Posts by Ajinkya Pawar

Strategist. Keen on partnering with smart people to help ad industry evolve. https://www.linkedin.com/in/ajinkyapawar/ Student of Marshall McLuhan, Chomsky, Mahashweta Devi, Iain Banks, Hans Rosling... essentially anyone who understands reality with critical eye and has the empathy and imagination to create new better paths to a better world, better ways of living, better ways of being.

Perils of specialism

In the age of specialism, everyone’s an expert.
And when everyone’s an expert, no one listens to others.
And when no one listens to others, the human collective cannot work together consciously. It can only work together through the specialist narrow systems of incentives and capital.

Narrow systems of incentives are a recipe for disaster. For instance, when growth is the only incentive, climate & communities become the ‘externalised’ victims. And the bubbles of specialism do not let emerging threats and opportunities be addressed by humanity with an united front. Look at climate scientist crying hoarse with urgency, while wall street bankers go on griping about growth as if without a ‘skin in the game’ of human survival.

End of the world as we know it.

Specialism creates bubbles of concentrated wisdom that does not cross-pollinate with ideas from other stream and adoption of those ideas with appropriate urgency (or not). Any resilient system needs diversity, and specialism doesn’t allow for that diversity to bear fruits.

The only way out of current challenges of polarisation of societies, increasing inequality & climate crisis is through incentivising multiplicity of perspectives, capabilities, functions, goals and enabling cross – communications & intermixing of work streams.

Must embrace multiplicity and diversity in our lives, economic systems and work culture.

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The end of Monoculture and what that means for agencies

Flying over Kuala Lumpur, one can see huge expanse of palm trees, beautifully arranged in rows and columns. Fly over Thailand and you would see similar geometry playing out with rubber trees.
The human sense of geometry imposed on nature, seen from the human invented vantage of flight. It’s wondrous and beautiful and awe inspiring.

What you saw was monoculture in its full glory. Monoculture is beautiful for the bird’s eye, but it is destroying the biodiversity of this globe. We might wake up to a world tomorrow, skidding to a halt, when the rubber plants in Thailand are infected with deadly fungus. Say bye bye to tyres, grips, stethoscopes and condoms. It’s the end of the world as we know it.

Monocultures make us vulnerable.

A similar monoculture had been taking root in the 20th century. The memetic monoculture of TV and mass media.

We had shared cultural references – shaktimaan, ramayan, chandrakanta, hamara bajaj… it was easier for brands to be built with ‘campaigns’; one iconic campaign and you are sorted for the decade. agency leaders were celebrities and being in an agency felt great. After all, advertisers were the architects of the monoculture. One culture to rule them all, and advertisers were molding that ring. We wielded great power and we rue loosing hold of it.

21st century is different though. Internet is the fungus that has killed the monoculture of mass media. These days I am hooked to The Bugle podcast by Andy Zaltzman & Post Malone’s song, Sunflower. And no one knows of my addiction to these content pieces – not even my family! I am consuming that content mostly by myself. Unlike the 20st century where content was sparse and people welcomed content, we live in a world where we shield ourselves against the onslaught of it. I don’t want your forwards and in return i won’t send you links to podcasts and videos i like. 🙂

From mono culture to culture of one! The world has been turned upside down.

What does it mean for agencies? Isn’t it obvious? advertising was the powerful ring to rule them all. Now that ring is destroyed. You might create campaign that is creatively 100 times better than Fevicol’s legendary campaigns or Nike’s just do it campaign. But unless those efforts are now backed with content – retail – experience strategies, you are bound to sink.

The point is not that advertising is dead. But rather that it’s relevance is dwarfed now. It will always exist, but no longer in the spotlight, but it will grow in the shadows.

It will remain an important tool in attempting to create shared cultural references. But it’s ability to do so is being challenged with end of monoculture.

Strength in Diversity

Marketing gurus like Mark Ritson & Les Binet are ardent advocate of the notion that advertising, especially TV advertising, is crucial in creating that shared cultural reference, the brand. I don’t dispute their claim. But I wish they wouldn’t discount the opinions of people who feel that software will eat the world, beginning with advertising world.

Mark Ritson’s argument is simplistic – look at the number of people spending time on TV! Look at people talking about ads during superbowl! TOM Matters!

