Much like you, I also expected 2021 to be one of resurrection and resurgence. Instead, it got infected and went on to mutate the advertising industry as well.

It wasn’t that the mutation was one-dimensional. It was a writhing madness going in as many directions as Medusa’s hairdo. And, affected all sides of our business.

Sickness of trolls

For the planet’s largest democracy, mutant trolls decided to dictate the moral code for brands. They chose to hiss at Dabur, FabIndia, Ceat, and Tanishq.

Egged on by calumniators from trenches and fed on political Hindutva smorgasbord, they flushed down everything that looked like progressive bread and butter. Something tells me that 2022 will continue to see them froth and foam on the shores of communal peace.

Illness of freelance

The lockdown also played to corrupt many young creatives caught inside their four walls. Clever seniors and cleverer clients threw them honeyed briefs to earn freelance moolah. And enterprising youngsters ended up working for multiple agencies and got their nerves into knots.

Well, there’s little much anyone can do about this, except see this as the evolution of a new ethic as we plod into the new year.

Age of influenza

A lot of agencies and many of their employees blossomed into little pockets of influence. They took to social media and showcased just how interesting agency life in captivity was. With platforms teeming with audiences, our prolific boys and girls went deep sea fishing. With all sorts of juicy bait.

Just that they had far more intelligent content versus the spawn of new micro-celebs across the country. Hawking shady brands of cosmetics and even hardware stores. With local clients eager to piggyback their reign — in not so famous Rajgarh and Kolahalamedu — into the future.

Plague of plagiarism

Plagiarism has been rampant on our social media platforms. Authored by some vagrant minds. Despite knowing that they’d get caught and pariah tagged. For them, any post or share was ownerless meat.

It didn’t matter if the content was above their intellect level or even way beyond their competence level. They scavenged from everyone and employed cut and paste science. Without remorse. The behaviour of these hyenas is something that will continue to make one laugh.

Toxins of work

The other variant that’s raged across 2021 has been the #DetoxWork wildfires. Or the revolt of the ranks to underline the stress pools that agencies have become.

It all begins with inhuman deadlines, agency sycophancy to please clients, absence of a strong industry backbone, impossible demands of digital and social, lack of required talent, and the feudal nature of clients.

As a result, colleagues are demanding, timelines are endless, people are tired, clients are rude, weekends are zero, tempers are frayed, resignations are rife, and eventually distraught employees take social media pot shots at offices, bosses, clients, culture, work-life balance, with more baying after agency blood.

While some agency heads have paid attention, clients couldn’t care less. Unless there’s a reduction in work, heightening of sensitivity, and an increase in fees that will help more talent infusion, bad blood will leak, and the next year will get crimson tinged.

Itch of pitching

This has also been a rich season for clients. Many of them entertained themselves by resorting to the one thing that’d have agencies drooling. The infernal pitch.

With the pandemic corroding all plans, many agencies bent over to work on these, without an upfront commercial discussion, and ended up with zilch. Barring a few genuine pitches, 99 per cent of them have been a free buffet for clients. Free ideas to create fat internal decks.

Syndrome of digital

The spinoff of the continuing lockdown found many clients getting on to digital and social channels. With most people staying home to buy all they need, there isn’t a client who isn’t on new-age platforms.

Not only do they sell directly to clients, but they are also figuring out ways to ensure their brand is visible. This certainly isn’t temporal. Now that they know where consumers are frolicking, they will smother them on every platform.

Fracture of talent

Chances are you’d have read about this. Globally, talent is leaving agencies. They just don’t seem to be in sync with the business and its infamous accent on going beyond the call of duty. Work-life balance was never an agency virtue since it gets fuelled by passion.

We have the same exodus in India. The younger lot hates the chains of this business, and with less money, surly clients, and a bouquet of opportunities across industries, the capital of our business is in ruins.

Shortfall of agencies

Linked to the hyper-growth of digital and social, and with many clients recalibrating their media focus, there’s a glut of new clients looking for agencies to help them on their hunt. Sadly, there aren’t enough agencies with leadership to handle the number of businesses wanting to build brands. And there’s no machine to manufacture or clone experienced talent. It’s going to be fun watching clients woo agencies.

And vitamins for tomorrow

With giant omicron waves and further lockdowns predicted, the advertising business would do well to fortify itself. Agencies must, even in their virtual WFH avatars, continue to be inspiring places. Clients might want to get off their stallions, get friendlier, open wallets, and make sure they have an agency to work with. No client can afford a post that paints them with toxicity.

I haven’t yet come across many CMOs or brand teams who can create half-decent ads. It’s an agency craft and skill, and clients don’t have it. You’ll need an agency, however useless you think it is. And if you have one, retain it.

I hope we'll all have a healthy and happy 2022. Hopefully, it won’t be as unhappy as 2021. Or whatever it was that turned up.

(Prathap Suthan is Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Bang In The Middle)