Effie Awards propagating wilful ignorance?

The incentive is structured against comprehensiveness

Effie awards are fairly important awards in Advertising. They are about ‘effectiveness’ – They recognize campaigns that have been effective in achieving their stated goals. So far so good.

We have won it, a lot of planners I know have won it. It is an essential career milestone for many in our business. Some job postings mention it too – ‘need planners with experience in winning at Effies‘. It is that important.

So the incentives are not geared to bring out reality of the marketing effectiveness. The incentives are stacked to create a straight narrative that joins the dots between the results and actions of agency, most convincingly.

I am yet to read a case that credits a favorable policy change, economic change, societal change for gain of brands. Even though they do impact businesses. There is simply no incentive for writing such a case. (Who will go to collect an award for an economic case? The FM?) So even if Paytm had a windfall of opportunity with demonetisation in India, you won’t see an Effie case for it (I hope).

I understand Effies serve a purpose to encourage marketers to put in more thought and rigour in their practice. But since out of the many other variables that affect a business, a comm strategy tends to remain in focus with Effies, we remain blind to the complete picture. I will give you an example.
Recently I was working on a brand that lost market share. We were working hard to figure out why we were losing. There was a new competitor in town, but it’s communication wasn’t convincing. We did consumer research, comm tests etc. Turns out comms was not a factor at all, though brand imagery had suffered. The culprit was pricing – SKU mix strategy. With the right SKU, the value paradigm had changed. A high Share of Voice for a fairly good campaign couldn’t convince people to choose our product over the better value relaunched product by competitor. The competitor is kicking our ass and he can’t enter a case in Effies. Would you give an award for winning by identifying a sweet spot with an affordable SKU? I wish Effies would.

Need to Change Effies to reflect the need of change with Advertising business

So you realise that there are a whole host of variables to win the market with and Effies tend to reward only a few of those. It is unhealthy. Because as agency business gets marginalised, what will help it become more relevant is to find out ways to become more effective beyond ‘campaigns’. To remain competitive against consultancies and fb/ google, agencies need to look at the big picture, start looking at and rewarding marketing efforts that go beyond campaigns.

If one were to make sense of the world solely based on Effie cases, the person would come out as a gullible idiot with false sense of intellectual enlightenment.

We need to engage with the complexity, the uncertainty

Read a few cases and it makes you think that the marketing world is a very rational and simple world. But it is anything but.

The cases paint a flat picture of the world – the causality between efforts and the market response seem ridiculously simple, even as they project conscience of all the factors affecting the brand’s performance. Is it even possible, to know all the factors that affects a brand’s rise or fall? If causality was truly that clear, would companies need the army of sales managers, favorable retailer relationships, the many offers and schemes and lets not even get started with consumer’s irrational behaviors and preferences. We assume these ‘variables’ as ‘constants’ in our grand scheme of building the case. And that is not helping anyone.

If anything, awards only reinforce our illusion of certainty. It creates a false sense of expertise about a subject as complicated as applied sciences, but without the rigour of applied sciences papers and awards. A medical sciences paper would go to great lengths, source hundred of experiments, cite precedence to establish correlation and yet shy away from ascribing certainty, there will always be a caveat. Causation is difficult to prove. More so with psychology, sociology. It is almost impossible with these fields. And yet, advertising professionals write thousands of cases a year, joining myriad dots to convincingly prove cause-effect between a brand’s success and their effort.

The cases gives you a sense that an enlightened mind was behind the campaign – some cases read as dramatic as the story of Siddhartha. One gets a sense of an incisive insight cutting away unprofitable behaviors and perceptions, suturing profitable ones. In reality, brands seldom follow as simple a trajectory. I mean, sure, great ideas do have out-sized impact on brands. But it is easy to ascribe out-sized impacts to even mediocre ideas, in absence of a culture of rigour. We want to believe in it, so we do without critically examining the cases.

Often the germination of such ideas are random, their expression might come from unexpected quarters, their reception might be dependent on a lucky social chain of events… Great ad campaigns often had a huge element of luck, of serendipity involved. But we will never find a case talking about such lucky lifts. The cases build a myth of straight thinking – business problem statement leading to insight leading to creative idea. How many times has this process really progressed so linearly in a real agency?

And there is no reason to absolve ourselves of this randomness. This very randomness will help us remain relevant in the age of AI. If causality truly was achievable, we would have been replaced with robots by now.