Yes it does. No one’s discounting it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have seen growth in ad spends.

What is being questioned is the primacy of mass media and TV in particular. And that is an excellent question!

With proliferation of medias, strategies, approaches… the diversity is strengthening the capitalist culture. The new culture might require more brands, perhaps fewer platforms and a billion segments of consumers who consume things in millions of different ways.

That is an opportunity to advertising agencies, not a threat.

A brand now needs to do more – engage in culture more, meet more needs, be more proactive, delight more often…
Why fight and complain about it?

It’s great that the ‘big idea’ is dying and marketers have to do more, improve faster to retain customers. this is natural in the paradigm of growth through fast feedback.

By fighting it, all we are doing is showing our ignorance, our inability to adapt. we need to Pivot.

Here’s how – Pivot.

Moving through time

We can count on time to move ahead regardless of anyone or anything. No one can petition, cajole, bribe time into moving differently. Yet, that doesn’t mean people won’t try.

For us corporate stooges, time is defined by the rhythm of deadlines and weekends. And as such, some of us work towards those deadlines and weekends, while some others stumble, knock through or slip through them.

The latter half among us never fail to request extensions, curse the Mondays or spill the coffees.

We resent time on Monday for it flows too slowly: And before, deadlines, not slow enough. We drag ourselves against the currents of time, trying to find the pace that suits our mood. Music helps, though not many people know it. Caffeine helps too – it puts a little booster to our internal clock and gets us going.

But there are times when nothing seems to help. We remain unprepared to meet the deadlines. At times like these, the deadline ceases to be that gentle current and instead turns into the fearsome category VI rapids. We paddle through frantically with bullshit, bluff and bombast. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Our stocks accordingly rises or drowns.

To rebel against the rhythm of your world is foolhardy. It’s better to rebel against the world instead.

Sponges and Rocks

Sponges absorb. Rocks don’t.

Increasingly I feel that the advertising agencies are populated with rocks while all the smart sponges who absorb knowledge, references, culture are going to start-ups, consultancies and so on – the new capital makers.

I see fairly young creative teams who churn out the same old ‘manifestos’ characterised by 2000’s era semantic bullshit. I see senior leadership struggling to grapple with fundamentals of digital age consumer journeys. I see copy writers who don’t know age-defining shows and cultural references. They still don’t know Flume, Gesaffelstein or the Casteless Collective. They don’t know mainstream nor the niches. They haven’t seen Kurosawa, Truffaut nor Pa Ranjith or Nagraj Manjule. They have not read film scripts, nor tried to write one. Basquiat & Grayson Perry are aliens to them. So is the work of Sagmeister & Walsh. They have not read Amitav Ghosh, Vonnnegut, Philip K Dick or even the contemporary thought leaders like Harari or Gladwell.

What to do with these rocks? You make available books, interesting chats, video links to them, which duly fall sideways as they remain busy wallowing in their mediocre existence bereft of the beauty that the world offers all the time.

It feels as if we live in different eras & cultures and we are accelerating away at light speed. I am a voracious reader, curious about new ideas and content. and the only people who share that curiosity are outside advertising – artists, film makers, new age capitalists. You step into an Advertising office and increasingly it feels like stepping into retrograde timezones. The flotsam industry flowing downstream helplessly and without knowing it is going downstream.

The only refuge left for truth – comedy

The only safe place (relatively speaking) left for Critical thinking and truth is comedy. The last refuge which holds itself through plausible deniability.

The rest of the media has been completely overtaken by the powers in charge. The news media has completely assumed the role of propaganda machines. The few journalists who remain are being silenced efficiently.

Comedy is the only venue for reality to coagulate now and soothe the pain of our collective psyches which has to contend with constant hatred, censorship and impotency against excesses of power.

Hence, our present and future leaders are/ will be comedians. Power will gravitate towards comedians. Its time to invest in comedy.

Our role in the fight against climate change.

Weren’t we supposed to be the good guys?

Advertising alleviated the pain of the Sisyphean tragedy of modern capitalism. Advertising taught the world how to want. Advertising gave the notion of free will and choices when it comes to consumption. It made the powerless feel powerful, that their choices, their consumption mattered. The consumptive soma that advertising created, filled the world with euphoria, making people forget about the differences that divided them, for a while. The promise of abundance, growth, prosperity united the world in a beautiful hope.

