary shift, client servicing and planning got listed in extinction list. They had lost their importance with every passing campaign. Their role been taken over by laptop carrying care-for-business creative leaders. It was also the survival of fittest that required cost cutting where the axe first fell on defunct departments and people.

The two tectonic plates were pressing against each other. One was the plate of decreasing roles, responsibilities, accountability and expectations. As clients saw less and less reason to pay premium for the service, the fight for revenue became intense. Agencies went on to undercut and bend their back for every possible thing. Naturally the senior management in client saw the opportunity to get the right department ‘Purchase’ come into act.

The law of attraction works. ‘If you really passionately believe and seek something, the whole universe aligns itself to make it happen’. Today, when some of the large dominant creative and media agencies been promoting digital with that fervour, it is working. Creative is willingly moved towards a larger canvas that is magical. It allows them to play at a very low cost with a low cost of experimentation and lower risk of failure. Guaranteed is the god-like online control to change and tweak.  So, there is no way the digital train will stop. It has built the momentum and will gain speed.

Traditional media meanwhile can try not only to try delay the inevitable but also maybe re-create it to include them. There is no point fighting digital. The worry still remains the dwindling skill sets and expertise within creative resources to effectively exploit traditional media. The excitement and involvement with it is rapidly decreasing. Maybe, this is a battle print may have lost some time back and TV seems to be on the way.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Head Catalyst at Intradia and believes the best way forward for an organisation is to enhance its interanal team’s potential and capabilities instead of depending on external resources. He is a Management, Marketing and Braand consultant and conducts specialised workshops in the area of IDEATION (Harvest and Liberate) and Innovation (InNoWait). To contact email  or tweet at s_kotnala visit


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