Clients get the Creative they Deserve

10 Jun,2020


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Each one of us is has a belief system. It defines our actions and reactions. It is based on our experiences, work culture, observations and expectations. It is fluid in the initial part of life and becomes a bit non-negotiable after some time. In fact, we start selectively searching and seeking examples to further reinforcing our beliefs. We slowly develop these biases and refer to them as mindset filters. As humans, we suffer from selective knowledge that we have anyway interpreted through Generalisation, Distortion and Deletion of experiences and information.


It becomes tough to remain open to new ideas and thinking which are not as per our belief system. So, we keep reminding ourselves to remain open to ideas, try to think outside the box, not to be biased and importantly evaluate the idea, not the person.


I too have my belief system, which I strongly endorse. I know, it is not meant to be perfect, but it has worked for me. I am trying to question this statement which is a part of my belief systems and would love hearing your point of view. 



How many times we have heard it agency people saying it. Yes, the client gets the creative they deserve. I have been on the agency side, client-side and now am an independent brand and marketing advisor/consultant, and I have reason to believe that clients get the creative they deserve.


Creative is merely not a function of getting the best talent to work on a sharply defined probortunity or the funds available for development and production. It is more about the freedom the agency enjoys, the culture of ownership and innovation at the client ends and the degree of empowerments within the teams.


I don’t know how many from the younger generation consider the Client-Agency relationship to be like a marriage based on shared values and outlooks, and not on the retainer fee. In an idealistic framework of client-agency relationship, it should promote co-existence, mutual benefits, acceptance and adaptability of thoughts. The agency can and should be able to influences the client’s approach to communication. However, people in the industry know the reality. It has only been deteriorating with time.


Agencies were business partners and advisors. They were like a doctor. They were prescriptive and recommendatory in their approach. The agency participated in the strategic discussion. Now, they rarely get treated like business associate and mostly as a vendor. Exceptions to the rule exist…


Here is a classic Mohammed Khan anecdote. In meeting with a large automobile client, Mohammed Khan re-presented the campaign that was rejected in the last meeting. He was convinced that was the campaign client should run. The client pointed out that the campaign was already rejected it. Then Mohammed Khan said: “you know how to make the best cars, and we don’t tell how to make them, you hired us as an agency, because, we are expert in our field and you should not be telling us how to make a campaign”. Those were the days, and those were the agency people. The situation has changed.


Today, agencies act as a tailor. The customer dictates the type and style of the dress. Many agencies now serve creative options on a menu card and expect the client to evaluate and buy.


Yes, few agencies are still trying to do excellent work on their terms. And these are small set-ups.


Yet, clients are not to be blamed completely. It is also about the level of engagement and involvement the agency has the conviction in their work. The confidence to passionately go for what they believe is right. The filed work to really understand the market, competition and the customer.


There is another anecdote, this time from a copywriter who has won many CAG awards. When a client suggested that the ‘,’ in the copy should be changed to ‘.’. The copywriter refused and said, if the campaign goes, it goes with the ‘,’ otherwise I am happy to present a new campaign tomorrow. That ownership is hard to find nowadays.


Another case. In one meeting, the copywriter presented a Golden Sheaffer pen, to the client. This client was known for taking out a ballpoint pen and start marking copy changes on the layouts. While gifting the pen, the copywriter said, we write copy passionately. We evaluate and think of every word there. We think how the syntax should be and how the consumer thinks. And yet, if you have to do the changes and mark ruthlessly on the layout, it will be appreciated if you use a Sheaffer.



Then there is another counter-argument, best reflected by the quote often attributed to Walter Saldhanha of Chaitra and shared by Ambi Parameswaran. “We will recommend what we think is right. But if the client insists on doing bad ads, we will do them. Simply because, if they are going to waste their money, they might as well, waste it through us.” This does make business sense.


In the late nineties, I remember Denis Joseph reacting to a Lintas campaign that the client has rejected. Dennis said, ‘Don’t be disappointed. He is a mere client and must have his reasons to believe this campaign won’t work. Pity he does not know to advertise. So we will first present what we think is best for the brand. And if the client fails to see the truth, we will do what he thinks should be done, but, still, we will do Okay but not a mediocre job.’. 



Remember, relationships take time to build up. Confidence and Trust take much longer. Willingness to support each other’s initiative still much longer. And hence, a longer relationship mostly shows polarised results: absolutely brilliant work or run of the millwork.

Many times, change of CMO or the agency trigger a shift in approach and the type of work happening on a brand.


Great or Excellent or even Good work happens when the client and agency’s thinking resonates. When both are in it for a long haul. When innovation and experimentation are accepted and encouraged. When people listen to disruptive ideas. And, when Idea is owned collectively. 



I am not really surprised at long copy ads that Hindu has released in recent past. Each of them is brilliantly written. It makes sense for a Newspaper brand to believe in written words and hence be extremely confident of long copy advertisements. However, it needs much more than mere conviction. Hindu has done it consistently and in recent times. It has also taken a tough stance and amplified a not so popular opinion. Here is the one they released on the world environment day.



The other quoted statement and this time from the client-side, ‘Efficient and effective full-page ad is easy, creativity is when you can do it in 60 ccs’. I know it is loaded and can be debated until the cows come home. But there is some truth in it. There are ideas which need space and more, and there are ideas that cost almost nothing. However, opinion remains divided if creativity gets amplified when there are no constraints or when it is severely constrained.


Here is another example of such creativity. And if one is to believe Wunderman Thompson, Thasorn Boonyanate, ECD in Thailand, cut the film after TCP Group (owner of Red Bull & other beverage brands) cancelled one of his most significant campaigns of the year. Okay, let us for a moment believe even that and that could be true. Then Boonyanate posted the film on his personal Facebook account and trust me it is going to be noticed and do a hell lot for TCP. The film is smooth and engaging, it takes a somewhat different route to present what TCP; the client is doing during the crisis listing many initiatives that are going to make you feel good about the brand TCP. And it then ends with ‘I am upset they quit of our advertising campaign, But what matters more is that they don’t quit on the millions of people they serve, so thank you, thank you.’ ( Thank you Campaign India– I saw this first here)

This may or may not be client supported, but in either situation, it is good to work. 



Nearer home, saw the Fevicol communication loaded with simplicity. It reaffirmed that to engage the audience, mega-production budgets is not a requirement. Don’t wait for perfection, just be on time.


If the client and agency are on the same wavelength, they hit the target more often.

I am not sure if this Fevicol film ( Zinda rehna hai aur aagey badna hai) would have been released in pre-COVID days. It may have remained as an in-house scratch production for client presentation. It is raw, and that is the beauty of it. Right now the audience understands and accepts some imperfection, till the idea strikes a chord. 


It also reminds of the Fevicol initiative at the start of the COVID crisis. And the two link. It is easy when the brand remains contextual and speaks to leverage its long-standing promise.



It is the classic example of Trust and faith between the two parties, the client and the agency. The client totally trusts the agency, so much so that the client sees the OOH creative with the consumers. The creatives are considered approved. They usually are, not sent for client approval. It is not that such working has not resulted in issues and problems. The timely technical glitch with Twitter is an example. Yet, what we hear from the client a simple statement- Amul Girl will speak her mind!

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