A capitalist industry can only be saved by a communist ideal – unions

A capitalist industry can only be saved by a communist ideal – unions

Everyone whines about the bane of free pitches. Everyone knows that it is bad for business. It strips away dignity that should be afforded to agency’s labour. Why should any labour be free? Besides, it increases uncertainty about businesses with increasing frequency of pitches. Clients behavior is changing – it is getting conditioned to treat agency as ‘vendors’ rather than strategic partners. Agency heads and industry leaders appear intelligent when they talk about agency business model looking towards consultancies and looking to eat their pie. Their inaction towards improving dignity of agency labour belies these tall talk. There is too much gas in the upper echelon of holding companies and agencies and not enough will to do what is right.

The industry association in advertising doesn’t do anything that other industries do. They don’t organise in the interest of industry or its people. They only organise around narcissistic games of chest thumping and celebration of individuals – Awards. Clients don’t care  nearly as much about awards as agencies do. If it doesn’t help companies as much (it’s a competitive edge, but an expensive one to maintain), it doesn’t help its people (apart from egos of a few. It doesn’t empower anyone. It creates false ideals), it doesn’t help its clients… what good are awards for?

The inevitability of marginalisation of agencies in marketing world can be reversed. But not by its leaders. They still get paid well. They aren’t hurting much personally with the slow erosion of industry’s value.

The change will be effective only if creatives and studio people unite across companies and countries in a union. It doesn’t help that most of us in agencies are hopeless narcissists. We want individual glory. Anything that is achieved collectively makes us doubtful of our own importance. So unless we grow up from that infantile tendency, we are doomed.

Creative people imagine themselves as free birds. But in reality, they are more like the rocks at ocean face – sitting in the office, unmoving, against the assault of never ending and scarcely ebbing waves of briefs and reworks. The rocks need to grow roots and connect with each other across agencies to grow. Otherwise, neither their creativity will improve nor their lives.

The idea is to simply assert self-interest. Why should you (people in agencies) work for more than 8 hours a day?  What good are those annoying timesheets if they can’t help bring in accountability of labour. There should be compulsory overtime payment for hours worked beyond office times and other perks and compensations for opportunities lost in the darkness of late night cubicle dwelling. The idea is for over hours to become an exception, not rule. It is an escapist’s ideal to dwell in his cubicle to escape having to face real life and real relationships at home. For people like these, leaders need to intervene and help them grow in healthier ways.
If the agency has to pay creatives for each hour spent extra, they will be pinched for free work and pitches too. Hopefully, that will inspire pitch fees to become norm in all agencies. The idea is to not absorb the shocks of overwork. Make the management feel the pinch too.

Stop whining. Start organising.

Honest marketing meetings

Honest marketing meetings

Humanity is quite immature as species. A stunning example of our intellectual frailty is the specimen inhabiting glass towers in uncomfortable suits and ties: the marketers. They are ace bullshit artists (well, of-course not you, but others 🙂 ). They can shift responsibilities of decision making as fluidly as a tai chi master might shift qi (apparently the life force, the energy). With the same slow grace of a tai chi master they will words and notions into existence that mean nothing to other creatures who are burdened with logic and common sense. It is their fate to consume the gibberish being spewed by the hippo (highest paid person’s opinion) at the table.

Hippos often hide behind the notion of ‘balance‘ to escape from taking a decision. Should the brand cater to this emotional need or that another emotional need? The client will say that the brand will stand for both – we just need to balance it – 60% this, 40% that. They conjure up percentage right from between their asses and mouths. with complete certainty and confidence. It’s amazing really.

So here are few of the examples of the gibberish I was forced to consume as strategist for advertising agencies. Obviously in service of my future paycheques, I have changed the products/ brands enough to be unrecognisable. Let’s assume we are talking about “Cuttle Soaps” (my favourite nonexistent brand).