So perhaps, it is in our interest to institute another awards – Lucky Ideas Awards perhaps. It takes efforts to get lucky, sure. I don’t wish to discredit the hard work behind good ideas. Indeed as John Cleese suggests – to get good ideas, one needs to work at it, push oneself harder and not be too pleased with oneself. Yes. But even then, to be in a position to think for a brand that has a cultural cache, that collects data and conducts researches, that has a confident and energetic marketing department who is willing to enter awards – needs luck.

Many brands simply do not have enough data on their business. Many do not want to experiment. Many do not have great ambitions. It requires luck to work with clients who are systematic, ambitious, willing to experiment. And after that you need to work hard for a good idea. and then immense amount of luck for that idea to be supported with the many thousand things happening that affect a business.

So essentially – recognise complexity and reward strategies that succeed, no matter the form of its execution, no matter the size of its footprint.

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Right to a marketing free life

Right to a marketing free life

I am taking a marketing refresher course these days. In that course, marketing is defined as an exchange of values.

Seller gives products/ services/ experience in exchange of buyer’s money/ attention/ time/ trust.

The thing that struck me is that that in real life this exchange is not equal at all. The professor’s talk made it sound like marketing was a noble cause of increasing, providing value to a people in exchange of money, attention, trust given to it by free will of people. Yes, markets have enriched our lives tremendously. The exchange is bedrock of human civilization. But the 21st century exchange is a tad bit murkier. The globalised exchange is far too skewed in the balance of power between seller and buyer.

Marketers steal my attention, time and trust to make me think that parting with my money is completely my choice. But the exchange is rigged. The options are false. Where is the option of me to slam the door on marketer’s face? “I am not interested, please go ahead.” You can’t do that anymore. The marketing virus is as ubiquitous as air. Advertising industry, after all, is employed solely to hack the minds and hearts of consumers – to ‘incept’ brand ideas, as their own.

In absence of free will, can it really be called an ‘exchange’? its not between equals.

In that sense a better metaphor would be a colonised ground. Our minds are colonised by brands. They are fighting for our mind’s share. and there is no way for us to shoo them away. We can only chose between such and such consumptive lifestyle. You can’t escape brands completely in the 21st century.

Your minds are completely colonised. And marketing is the effort needed to expand their colony.

An opt-out option

In India, we can opt out of telemarketing sms/ calls facilitated by nation’s telephone regulatory authority. How about an opt-out option for consumers from all kinds of marketing?

Fool’s pride

Are you not a fool if you take pride in doing something that imprisons you, that belittles you, that curtails you, that is detrimental to your interests?

If your agree, then let’s check if you are a fool or not. Imagine you are a middle management guy, with a team of 5-6 people reporting to you. Among the following statements, which ones do you agree with?

  1. I am proud of working late/ weekends often. I respect those who stay late at office.
  2. I am proud of being a doer. Thinking is for pansies, let’s just do it.  I don’t like it when people ask too many question. I like when they do as they are told.
  3. I am proud for being available to my boss and subordinates, 24×7. I like it when people are accessible at all times for the smallest of queries or requests.
  4. I am proud for not having taken a holiday in the last two years. I don’t like people taking holidays.
  5. I don’t like hiring women, because they get pregnant.
  6. I am proud for taking care of things in the nick of time. I like people who are flexible, who can take additional duties at any time.
  7. I am a shoot-from-the-hip, on-the-fly decision maker. I don’t like these new-fangled things called plans, strategies. Who thinks ahead in time, anyways. I react!
    I like enterprising young talent who can make sense of my chaos. I hate taking decision or thinking ahead in time. Which means you will have to be ready to respond to escalations, unexpectedly long reworks, expensive detours, deadend meetings, scrapped projects…
  8. I like people who ‘hit the ground running’, who would start working on day one. Training is a waste of time and money.
  9. I don’t like giving feedback. Too much work to think about someone else. Just do your job.

And so on. you get the picture. So for how many of these statement were you in agreement with? and now imagine how many of these statements your boss would be in agreement with? Is there an alignment?

Is it really in your interest to be this person or to work for such a person?

 

 

Take a knee for humanity

Just discovered the majestic video for ‘Blue Planet 2’ and the monumental soundtrack – Hans Zimmer and Radiohead’s ‘Ocean Bloom’.

It felt as if I was a pebble, tossed around and shaped by the majestic and beautiful logic of the blue oceans. One with the bigness of the world, with the wonder of our existence, with the beauty of what lies beyond our pale human anxieties and priorities.

