“Relatability”

“Relatability”

The context

So recently we shared two creative options for a campaign. I wish we hadn’t. But we did.

Imagine the product is a soap targeted to housewives. The product is better because it smells of pleasant cuttle fish, instead of the generic smell of sardines that all the competitor soaps have. (For the sake of argument, imagine a world where being clean, has so far, always meant smelling of sardines. So in this world, people do not take a bath if they have to engage in social functions.)

So the first film was a humorous take on a working woman’s dilemma of using that soap before going to the clothes retail outlet where she works. She hasn’t taken a bath in a long time and really is in pains to do so. But then the sardine smell will scare away the customers. But then she gets to know about the new cuttle fish soap and the world is alright again. (please read these scripts with a huge dollop and then a pinch of salt. I am exaggerating for benefit of no one but my kicks. Oh yes, and to not let out the brand or the category.)

The other film was a generic category film – housewives working at home scratching their backs and in need of a bath. They go get a bath with the new soap. Mother-in-law approves of the bathed daughter-in-law who surprisingly doesn’t smell as bad. End of story.

When we narrated the two scripts – clients laughed at the right time for the first film. The second film elicited familiar nods – ticked all the check boxes.

The first was potentially memorable – simple, apt yet disruptive setting; clear role of brand and need incidence. More importantly, there was a strong emotional payoff – removal of a real social anxiety. Strategically it was very sound. The client however, was concerned that in their culture, women don’t work at retail garment shops. And they don’t wear saris as much here.

And that brings us to the order of the day.

Suspension of Disbelief and Relatability

In Barjatiya films, we relate to the mansion owning, ferrari driving ‘good boy’ who follows “Indian traditions” and agonizes over minor cultural infractions. We relate to Prem, Rahul and all the other misunderstood millionaires, even though we have never stepped into mansions and ferraris. We don’t own billion dollar businesses. Yet, we not only relate to their heartaches, but we wish we could have the problems they are having.

If you could choose the problems you have to face in life, which one would you chose?

  1. Your biggest concerns are eviction, loss of livelihood, hunger, respect etc when you are poor, frail and low on self confidence.
  2. Your biggest concern is earning a ‘yes’ from the girl you love when she can see already that you are wealthy, stable, handsome and from a royal lineage.

Obviously, you will choose no.2. People who watch movies, want the problems that the hero in the film is having. When watching the film, they are playing the role of the hero in their minds. For once, life doesn’t seem as hopeless. For once, they would win a battle. For once, they will get what they want.

Here, relatability is not a problem. People, from their innermost core of being, want to relate to the heroes. There is a ‘suspension of disbelief’ because people want to believe in the story, want to live vicariously the rich life that is forever out of reach for them in real life.

So the question is, if humans have the capacity to entertain a sufficiently large gap in reality with their ‘suspension of disbelief’, what kinds of instances will break that suspension, which ones will succeed in maintaining the mirage?

The Decision

With the first script, was the setting really alien? It was not. Women do work in shops here, this is no Saudi Arabia. If you stroll through a market here, you can see at-least 30% of the shops being run by women. Secondly, though most women wear skirts, the traditional dress is the sari here too. Even if they don’t (for the sake of argument), any person (man or woman) can relate to peculiarities of choosing a shirt/ skirt/ pant/ saree to buy. The dilemmas and role of fashion is almost universal. The fabric, form and designs may differ, but the drive to appear desirable is universal.

Secondly, reality does not inspire actions – utopia (what reality can be) does.

People want to relate to people they think they can be, not people who are like themselves. That is why ads will always depict lifestyles one or two steps removed from that of the real TG. That is why, the first film also could have worked better – because for women who often work on fields and in hard labour, work in air-conditioned showrooms is aspirational. The younger ones do leave villages to work happily in fashion showrooms, don’t they?

Instead, the second script was chosen eventually by the client – because they felt it was more relatable. Death by committee. Committee goes with the safest choice -the MIL and DIL interaction, done to death by a million categories in almost all countries. The easiest way to get lost in clutter.

