How we failed to address the Elephant in the Room…

11 Apr,2018


Editor’s Note: When we invited Sanjeev Kotnala to write a weekly column for MxMIndia in August 2014, we did that for his unique all-round perspectives on the media. In recent weeks, Kotnala has had a point of view on Ramdev being invited to Goafest, and, frankly, it didn’t occur to us too. Perhaps only those indulging in financial irregularities are considered persona non grata. There are some who feel that by carrying his articles on the issue, MxMIndia supported Sanjeev Kotnala’s campaign. We didn’t. Though we supported his views. We support the institution of Goafest unconditionally and whole-heartedly. For us, it’s a point industry captains should take note of…


By Sanjeev Kotnala


I campaigned for ‘Wearing a touch of white’ in support of ASCI at Goafest 2018 with a lot of conviction and less of confidence. It was also a protest against the apparent lack of collectivism in the Industry and Baba Ramdev’s consistent blatant violation of ASCI guidelines.

We failed. We lost an opportunity to address the elephant in the room. With Baba liberally talking on the subject of Patanjali advertising and branding, the Patanjali-ASCI conflict was the most logical question. We let Baba get away. We surrendered to the power of a large advertiser and failed to force the issue.

Baba answering something in his witty style and us failing to logically question and counter it was never the worry. May be, it was just the ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ attitude of the wise men of the industry that helped the Baba cause.

In my view, the support to a cause needs to be fearless, and it must come from within.

I am excited that a large number of delegates including industry seniors acknowledged the need for collectivism and support for ASCI. The predominating black attire by some members of the fraternity did not dampen my spirits.

I am thrilled with my discussions with delegates. Many delegates and friends humorously pointed to their white lanyards as symbolic  ‘Touch of white’. And I knew I had got the message across. When an industry veteran said ‘thank you, you have done something right and handled it in the right spirits’, I knew I was on the right track.

My encounters with Goafest delegates raised many questions, and I don’t think I have all the answers.

Before anything else, I accept my failure for not objecting to Acharya Balakrishna speaking in the same forum last year. They also questioned the purposive wisdom in having Baba Ramdev again from Patanjali as a speaker the very next year. I don’t have all the answers.

Delegates wanted to know what ASCI has done to help educated Patanjali and wean it away from a behaviour that’s injurious to the industry? Why Patanjali, one of India’s largest TV advertisers, is not a member of ASCI? Is Vermillion, the agency, not an ASCI member? And did the Patanjali creative by one top agency too violate ASCI guidelines? Are the media that continues to run the campaigns objected by CCC not ASCI members?  Has Patanjali ever withdrawn or modified a creative after ASCI objection? Did ASCI member media organisations ever refuse to carry the tainted brand communications?  I don’t have the data, understanding or the answers.

The new generation of advertising professionals questioned the scope and enforceability of ASCI decisions. They were surprised. Is the ASCI membership not mandatory before a brand turns an advertiser? Should ASCI certification not be made compulsory for everyone working in the industry? Who has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring right guidelines are created and implemented? Do management, communication and advertising institutes teach ASCI guidelines? I don’t have all the answers.

Did Baba indeed sue ASCI? What is the status of the legal cases by Baba where ASCI is involved, or advertising is the centrepiece of debate?  I don’t have all the answers.

Is Patanjali status as a significant advertiser holding industry guidelines to ransom? Is there more than what meets the eye? I don’t have all the answers.

I tried seeking the answers from ASCI. And what I have is this “Many thanks for your email. We truly appreciate your support for ASCI. With regards to your request to respond to questions related to Patanjali, we would like to inform you that the matter is currently sub judice so, we would not be able to comment.’ I Understand, I will not have all the answers.

In the absence of clarity and low in the awareness-interest-desire-action ladder, there are more questions and misplaced perceptions.

Some point out to the recent ‘No condom ads before 11pm’ case. They see the ASCI act of reaching out to the ministry and getting the directive as constraining the industry. They want ASCI to find solutions and act as industry facilitators.

People call ASCI a toothless tiger. May be it’s time ASCI starts a dialogue with the industry beyond the website, tweets and the ritualistic CCC (Consumer Complaint Council) press releases.

Some did ask me if ASCI supported my campaign? Did anyone from ASCI contact me? Is my stance endorsed by ASCI? And I could only point to ASCI liking my tweets. Dammit, I don’t have all the answers.

I work with conviction and commitment. I am personally for more powerful ASCI.  I am for every person, media organisation, media agencies and creative agency to be ASCI member. I am for detailed ASCI sessions at management schools. I am even for blacklisting, boycotting, shunning unrepentant frequent violator of the guidelines, be it the creative agency or the media organisation that continues to run them.  You can’t just blame the client for everything.

Wishful thinking. Fantasy. The absence of compelling and binding action leads to frustration.

If nothing happens to the violators, other brands will not be able to continue the battle in the marketplace and consumer mind space with their hands tied. And later it will lead to an end of self-regulation.

I will have only one answer to give: I don’t have all the answers.


Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior strategy consultant and educator. With a basic degree in engineering followed by a PGDM at IIM Ahmedabad in the ’80s, Kotnala has worked across advertising and media. Other than consulting a cross-section of marketers, Kotnala is also Adjunct Faculty and Advisor at MICA.



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