This beauty pains, because it shows forces that we are not shaped by. Yesterday, more than 20 people died – crushed between capitalism’s herd rearing, blind panic of marginal existence and total incompetence and apathy of the government. I feel guilty for exiting that reality. Exiting those forces, selfishly.

I wish for everyone to be able to escape that tranquilized coop they call modern living in modern cities.

Why waste life in trivialities of everyday hate-countering, marginal wisdom sharing, point-of-view debating, helplessly hand-wringing at the apathy of the powerful towards us? Why give power to others? We are getting shaped by the waves of hate and mediocrity, instead of by the grand beauty of nature and the creative spark of human potential. Radiohead, Beethoven, Kundera,  Sigur Ros, Iain Banks… There is so much beauty and creativity to be shaped by. Why subject ourselves to miasma of mediocrity and a marginal existence? If we must exist in a bubble, might as-well it be of pure beauty, wonder, curiosity and creativity. May one day, everyone be able to access it.

May one day, every life fulfill its potential. May no life be cut short so callously. May one day, no one is robbed of the joy of walking on sure ground with blue sky above and green of earth shooting upwards all around.

I am taking a knee for humanity today. May wonder, kindness, sanity become accessible to us all.

Unilever’s Quality Walls: regressive AF

Just came across these ads from one of HUL’s brands – Quality walls ice creams.

Unilever has gone regressive AF.

I can’t believe Unilever can do such work. I mean, it is one of those companies famous for their rigorous approach towards marketing effectiveness, their many checks and balances. I can’t believe that at none of these stages did anyone find the sexism in the ads problematic? How did this pass through?

For the ones who can’t understand what’s wrong with the ad, let me help you.

Firstly, understand that no frame in advertising is by mistake. Every frame, every act, every pronunciation is deliberate. The copy gets tested, visuals are first story-boarded and then PPMed the shit out of them. Models are chosen carefully. Settings are chosen deliberately.

Everything you see in advertising is deliberate.

So, what deliberate story do you see in the ad?

The second is your daily sexual harassment on the streets that the powers-that-be want to normalise desperately. The second ad is obviously in bad taste, i don’t think it needs explanation. The first one, to the patriarchs, might seem alright though. So let me try and help you understand why it is problematic.

In the first film, the young son is sitting at the table while the little girl is cooking chapatis. The family validates her role as a cook with their fake claps. It is almost an initiation ritual into maidhood of the girl.

It wouldn’t have been problematic with the first ad, if both the children were shown to taught to cook. The purposeful setting reinforces the patriarchal norm – cooking is for women, sitting idly on the asses is for men.

Labour by itself is not wrong, far from it. None of us can escape the need to eat, need to clean house, need to wash clothes. We need these things. Hence we need to be able to do the labour to live our lives. and here by ‘we’ I mean both men and women – the entirety of family. Work multiplies with number of people, so shouldn’t the hands that clean up too?

At our home, my wife cooks, but I also do the chopping of vegetables and cleaning of the dishes. Or vice versa. We don’t resent our labours. We do what is needed to be done and get on with our lives.

Beyond the utility of chores, I find household chores as a good opportunity to converse with my wife. It is an easier and more sustainable way to bond with your partner than by dedicating holidays or dates for that purpose. Typically, we both are in the kitchen doing our respective chores and talking about things – all sorts of things. (mostly our personal art projects, but more frequently trump and modi these days. Today it would be this shitty quality walls commercial most probably, if donny doesn’t egg rocket man anymore.)

It is a welcome break from my addiction to screens too. It is almost therapeutic.

So I look forward to the simple acts of making tea, doing the dishes, making breakfast, putting the clothes out to dry… all these things are essential breaks for me from my media addiction and welcome engagements with real life and real relations.

My problem with Indian mindset is that that it views household labour poorly. And since it is viewed as an undesirable part of life, it is relegated to the second rate citizen of the family – women. Men would rather get fat, rot their minds with mindless TV but partner their wives in household chores. This mindset is visible amply in TV ads too.

P&G has famously decided to be a ‘force for the good’ with its women empowerment pledge. So while P&G is progressing ahead, being a voice of sanity, Unilever is regressive with its terribly sexist ads.

What is more worrisome is, Unilever is one of the biggest advertising spenders in India. It sets the standard and trends of advertising for a lot of other brands and agencies. And if it itself indulges in casual sexist ads, it does not bode well for Indian advertising. It is a leader and it should act as one.