The way to break the clutter is to stay true to the emotional need but change the context enough to be new yet within the limits of the suspension of disbelief. But not many clients can suspend their disbelief in power of human emotions, their empathy. They resort to hackneyed concepts of “SEC” divisions and other catch phrases that mean absolutely nothing to save themselves from taking a decision to change.

The importance of knowing the unsaid objective

The importance of knowing the unsaid objective

The situation – Death by committee

So imagine an impulse purchase soap brand. (Because all brands are soap brands for the purpose of this blog.) Client wanted to do an ad because ‘it has not been advertised for a while now.’ We push. We ask, how exactly will advertising help the brand now? Some confusing slides that perhaps were rehashed from another presentation find their way into our inboxes. We ask what it means – contradictory briefs in one brief. So they try to rationalise. We don’t get a satisfactory answer. We do our own thinking. Figure out that there is a bigger potential for growth if we target certain occasions. So we need to increase occasion based TOM for brand. Client agrees – exactly what they meant apparently. So we give them beautiful ideas to solve the problem.

But the brand has made a problem solution commercial in another country. Someone somewhere in the client hierarchy likes that work. He wants to do something like that. But we argue that the category is impulse, problem solution will narrow its relevance down. But client persists. So we do a second round of even better and potentially very memorable problem solution ads.

But someone somewhere in the client world has woken up. Says how can we do problem solution. Says we need to just ‘tweak’ the scripts. Just focus on the solution. Not the problem. #facepalm

The reading of the situation

For any given project, no matter how effectively you suggest a strategy that is sound and reasonable, the solution will be shaped by the power dynamics at the marketer’s office. (BU wants this, boss wants that, APAC/ Global head wants something else, research team wants to save its ass by pasting these things etc).

The truth is – Power dynamics define what the brand says, not the strategy.

So, if you can ‘align’ the ‘story’ of the idea with the power-that-be’s perspective, the chance of it actually happening is higher. Hence, must always get the big guy in the conversation at the earliest stage. What exactly does the CEO/marketing director want with this campaign? What is his interest? What is his angle. Not knowing this can lead to futile waste of time, efforts and most importantly, will affect creative team’s morale when they think that the creative idea is at fault, but the reality is about the unsaid objective that they never knew of.

A junior marketing executive, no matter how ambitious and bright, will seldom have the perspective of the APAC head/ country head. From close to the ground, there are many problems that a brand faces and that the executive wants us to solve. But a 30,000 ft perspective of the leader is more illuminating – his perspective will be about existential threats to the brand  and the long term interest of the brand. This is the perspective we need to know before we begin work.

Beyond the perspective, there is power play too. There are local heads, national heads, global heads – too many heads to deal with one thing. The multiple power centers in the client company might have competing interests. They might want different things from the campaign? Now these machinations are beyond our control and view. But, it helps if we know these unsaid objectives. What is the leadership’s perspective? what do they stand to gain/ lose?  If it doesn’t concern them immediately, great! But if it does, what are their concerns?

If the agency doesn’t know the many invisible hands at play, they are rendered dumb, groping in the dark for some validation, wasting time and efforts on pitches they were never going to win, doing hard work for campaigns that will never see the light of day.

Must know what the multiple interests are, who are the players. Must know the bird’s eye’s perspective of the business as well as the perspective from the ground. Once we know these things, simple common sense will do.

There’s an idea in the soap sud

There’s an idea in the soap sud

Grooming is magical.
I am not talking about hygiene here. I am talking about the fantastic ability of our minds to groom its thoughts while we groom our bodies. It is as if there are switches on our bodies – on the scalp, on tooth, on the skin. As water falls/ razor shears/ tooth brushes on these switches, the mind wakes up an army of little switchboard operators in our heads. These little people get busy connecting all the ideas that lay flaying unconnected, unrecognised so far. And while we stare at ourselves stupidly in mirrors/ at soap suds/ at the objective zero (our own personal abyss our thoughts sometimes gets lost in), a fresh new thought bubbles out of that stupor, like a ray of sun piercing a dark cloud. And it is these thoughts that truly wake you up. They wake you up to a new reality, a new perspective, an obvious truth, a solution to problem that was grinding down our lives and we didn’t even know that it was.
Eureka!
And now you can walk confident in the day, unafraid of all the invisible hands, of invisible interests, of deceitful exchanges, of useless greetings and inane content. For every morning, the grime of the world will wash away as ideas will slowly illuminate the truth of all that was unseen so far.

