Value of an idea

What can an idea do?

It can inform, amuse and inspire.
It can clarify. It can change perspective. It can shift worldviews. It can create and destroy biases/ perceptions.
It can change the way we live, work, play, buy, interact.
It can give purpose, alleviate pain, help gain contentment.

How big can an idea be?

It can reach hundred or billions depend on the media spend and the luck of ‘the viral’ roulette.
It can reach the depth of our souls and transform us. First a few, then many.
It can transform the way world works even if we don’t want to.
It can make real difference to people’s lives.

Can every idea do that?

No. Some ideas are expressions, some others are acts, some other inform our being and yet another our belief systems.

Advertising is about expressions. At most it can progress to momentary acts.
Big tech is informing the way we live, its shaping our being.
Big government/ conspiracies/ interest groups are trying to shape our belief systems.

The last two decades have been largely about the latter two. Big tech and big govt. playing with the malleable minds of masses. They are using the biggest ideas cynically, to control, to subjugate.

We need big ideas in good faith. We need big ideas that empower people to see reality more clearly, act more authentically, be the best they can be.

Advertising is trivial in the bigger scheme of things. It wasn’t so always. It was an important aspect of pushing progressive ideals, consumerism, globalism in 20th century. It has no values now. It serves no purpose beyond peddling goods, that too inefficiently.

Why waste ideas on the trivial when there’s so much good that an
idea can do with right tools (digital tech or analog systems) and right people?

Crashing out of Goldilocks zone

I wrote this article for WARC’s ‘Future of Strategy report – 2020′.


Survival is a delicate affair of balance and luck. Consider a monarch butterfly for instance. The place where they breed should have temperatures between 86°f to 95°f. Too high, eggs go dry. Too low, the monarch can’t fly. The climate change, loss of milkweed (their food & shelter), loss of overwintering habitat, are among other variables pushing the monarchs out of existence.

We might not be as beautiful and blameless as the monarchs. But we are just as much under threat. Digital disruptions, Covid-19, lack of organising culture among industry workers, lack of vision among leaders…we are crashing out of the goldilocks zone hard.

As advertising agencies refuse to evolve quickly enough, strategy departments (cost centre with an increasingly uncertain payoff) will be the among the first sacrificial lambs at the altar of P&L statements sinking towards red. Covid-19 is merely accelerating this trend.

Here’s my thesis on the industry’s growing fragility.

1. Advertising is no longer as important for brand growth as it was in 20th century.

In 20th century, a memorable jingle ‘scaled’ quickly in the collective consciousness translating to years of brand success. 
But in 21st century, commercials simply can’t make that kind of imprint on the collective consciousness.

What scales instead?
Supply chains with tech-based innovations;
Predicting consumers’ needs and desires with big data analytics;
Targeted nudges to consumer desire with cookies & notifications;
Product personalisation with material innovation, delivery experience or social engagement;

Memes that resonate with the zeitgeist…. The list is endless.

Digital technologies have given brand owners so many new tools to creatively find new ways to grow brands. Digital transformation is simply more deserving of the ‘growth’ budget. Consequently, advertising budgets are under pressure. Consequently, advertising agency business models are under pressure.

What can help?

As dimensions of brand growth grow, so must strategist’s capabilities even if agency’s offerings don’t. Strategist must develop appreciation of the broader context and not be focused merely on communications strategy. This can help build agency’s capability, but also strategist’s prospects beyond agency roles.

2. Agency leadership so far, have shown a deep incapability to respond to this shift.

  • The advertising industry’s choices to grow are clear –
    • Improve its capabilities in view of the changing world and offer new services or
    • Increase the premium of its offerings to earn more from the shrinking set of clients for whom advertising remains critical or
    • Leverage digital tech to scale – serve more brands with fewer people

Even after loud ‘Relaunchings’ and ‘transformations’, most agencies still are fundamentally unchanged.
The business model is still unchanged. (I don’t know of a single major agency that has substantially invested in either its capabilities, its delivery or its systems. Most changes are cosmetic.)
There are no path-breaking offerings/ new products being created by agencies. Mass media communications remains the major source of revenue for most agencies.

There is no serious attempt at improving capabilities of their people. (The deluge of webinars doesn’t count. What is needed is a culture of positive feedback and experimentation.)     

As agency margins come under pressure, agency leadership look to prune the costs rather than spending capital on building capabilities. This lack of vision is detrimental to strategy department’s relevance.

Ideally, strategists should play a major role in helping agencies navigate the transformation agenda.
This hasn’t happened so far to the best of my knowledge.People leading the transformation agendas in top agencies are usually business folks who are invested in the status-quo.

What can help?

Strategists should actively participate in the agenda of agency transformation. Strategists must appreciate reality of agency business and be capable of leading organisational improvements.

3. The role of communications in brand building is increasingly relevant in shorter time frame of here and now and not long-term brand legacies.  

Many brands these days don’t find the need for long term campaigns or big TVCs, altogether. Since their product/ service is evolving daily, they are more aligned to keep their communications just as alive with daily/ weekly refreshes. They are often more attuned to the changing market dynamics and want to respond at the speed of thought.

The new client expectation is for agency leadership and strategy team to be just as immersed in the brand world as they are. They want agencies to proactively respond to emerging trends, events, sentiment etc.

But often agencies expect the linear flow of directive – client brief -> creative brief -> idea. Repeat.

Agency leadership needs to step in here to set right expectations and enable a working environment where client-talent collaboration is fruitful and not marred by mismatched expectations. It’s not a difficult problem to solve. We just need a will to adapt and partner in new ways, work in new ways.