Exhibit 1: One soap to bleach them all

Context: Trying to relaunch a failed soap for the umpteenth time. People feel that the soap is dated and was terrible. Apparently, the soap is now as good as the competitor (if not better). No performance superiority story though (and it’s not ‘apple’ to say ‘best iphone yet’. How to make the soap relevant again, purely on the back of bullshitting?

Me: category growth is coming from esteem needs. Our major competitor can’t do that. The current users of that brand show affinity towards such and such esteem need statements. Our pricing is also higher than competition. We should own the category esteem need and position the brand based on that ONE need. And here’s the creative that convincingly establishes brand credentials.

Marketer: Yes. Yes. Exactly what I was thinking. BUT, our source of growth is all soap users. So, we will have to talk about not just about this one need, but soap’s suds and soap’s fragrance and soap’s octopus vitamins and soap’s sequoia-like logevity too. Our communication needs to work harder. The models need to look as soft as a jellyfish. but not too puffy. very slim, like an eletric eel but not too sexy. and not prickly like starfish, but attractive like star fish. Clutter breaking you know. We need to break the clutter. Break it like you mean it. BREAK IT. also, we only have 50 cents for the marketing budget. so think out of the box. But not too out of the box – here are the brand guidelines and category cues. and remember our management is fairly conservative, so nothing outrageous.

So this is the new brief. Yes, yes. this is a pitch and we should ideally be paying you for your work so far. But why don’t you run along and do the 2nd and then a 3rd round for free as well like the pathetic weasel of an industry you guys are.

Me and the team: Excellent. What an illuminating discourse this has been. We think we finally are beginning to understand what you want. But it would be really great if we could ‘arrive at’ and agree on a single benefit to talk about. We can even do a workshop for free…

Marketer: No no. No workshops. Look at my waist. I am getting so fat eating all those free cookies in the countless workshops and meetings I attend. I can’t spare anymore time besides for something that is practically my biggest responsibility. I need to go suck up my higher ups and boss around with the lower downs. No time for any actual decision making. I expect awesome work from you guys. Don’t come unless its AWESOME. (Fake smile)

Exhibit 2: Schrödinger’s soap

Context: Big ass boardroom the size of noah’s ship filled with assorted animals too. A major soap leader has been selling soaps to kill germs for ages. Everybody knows them as the germ kill soap. They are at a mature stage of growth. They can’t handle that maturity though. They want to become hip and young again. The source of growth is younger people who buy more expensive shower gels. They don’t use soaps at all. Marketer has hired an expensive consultant to think on his behalf. The consultant hasn’t thought much, or couldn’t think much. So we get a confused brief. The consultant and marketer duo want the impossibility – the brand, he insists, must be both at once -a soap and a shower gel. They are willing to change the product formulation somewhat. We don’t know exactly how. But they assure us, it would be something real – like photon that is a particle but exhibits wave like properties.

Marketer: So we want to say that soap is now also a shower gel.

Me: Ok. (Trying to digest that. heavy quantum physics shit going down here. Trying to think through this muddle) You are a big corporate. Why can’t you build a new brand of shower gels? That would be easier, isn’t it?

Marketer: We have strong equity. We are rich but too risk averse. Our management lacks common sense too. So there’s that. Decision’s made.

Me: Ok. So lets try to think about what is the cumulative ‘single benefit’ of the duality. What is the one benefit consumer might get out of a soap that is also a shower gel?

(Pin drop silence).
Me: Lets look at it this way. How would your salesman sell this soap? what’s the pitch?

Marketer: That now your soap can now be used as shower gel too. perhaps… what are we paying you for? you tell me what should that be.

Me: Ok. But who needs a shower gel – soap transmorgification? Hmm. lets see… what if the soap is to be shared between family members and the soap can be what the family members want it to be. so the proposition could be soap for the full family.

Marketer: hmm.. but we need to balance shower gel 60%, soap 40% with the launch with eventual stabilisation at 50% – 50%.

Me and the team: Wow. So much. We will let the engineers know that. We will get our R&D pants on now. How about a written brief to begin though?

Marketer: Hmm. I guess we can hire another consultant for that.