Sanjeev Kotnala: Surgical Strike… Free Pitches & Scam Ads no longer accepted

16 Nov,2016

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Like in the speech given by Chatur in the film 3Idiots where certain parts of a speech were replaced, here’s an attempt to do the same with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on November 8, 2016 where he announced the demonetising of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes in an attempt to check black money and various other ills. But this one is for the advertising and media industry…


My Dear fellow clients, brand custodians, agencies and other stakeholders.

I hope you ended the festive season of Diwali with joy and new hope. Today, I will be sharing with you about some critical issues and important decisions that you must make. I want to make a special request to all of you. You may recall the time in your career when you were entrusted with an onerous responsibility. In the context of marketing and selling, it was being said that the ‘Marketing’ in the equation was shaky. Since then, you have ploughed through severe drought of ideas and unreliable research. However, in the recent past, you have been glorified for what has been the contribution and support of all stakeholders. The brand is once again the “bright spot” in any organisation. It is not just the financial papers and the creative teams are saying this; it is being stated by the industry bodies, the syndicated reports, the award committees.

In this effort for sustained brand big idea, the motto has been ‘one insight- 360-degree campaign’: I need not to add that we are with all media in our pursuit to reach current and potential target consumers.

The teams in brand, whether at the client or the agency side is dedicated to topline. It will remain dedicated to it. In our fight against competitive pressure and reliable first degree fakes, our main thrust has been to empower the creative and media agencies, and make them active participants in the brand’s success.

The Cannes week at Nice,

the Goafest in scorching summer,

the Adfest in entertaining Pattaya,

the Effies and EMVIES

and IAA, ADCLUB, ASCI, MRUC, BARC, INS, ABC, all to ensure that creative get the right award for their original or slightly modified creative under ‘Right to copy’ and ‘Success Transfer’ formula.

These are all nothing but the reflections of a positive futuristic approach.

In the past decades, the spectre of digital in media, long-duration viral AV masquerading as TVC and work not based on consumer insight and understanding has grown. It has weakened the effort to notify this legitimate business within the industry. On the one hand, we all have hugely contributed toward economic growth of clowns as brand ambassadors and have won a huge cache of big and small awards by a clutch of identified agencies. On the other hand, we are no where to be seen in the list of the most creative countries’ basis the 3-Ts of Talent, Technology and Tolerance. In spite of many steps taken, we have only been able to reach a ranking of 71 in global technology, 52 in Innovation, 92 in global talent and 92 at racial and ethnic tolerance, now. Of course, there is improvement. This shows the extent to which vague brief, undifferentiated service, limited access and lack of relevant research have spread their tentacles.

The evil of all this has been spread by a certain set of people in the industry of for their selfish interest. They have ignored the small and marginalised agencies and media and cornered benefits. Some have misused their office for personal gain. On the other hand, honest dedicated highly passionate and creative people have fought against this evil. Thousands of creative men and women have lived lives of integrity.

We hear about poor copywriter refusing to write a double-meaning viral spot.

We hear about planners refusing to trade in observations masquerading as insight and going on to do ethnography studies before laying the foundation of any campaign.

We hear of junior client team members questioning the validity of treating assumptions as fact.

There comes a time in the history of an industry development when a need is felt for a strong and decisive step. For years, this industry has felt that unaware clients, lack of research, crumbling insights, copy cat communication and trying to exploit are festering sores, holding us back in the race towards development.

Pitching for no fee is a frightening threat. So many have lost their business because of it. But have you ever thought about how these agencies get their money and creative? Freelancers, consultants from within the industry moonlighting their experience provides the ammunition for incestuous strategies.

This has been going on for years. Many times, those taking credits for others creative have been caught at the award nights. But nothing happened. Agencies with the whole top-layer at the pitch promising full support to the brand vanished at the hour they are needed.


Fellow industry veterans and youngsters with dreams in your eyes,


On the one hand, is the problem of copying; on the other, is the challenge posed by lack of talent and uninspired clients. We began our battle against all this by setting up specialized committees and industry bodies.

BARC came to function, and the currency was well-received

MRUC is struggling but is promising to deliver

IAA has like a sleeping volcano woken up

AdClub continues to trot with its awards and reviews

Goafest is surviving

Cannes participation has increased in spite of lower margins.

Global tie-ups are the new fad in town.

Promising startups are being acquired by giants who are repainting their culture

ASCI has been in news and taking giant steps. Strong steps have been taken to curb misleading advertisements. Question of celebrity endorsements is debated.


Fellow industry veterans and youngsters with dreams in your eyes,


The magnitude of scam advertisements and free-pitches in circulation is directly linked to the level of brand insight and creative talent in the market. Talent scarcity becomes worse through the work for low fee and ‘anything karega for awards’ syndrome. The smaller agencies have to bear the brunt of this. It has a direct effect on the talent purchasing power of the poor and the middle agencies.

You may yourself have experienced when briefing for a new campaign, that apart from the amount paid for the core campaign, a large body of work is demanded. This creates problems for an honest professional. The misuse of free pitches as idea aggregator has led to an artificial shortage of real insight, research and investment in understanding brand or consumers. i

To break the grip, we have decided that the FREE PITCHING and ‘SCAM ADS’ presently, a practice will no longer be the legal process from midnight tonight, that is November 16, 2016.