The Advertising Agencies of future will be Open Sourced

The Advertising Agencies of future will be Open Sourced

The alternative ‘new normal’

Sir Martin Sorrell, perhaps the most powerful person in the advertising industry after Google and Facebook, recently said that the “new normal” for the global advertising industry is that of “low growth.” I think that is not necessarily true—if we examine the underlying assumptions about the source of growth for the industry.

The advertising industry currently works on a pre-digital era assumption: Individuals and small businesses cannot be a sustainable source of business. Most agencies work almost exclusively for big corporate brands (apart from the token CSR/ NGO work that can help them win creative awards at Cannes). This strategy worked for the industry in the 20th century, since much growth was yet to come from globalising markets, increasing consumptive lifestyles, proliferating capitalist economies, etc. So agencies didn’t need other sources to grow.

But now, as the world stands (almost) completely globalised, consumptive lifestyles have maxed out and capitalist economies are struggling from one bailout to next, the advertising industry is finding that growing with only big-spending corporate brands is much more difficult than it used to be. Creative agencies are being squeezed by competitive pressures and demanding clients, who prefer to work on project basis rather than on retainer basis. Agency business was never as uncertain as it is now.

But what if advertising agencies actually embrace this uncertainty? What if we expand our horizons to embrace a wider set of branding efforts?

An open approach would be key to this.

In this article, I’ll discuss why “open source” is the answer for higher growth (and how we’ve so far gotten it wrong). And then I will articulate exactly what it means for agencies to go “open source,” and what will that entail.

The advertising business’ long tail

Let’s begin by examining two potential sources of growth for the advertising industry.

First, consider that 95% of enterprises across the world are small or medium enterprises (SMEs). If advertising is about helping businesses grow, then why don’t we help this 95% do that?

Yes, this would require a fundamental shift in the business model of advertising agencies, but would it not be worth it? Let’s look at the possible worth we can tap into.

There is no existing body of theoretical or practical work that explores the potential of open values in advertising. But I have a few ideas.

SMEs contribution to GDP varies from 16% in low income countries to 51% in high-income countries. Let us assume they spend 10% of their revenues in marketing, out of which, say, 2% goes in creative/ strategy services. That is the 2% not coming to organised advertising industry right now. That is the 2% spent on work by either amateurs, freelancers, or in-house part-timers—often inefficiently, unprofessionally, and with hit-and-miss results.

Second, note the rise of “personal brands.” To help them grow in their careers, people want to build brands for themselves. At present, this expanding pool of potential customers can only look at self-help books, blogs, and other “gurus” for help. They don’t have access to professional services that can help them grow their personal brands.

Combine these two long tails and you’ll see the potential source of growth for global advertising agencies. The potential is huge, but no one has yet attempted to create an integrated offering for the three broad segments of customers: individuals, small enterprises, large corporate brands.

Change is difficult and scary for everyone, especially (it seems) for advertising leadership. Advertising professionals spend a lot of time bemoaning the death of the agency of record, shrinking margins, and frequent pitches. One gets the sense that everyone sees what the problem is and wishes to turn back time—return to the good old days.

But such nostalgia is a form of denial. And it doesn’t bode well when many in the industry fall back on nostalgia to make sense of their present.

In order to adapt the advertising industry to new challenges and new opportunities, we need to embrace a new idea. It’s not a new idea—just a rather a poorly understood one. The idea is called “openness.”

Misunderstanding ‘open’

‘Open’ marketplaces

We’ve seen several attempts to create an “open” marketplace of creative ideas. For example, places like Adhack hoped to be a “marketplace for ad creatives.”

It no longer exists.