But in the process, it also helped wreck the planet, helped remorse-less industries harming people/ planet put up a human face, and generally aided the self-image and bad-diet crisis.

`And if that wasn’t enough, advertising world has to contend with its role in bringing humanity to the brink – there is growing consensus that unless we change our ways drastically in next 18 months, societies will collapse inevitable due to environmental catastrophe. And as of now, we are on the dark side. We are helping fuel the climate change denial by enabling smokescreens, we are encouraging consumptive behaviour, we are enabling companies ‘manage their image’ in bad faith and we are giving consumers the false hope of sustainable consumptive choices.

It’s time we reckon our role in climate change. Advertising industry has been instrumental in globalised capitalism. It was the soft power, that ensured that hard power was never needed to win new markets to grow like never before. But that project is over now. Same levels of growth for businesses will come at the expense of humanity’s probable extinction.

Capitalism is the creator and destroyer of worlds. And advertising is one of its most prized deputies. It is time for the deputy to check both sides of its master – unchecked creation IS destruction.
It’s time for its deputy to convince its capitalist masters that their survival is at stake, not just others’.

18 months.
We now have 18 months for the great capitalist machinery of this planet to self-reflect critically and change its ways. The way the world is going, it is likely that not much will change in the next two years, apart from the climate of course.

“it is time we consider the implications of it being too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe in the lifetimes of people alive today.”

Jem Bendell, Deep Adaptation

The de-stabilizing forces that we have unleashed on the planet are multiplying exponentially. The ensuing feedback loops of the chaotic system we call climate is going to leave most of humanity in tatters, soon enough.

We could plead ignorance in the last century. But what is the excuse now?

So here’s what we need to do.

Accept

1. Accept complicity in creating consumptive culture. Understand that it is not sustainable.

2. Accept that we have been opportunistic with interpretation of business goals – we help companies build opportunist narratives by leveraging humanist insights. we allow companies to remain inhumane by helping create humanist facade for them.

3. Accept that we have the opportunity to influence brand leaders and consumers in being more mindful and more active in our quest to increase probability of survival for most humans.

4. Accept that peddling tokenism, promoting purpose or social marketing – are counterproductive.

Check my denial

  1. Climate change is real. The change is not linear. As the situation worsens, it will worsen faster. And it is unpredictable.
    So STOP taking projects that contribute to climate change denial.
  2. We will be seeing its adverse impact within our lifetimes. Our life is being impacted by it even now. There is more than enough evidence for it. Search at reputed sources of scientific information for it.
  3. Avoid conservative/ right-wing media. They might say what you want to hear. But it doesn’t make it true. They are becoming wealthy at the expense of our ignorance and our lack of courage to entertain truth.
  4. There isn’t a category of products that is untouched by issue of climate change. Any thing that is consumed – product/ service will have a footprint in environment. It is time to be mindful of your role in propagating consumption in any of those categories.
    From clothes, soaps, liquor, social networks to hospitals and psychiatric clinics… growth in every category leads to consumption of resources which leads to environmental footprint – possibly detrimental.
  5. We advertising folks are masters of re-framing, reorienting the perspective for convenience. we can justify most decisions on moral grounds by bringing up other issues, by employing what-aboutery. Perhaps you can turn the question regarding consumption into an issue of free will – choice to consume freely, or into an issue of inequality – time for the underprivileged to consume now, or about gender issue – this face cream is about inner beauty… and so on. But know that these arguments are in ‘bad faith‘. (We really need to understand this concept.)
    Understand bad faith and try not to do anything in bad faith.
  6. We cry insignificance and point to the might daddy corporate which really runs the show. we say, if not me, someone else will… and that’s how the world ends.
    Clients are smart people. They aren’t always reasonable and they know the value in being so. After all, it is we who have cultivated the culture that entertains their unreasonable, no-questions asked poodling. They are used to people doing their bidding through the numerous agencies they hire. agency for manufacturing, for marketing, for R&D, for supply chain, for management…for everything. They are so far removed from the real world that they need research agencies to conduct researches to know their consumers. They are so far removed from the effect they cause in the lives of their consumer that they genuinely come from a place of ignorance. We agencies have a perspective though.
    We shouldn’t selectively project ignorance to protect our culpability.
    There’s no alternative to engaging with clients in ‘good faith’ about their impact on climate.
  7. Lastly, the world is never going to be the same again. The new world will not be about abundance and unlimited choices. Geo-engineering, genetic engineering, flying to another planet are not realistic choices. The new world needs a new perspective.