This means that no client will be able to call for a fresh free pitch from midnight onwards. The SCAM ADS entered by the unaware clients and under-pressure agencies will become what they really are, just worthless pieces of paper.

The rights and the interests of honest, hard-working people will be fully protected. Let me assure you that creative of all sizes across media based on insight, approved and paid for release by the client will remain legal and will not be affected.

This step will strengthen the hands of the creative with dreams in their eyes in the fight against Free Pitching and Scam ads. To minimise the difficulties of Client and agencies in the coming days, several steps are being taken.

1. Brands holding to old scam creative or otherwise with ready entries will be allowed to submit them in awards till close of entry hours on December 30, 2016 without any limit and prejudice.
2. Thus you will have 50 days to enter your work and there is no need for panic. Your creative will remain yours. You need to have no worry on this point.
3. After entering your creative, you will be given 72 hours in which you can withdraw it.
4. Keeping in mind the talent position, in the first few weeks, there will be a limit of three briefs that the brand can submit to any agency. This limit will be increased in the coming days.
5. For your immediate needs, you can go to any agency, freelancer or creative hot-shop, share your brand guidelines, commit budgets and get a tactical communication developed.
6. There may be some who, for some reason, are not able to enter their old scam ads and other creative for awards by December 30, 2016. They can go to specified list of irrelevant awards up to March 31, 2017 and enter it after submitting a declaration from the client or brand owners.
7. Free Pitches and Scam ads will not be valid processes from midnight. However, for humanitarian reasons, to reduce hardship to the talent and people, some special arrangements have been made for until midnight on 30th November. During this period, accredited agencies, large global MNC and freelancers will continue to make free pitches. This is for the benefit of those who would have lost their business to the same process or have invested a lot expecting results.
8. Free pitches already called in and scheduled until November 30 is allowed to complete the process. The brands which have called these pitches may submit the schedule along with the list of invited agencies to AAAI by the close of hours on 20th November.
9. PSUs will continue accepting re-circulated, worthless creative with inflated bills.
10. Arrangements will be made at the international award shows for entries, to be replaced by non-scam creative.
11. One more thing I would like to mention, I want to stress that in this entire exercise, there is no restriction of any kind on FEE-BASED PITCHES and GENUINE CREATIVE created by creative, media, digital, freelance or even the brand teams.


Fellow industry veterans and youngsters with dreams in your eyes,

In spite of all these efforts there may be temporary hardships to be faced by honest creative agencies and clients. Experience tells us that they are always ready to make sacrifices and face difficulties for the benefit of the industry. I see that spirit when a client refuses to release a simple scam ad in an obscure newspaper in northeast even when the agency is willing to pay the cost. When a consultant contributes pro-bono to an NGO work, when a poor freelancer is unwilling to share credit for his work with an art-director at a big agency. I have seen that the real people in the industry have the determination to do anything, if it will lead to our progress.

So, in this fight against free pitching and scam ads, in this movement for purifying our industry, will our people not put up with difficulties for some days? I have full confidence that every professional will stand up and participate in this of

My dear countrymen, after the festivity of Diwali, now join the industry and extend your hand in this Imandaari ka to this Pramanikta ka challenge this celebration of integrity, this festival of credibility.

I am sure that all agencies, brands, manufacturers, associates, vendors, stakeholders and indeed all sections of the industry will take part in this with enthusiasm and make it a success.


Fellow industry veterans and youngsters with dreams in your eyes,

Secrecy was essential for this action. It is only now, as I speak to you, that various agencies and others are being informed. Obviously, time will be needed. Therefore, all agencies will be closed to the clients on 17th November. This may cause some hardship to you. I have full faith that you will be able to work with your agencies to carry out this great task of industry importance. However, I appeal to all of you to help meet this challenge with poise and determination.


Fellow industry veterans and youngsters with dreams in your eyes,

In an industry history, there come moments when every professional feels he should be part of that moment, that he should make his contribution to the progress. Such moments come but rarely.

Now, we again have an opportunity where every professional can join this mahayajna against the ills of Free Pitches and Scam ads.


The more help you give in this campaign, the more successful it will be.

It has been a matter of concern for all of us that FREE PITCHES and SCAM ADS tend to be accepted as part of life. This type of thinking has afflicted our briefs, clients, creativity and like an infestation of termites. This is more rampant in the public sector. I am aware none of our public institutions is free from these termites.

Time and again, I have seen that when the average professional has to choose between scam ads and bearing inconvenience, they always choose to put up with inconvenience. They will not support scam ads.

Once again, let me invite you to make your contribution to this grand sacrifice for cleansing our industry, just as you cleaned up your surroundings during Diwali.

Let us ignore the temporary hardship and few missed releases.

Let us join this festival of integrity, and credibility.

Let us enable coming generations to live with dignity.

Let us fight free pitches and scam ads.

Let us ensure that our creative powers help insight hungry brands.

Let us enable creative and media to get due share.

I have confidence in the few thousands that make this industry, and I am sure industry will get success.

Thank you very much. Thanks a lot.






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