The “marketplace metaphor” gives the impression that “open” simply means “a venue for frictionless exchange.” But that’s actually problematic in the case of advertising, because it treats ideas and creative people as commodities. When one exchanges a physical item for a certain sum of money, the exchange is complete—expectations met. Exchanging ideas, however, is more complicated.

An advertising client does not simply want any idea; she wants an idea that she thinks will help her business grow. Many variables are at play here: a client’s expectations, the client-agency relationship, an understanding of current market dynamics, shared creative sensibilities, an understanding of consumer’s emotional needs, cultural mores, etc. The final expression of an idea is almost always a result of a series of discussions, where the objective gets sharpened and creative work undergoes various iterations as it courses through several feedback loops. It’s nothing like a single transaction.

This mode of working is inevitable in creative businesses; any creative work eventually requires this kind engagement with feedback loops. A “marketplace” of either ideas or people can unfortunately never quite capture this kind of interaction, which is necessary for creative businesses. Advertising must embrace a different, broader, and more effective sense of openness.

Crowdsourcing talent

Some companies have adapted crowdsourcing (which is not an open source approach) to varying degrees of success.

For example, 99designs.com solicits designs from hundreds of designers for a client. Unfortunately, this model is exploitative in the sense that a designer is not paid for her time; she’s only paid if her design is selected. In this way, the system is only useful for budding artists who are testing their skills, building their confidence and portfolios. It cannot sustainably scale to win bigger businesses or attract established creative talent.

Curated and crowdsourced ideas

A third example of crowdsourcing advertising agencies is Victor and Spoils (V&S). V&S is essentially a “normal” advertising agency with a “plug-in” for crowdsourced ideas. They open up some client projects to a set of strategists, creative directors spread across the world who have registered with them.

This idea has obvious limitations for sharing strategically important projects, speed of delivery, feedback mechanisms, and more. As such, V&S cannot sustainably scale because not many clients typically have the kind of patience that is required for the crowdsourcing process. Neither do they have the willingness to experiment. They want effective solutions quickly; they don’t care if those solutions come from within the agency or from consumers.

A better approach to ‘open advertising’

Small businesses know that advertising can help grow their businesses but are unsure about its effectiveness. They don’t have enough money for “experiments.” Before committing money for an ad campaign, they need some amount of assurance that their campaign will indeed deliver business results.

This assurance is possible now with big data analytics. Look at how Google shares some data about user behavior and campaign effectiveness. What if that was available for integrated campaigns—TV, print, digital, outdoor, everything. If a global advertising agency puts together data about the campaigns it has conducted across the globe over the last few decades, big data analysis can provide confidence level “thumb rules” that clients can use to make decisions real time. That is an important development waiting to happen. However, even this is only a part, even if an important part, of the bigger “open” possibility.

Surprisingly, there is no existing body of theoretical or practical work that explores the potential of open values in advertising. But I have a few ideas—and in the spirit of openness, I will explain them in the second part of this series.

 

Open source advertising agency

Open source:

‘Open’ = universally accessible and open to contributions.

‘Source’ = the proprietary logic that solves a problem uniquely.

Understanding a basic perspective on open source is critical. When people talk about “open source” and its relevance to the advertising industry, they might think only about using open source material to create advertising. Or they might talk about projects where users and a brand team co-create something. Some may use the term to describe collaborative cultures, and others might use the term to talk about crowd-sourced plugins to traditional business models.

All of these ideas are united by the smallness of their perspectives.

I’m talking about applying “open source” in a way that could fundamentally inform the advertising business model. So what is it, in this context?

The ‘Source code’ for advertising agencies is the unique method of approaching a business problem that guides them in finding, what they believe to be, the most effective and creative solution. As contexts and type of business problem changes, so do the methods.  Typically, this ‘source code’ is a logical set of questions or framework that guides application of common sense to the work of solving business problems. They do so by enhancing clarity regarding strategic choices that the marketer has but might be blind to. Identifying the right branding opportunity/ problem is half the battle in effective communications.