Resilience, Relinquishment & Restoration

I highly recommend reading this to start with – http://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf

...what we face is a complex predicament beyond our control. Rather, I hope the deep adaptation agenda of resilience, relinquishment and restoration can be a useful framework for community dialogue in the face of climate change.
Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?”
Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”

Deep Adaptation

To survive as species, we need this new mindful approach. Exponential growth is not sustainable. We had it good for a while. But now it time for change. So how can advertising agencies change?

These questions can guide us in our brand building, comms approach by keeping the context of broader society in our minds. We can’t afford to see our work in isolation from the rest of the world.

The question of resilience helps us reflect – Is this project really something that we want to see existing in 20 years?

The question of relinquishment helps us appreciate that in the coming decades many among us will have to give up something important – perhaps someone’s home, livelihood, way of being… Are our actions helping other people or are they aggravating their situation?

The question of restoration helps us look back and see for inspiration in our past. What and How can we help restore?

Appeal

What you read are my raw thoughts. I still need to read, learn and build on these ideas. I would appreciate any leads to help me do so.

I am looking for opportunities to partner with organisations in the space of raising climate change awareness. Again, would appreciate any leads.

Thanks.

The gulf between rating systems and reality

Here’s the rating system used by Car servicing centers –

1-4 -unacceptable
5-7 – average
8-9 – Good
10 – Excellent

Once, after getting my car serviced from Hyundai, I gave an 8 rating… I got a call later from the service center asking to please improve the rating otherwise they would face trouble. they needed a 9 or 10.
I was astonished. Scoring 60% in school was ‘good’. scoring anything above 70% was a cause for celebrations. And here I had a panicking executive worried about getting a low score of 80%!

Then I remembered the JD Power awards! Companies have rigged their rating systems to pull themselves higher in the awards schema. But since everyone does that now, the advantage is gone and we are left with a nonsensical scale.

Here’s the rating system on swiggy

1 star – aargh!
2 star – Bad
3 star – Meh
4 star – Good
5 star – Loved it

If ola driver or swiggy delivery person does what he/she is supposed to do, I give a 5. i started doing that because i heard getting anything below 4 gets them in trouble. A friend of mine, as a customer, can’t use uber anymore. apparently, because her ratings have gone below 4! again 80%! I would have killed to consistently get 80% marks in my school/ college.

Here’s the rating system for appraisal in some companies.

1 – Did not meet expectations (Performed considerably below the required expectations. Definite improvement is needed)
2 – Partially met expectations (Performed slightly below expectations and achieved goals partially. Needs to focus on some areas and improve through consistent effort)
3 – Successfully met expectations (Performed on-target and met all expectations and goals. Achieved 100% of target)
4 – Exceeded expectations (Surpassed all expectations and goals. Achieved >100% and <110% of target)
5 – Far exceeded expectations (Surpassed all expectations and goals and is a role model of excellence to others. Achieved >110% of target)

After working hard, successfully meeting expectation, you get a 3! does that feel justified? does the scale seem a bit wonky?

I remember another company where the 100% expectation meeting was at 4, somewhat reasonable i would think. But even then, should it actually be at 5? we should be evaluated against what was expected. full marks for what was expected. for extra efforts, give extra! if you expect everyone to be a superstar, you are setting up everyone for a failure.

It seems as if the rating system has been rigged to bring down the worker’s ratings to justify low raises?

Obviously these rating systems matter. But should they?

some scales are linear, some are weighted at an end, some are exponential… reading any of these ratings would require an understanding of the context, and consequently fighting against that context.

ratings are just another battle ground where different interest groups rig the system for their benefit.

as such, ratings do not communicate the quality of experience/ work etc at all. they simply communicate the power dynamic.