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Thursday, Aug 26, 2004

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The advertising you deserve

Ramesh Narayan

The advertising profession has been sapped of passion by business considerations and the advertiser, by quarterly results.

Advertising needs a makeover

JUST last week, we were judging a contest run by the Advertising Club Bombay. The contest invited entries from its members to create advertising about advertising. Something that brings out the importance of advertising and celebrates it as a wonderful profession and a vital activity.

I was delighted to be part of this activity. I was depressed that one felt the real need for it.

Firstly, let me hasten to add that I agree there is a real need for it. I felt it openly some time ago when I was invited as a guest lecturer to my alma mater, Sydenham College. The students asked me questions about advertising. A professor asked me what the relevance of advertising was.

The advertising industry is at the crossroads today. The situation is interesting. You have an economy that is poised to grow at a crackling pace. You have Indian entrepreneurs and multinational heavies who are viewing India as a great big hope for a host of goods and services.

You have governments which are increasingly demonstrating that reforms towards a market-driven economy are irreversible.

You have a younger, more aware, more demanding customer who is embracing this plethora of choices with growing abandon.

You have Indian advertising agencies making a mark for themselves at every important advertising award festival.

You have Indian advertising professionals taking on leadership positions all over the world.

Every signpost seems to be screaming "growth."

Then why is the advertising industry not uncorking the bubbly?

Why are senior advertising people bemoaning the fact that B-school toppers are not viewing advertising as a first option when they think of a profession?

Why is it that some of the best advertising you see at awards functions is never seen in the Indian media?

Why are senior HR people in the business anticipating a severe resource crunch in quality human capital a few years down the line?

Why is there a need to create advertising, positioning advertising as a serious business and a vital component in the marketing mix?

Well, I wish I had all the answers. Yet, there a few points the industry would do well to keep in mind.

With the corporatisation of advertising agencies there are more professional managers who view the industry as yet another career ladder. Please remember that worldwide this was an industry sired by entrepreneurs and driven by passion. When you talk about creativity and subjectivity you need passion on one side and faith on the other. Sure, the passion needs to be backed by knowledge and sound business acumen. Yet without passion, there is no differentiator. And unfortunately, the advertising industry has allowed its passion to be slowly sapped and then swept under the carpet of economic considerations. The industry has allowed itself to be cloned into pale look-alikes of some foreign model that may not have complete relevance to this country. Its leaders have not been able to stand up and maintain what is unique to them. They have permitted themselves to be swept away by what is fleetingly prevalent in Europe or the US. Today the advertising industry is increasingly run by accountants whose passion begins and ends at the limits of ledgers and log sheets.

On the other hand, with volumes vaulting and stakes soaring, the advertiser too has been changing. Where are the leaders who took a leap of faith and reaped rich dividends?

Quarterly results are cruel masters who dictate the way today's professional manager runs his business. Investing in a brand is a tough business when you are nervously toting up the figures which will have some inexplicable and probably totally unwarranted result on the way the stock market views your performance. In today's desperate hurry, your appraisal is done on the basis of what a totally juvenile stock market thinks of your company's stock value. Managing that perception somehow never occurs to some people. It is so much easier to cut the advertising budget and show a seemingly healthier bottom line. At least for that quarter.

Communication as an activity has become slave to the sales function. What happened to the marketing managers who knew their product, their market and the capability of their agency? What happened to the marketing manager who would write a tight brief and understand if it was translated into advertising and creative strategy properly or not?

Why does today's brand manager need to see ten presentations with the insurance of a group of five other managers on his side before he decides what will work for his product?

The advertisement that was judged the winner of the contest I spoke about while beginning this piece was delightful in its simplicity and poignant in its meaning.

It showed a business card that read "Piyush Pandey. Pidilite Industries."

A simple line below that visual of the card read "Who do you think your agency works for?" or words to that effect. The meaning of this advertisement sent in by someone in FCB Ulka (congratulations, guys) came out loud and clear.

Piyush Pandey works for Pidilite, and Cadbury's and Onida and every other client his agency has. He also works for O&M. And that is true of every advertising professional in this country. And if every advertiser saw it in that light they would get the advertising they truly deserve.

Passion on the one side and faith on the other.

Together it can result in great ideas, cutting-edge creative and fantastic advertising that help sell well.

Is that asking for too much?

(The author heads Canco Advertising.)

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