These tools are very useful because it is quite easy to stray away from basic common sense when confronted with too much data. These tools also help in building conviction towards taking the right direction, when the easier (but possibly ineffective) direction seems more attractive.

These are some of the ‘source codes’: Ogilvy has its “Big Ideal“, “Fusion” and “Do brief.” Publicis has “Lead the change.” DDB had its “Springboards.” Saatchi & Saatchi has its “Lovemarks.” And so on.

And I believe this very decision-making process can be subjected to open source thinking.

Open strategy, open creativity

For example, suppose a firm wants to become an open advertising agency. It designs its own “interface” for creative problem-solving, such that people would be encouraged to use, adapt, and improve upon its planning and creative tools. Next, it will externalizes the wisdom its employees and its campaigns have acquired through the years, making it available to people who can learn from it and use it to inform their decisions.

For this to work, our firm will have to be cognizant of various requirements, and hence different consumer journeys for three broad bucket of clients. Again, these are:

  1. Individuals seeking help with personal branding at a flat fee.
  2. SMEs who need help in growing business with limited budgets and where individuals/ small group of stakeholders take decisions.
  3. Corporate owned consumer/ enterprise brands with high media spends, where decisions are made by committee/ hierarchies.

To be able to cater to these three different segment at the same time, the agency will require a new business model, new practices, and new expectations of revenue growth. To get a glimpse of that interface, we can learn from pricing strategies of online services and adapt them to the advertising business (see Figure 1).

offerings

For example, our firm could curate and code tools that make its interface easier to use (not merely accessible)—to all, for free (think of the difference between Google’s search interface now and a Yahoo! search and directory from 1996).

For individual users looking to either build a personal brand or test new business ideas, our firm could provide algorithm-based assistance in formulating strategy (programs that take in key data points to choose the right tools/ perspective). Thereafter the focused “brief” at hand can help the person in finding the right ideas with the help of fellow idea seekers and creators in an open forum (look at the interface of Coursera classrooms, for example).

Say a small restauranteur seeks help making her business grow. She can either access free tools and figure out strategy for herself, or pay a flat fee and access the community of people who might help her. Perhaps she can even find a budding creative artist in the community who could help her in designing art works informed with the “brief” she formulated with the help of an algorithm earlier.

If she is ambitious and is seeking rapid growth—and doesn’t mind paying the fees for access to our agency’s team—then she can do that too.

With millions of people using its free tools, the firm stands to create the “default” language and logic of branding strategy for the industry. The first mover in the “open advertising” game stands to set the rules of that game for 21st Century.

Changing the model

Shifting to open models would help the advertising industry shift:

  • From servicing a few hundred clients at max a year, to catering to potentially a million clients a year.
  • From being critically dependent on a few large clients for survival, to a hedged bet with the long tail.
  • From an enterprise-oriented orientation to more nimble orientation (something adaptable to serve anybody, from an individual to a fortune 100 company).
  • From intimidating jargon to simplified tools that most people can use (simple and obvious always trumps complicated and laborious in advertising—may it be in ads, pitches or everyday work).
  • From resource allocation per brand, to additional resources for Skype services and transition teams who would facilitate the transition of a project from online open source to inside the agency (and therefore confidential).

But it would not change:

  • The creativity that human insight and human-articulated vision can provide.
  • The business dynamic with corporate brands (apart from improvements in universal availability of data and tools).

First-mover advantage

The first firm to attempt this kind of open approach would see the following benefits.

New repository of consumer insights. The agency will have access to big data stores and metadata about users’ businesses, their preferences, and their possible growth trajectories. These data will be useful in building agency intelligence, its effectiveness, and its new business efforts.

Mindshare leadership. The agency will set the language and logic of business growth for a million business leaders of tomorrow.

Virtuous cycle of new business growth. Small businesses and startups would grow with the agency and might stay on as they grow big. Communities of thousands of enthusiasts and free tools users will help establish agency brand credentials. Word of mouth generated by the agency’s tools will position it favorably among business leaders.

Attracting good talent. The community would become a channel for budding talent to get noticed. The transparency in helping businesses grow will excite creative talent and attract the best creative talent to the industry again. The widened pool of visible talent and the plurality of projects will help the agency find, train, and mentor the right talent.

Increased marketing literacy among clients and agency personnel. To be frank, many of us in marketing and advertising industry could do with a basic marketing course. Even in 2017, many among us are unsure about digital marketing. Many advertisers could increase efficiency and improve quality of their efforts if they knew about concepts such as “insights,” “emotional needs,” and “strategic choices” in creative ideas and so on. By “opening up” the culture of advertising thinking, we will help increase marketing literacy and consequently increase confidence in marketing efforts. After all, if clients understand marketing better, they will be more confident about spending money on it.

I am eager to work on this idea and bring it to reality. If anyone finds it interesting, please get in touch. We might be able to do something together. 🙂

How not to be a lazy hack

I can’t think of a decent idea, so how about just using a celeb to sell the brand instead of an idea that can actually do the job better?”

That’s just one way of being a fucking lazy hack. Don’t be that person. A lazy hack writes an unoriginal idea that doesn’t exactly solve the problem at hand, but does tick the boxes in some convoluted fashion. Why be “creative” like that, when you can be creative in creating awe inspiring, award winning commercials?

Here are some handy tips to not be a Fucking Lazy Hack (FLH) of a creative person.

    1. Shifting form Open to closed mode.
      Being ‘creative’ does not mean being unreasonable. There is a time for open exploration of ideas, and then there is a time for hard look at the situation at hand and review of the work done. The latter requires an ability to listen and to argue rationally. You can’t grow professionally as a creative person unless you are able to get in and out of these two modes – open mode for ideation, closed mode for decisions.
      (More about open and closed mode in John Cleese’s video below. Excellent ideas from a genius. Must watch.)

    2. Let it go.
      As a planner, it is quite frustrating at times. A week ago, we would have agreed on feedback, on directional changes. When it is time for final review (Often too late), the idea remains unchanged apart from a few minor changes. The subpar ideas would incorporate the feedback just enough to silence the concerns – “See, the logo is bigger now”, “See the product shot is 5 second longer”. But the product or brand is still no more intrinsic to the story being told. Or there is no story to begin with, just grandiose poetry that would get an ‘F’ in a creative writing class, but that the writer refuses to let go from a million dollar campaign that has the potential to affect thousands of livelihoods – from managers to retailer.When someone points out that the copy is weak, the reply will be – “Imagine Morgan Freeman/ Amitabh Bacchhan saying it”. I say, don’t. If an idea depends on a celebrity to work, it is a bad idea.

      Your idea was beautiful, maybe. But it is time for you to grow up and accept feedback. The idea is worthless if it doesn’t solve the business problem. Too often, writers cling on to bad ideas that do service to no one. Bad ideas do not win awards, they don’t work for client, they don’t look good on portfolios. Even if a client agrees to a bad idea (perhaps, because he can’t think any better or can’t articulate his concerns, but has time pressure), he will try to make it work for him. Client interference becomes more frequent and your idea is now a bastard child of confusion and desperation. Let it go, before it gets bastardized.

    3. Persist towards originality

      All you have to do is think of an honest need, an honest yearning that is being answered by the product/ brand at hand. Think a little harder. As John Cleese narrates in this video, he came up with more original ideas than his group-mate because he stuck to pondering over the problem longer – Unlike others, he didn’t take the first creative solution that popped in his head. He persevered until he was happy with an idea that was original enough.

4. Don’t let the work-pressure define your ideas
You have too much on your plate.
You have tight deadlines.
So you agree, not to reason, but to different people – servicing, planner, client etc.
Don’t.
Listen only to reason. And reason with others, reasonably. That will save a lot of your time and effort. That saved time and effort can help you create better ideas. If you let whims and fancies of others (or even your own) guide your work, you will become no more than a mouse cursor on the app that is your agency that people use to create their ideas. Don’t lose your ‘agency’. Fight if you must for sufficient time and space for good work. Why should you be turned into a hack by work-pressure? Fight the right fights.

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.