What can help?

Strategists need to be more vocal in re-engineering the work-flows and creative processes. Strategists need to lead the effort in guiding clients and agency leadership in collaborating more fruitfully in the new fluid brand world.

4.  Covid’s impact

Covid has accelerated the shift of advertising dollars towards digital media. This has meant agencies have lost majority of revenues very suddenly. Agencies that had not worked on their transformation so far, are bleeding now. It’s time for tough choices in such agencies. 

What can help?

Covid has precipitated economic hardships. Many of us will lose our jobs in this crisis. The industry bodies must take steps in safeguarding livelihoods, augmenting capabilities and creating opportunities to collaborate.


WFH hasn’t affected the effectiveness or efficiency of work. However, WFH has radically alienated people from each other’s journeys. Some teams are exploiting the full potential of productivity tools while some aren’t. Webinars have helped some gain perspective while many have gotten tired with their frequency. Some of us will accelerate in their skill improvement while some will languish. The lack of visibility over each other’s work/ conversations will only increase the disparity.

What can help?

Leadership needs to be more active in communicating with its team members during this time of crisis-lived-from-home. Efficiency and effectiveness are not everything. Community is being ruptured and we are not doing enough to heal it.

Five principles to rescue humanity from the Post-Covid spiral

The crisis is bringing out the worst in us: Curtailment of labour laws, labour being on the line of fire in every decision we take, corruption in n-95 masks, complete lack of foresight and compassion in decision making, rampant profiteering by brands… greed is so normalised now that business and political leaders don’t even have the slightest discomfort in throwing its weakest under the bus, if it means saving their top-lines from eroding a bit.

The realist in me says that we are fucked, we are heading towards dark ages – walls will close, inequality will rise, climate will create new refugees and in a decade we will have mass civil unrests across the world.

I don’t want that to happen. So I want to think of how we can rescue ourselves from this situation? I see this event has as an opportunity to do revolutionary pivots.

Here’s a few principles that i think would serve us well…

  1. Systemising Wealth Transfers
    The situation can get dire. we need to urgently institute wealth transfers. from cities to hinterlands, from top 0.1% to bottom 70%, from money market to actual economy.
    The elite has rigged the economy, the laws, the legislative in its favour. As long as that remains, we are doomed. Violent revolutions are quite likely. Alternatively the p2p economies which exclude the existing system players is also a revolutionary possibility. Both seem far-fetched. Consider the fact that a recent document by IRS officers CONSIDERING increasing wealth tax, just considering, were laid-off. That’s the power of elites.
    Well, we are doomed as long as elites continue to influence our systems.
    We must innovate to incentivise wealth transfer. Either through taxes, moral campaigns, decoupling from global economy etc.,
  2. New view of growth: Increasing Productivity, decreasing consumption
    Growth can come from productivity and consumption. it’s easier to stimulate consumption among the elite, harder to educate, train, build infrastructure for increasing productivity. India will continue to suffer unless we pivot to productivity gains to grow.
  3. New Eco-conscious Economies
    We are heading headlong into a future ravaged with climate change related uncertainties. India will be uninhabitable in another 50 years. We have to build economic exchanges, market places that helps us survive. Economy needn’t be always extractive.
  4. Breaks on globalisation
    Globalisation will slow down and even reverse. Global mechanisms of co-operation are breaking. Money flows but people can’t. Much discontent.
    New post-covid themes – self-sufficiency, no more bottomless cheap capital (a la amazon), decentralisation.
  5. Platform as commons
    Here I have written about this in more details.
    we need to build platforms that belong to people, that empower their exchanges, that are not driven with only profit motive.

Covid-19 is here to stay.

Imagining a Post-Covid World

As Covid-19 mutates, so must our lives.

The virus might be microscopic, but its impacts come in various shapes at various scales. It affects how we feel, how we work, how the global leaders form new alliances and even how the earth heaves a sigh of relief (or not).

So here’s looking at the world at the post-corona world through seven levels of consciousness.

1. Individual

a. The isolated soul

The economic currents take us away from our hometowns and the coronavirus has shut doors on the possibility of going back anytime soon.
Quarantined, worried and unsure – we are profoundly lonely as existential questions dance on our conscience without pause.
Distractions are our only succour.

b. Trust

In a hypermediated world, opinions after opinions lash at our consciousness like waves at a rocky beach – incessant and slowly eroding our sense of solidity.
Hydrochloroquine, 9 min 9 tamashas… power that be wants us sedated with confusion and meaningless gestures.
Who do we trust? What do we do?

c. Freedom

Every cough a threat, every touch an attack. Scared, worried our eyes have grown suspicious. Even after lockdown, how freely will you move?

How will we measure freedom in 2021?
With number of trackers on our phone tracing Covid’s spread?

d. Individualism

We have been living so far as if we can live disconnected invulnerably. ‘I rise alone. I chart my own path.’
But we die together. we suffer together.

It might be a ‘me-versus-the-world’ world.
But for us to survive it must become ‘we-are-in-this-together’ world.

e. Power

Covid-19 has stripped us of our hubris. We are now suspicious of our own breathing and touching. We are truly helpless. Our enemy is invisible, all around us. And for a while, we will have no weapon against it.

f. Death

Fear of death is a kinetic force; it moves us to do things in our lives. It forces us to live more consciously.
Better eating, exercising, reading up, talking to people for longer, entertaining philosophical curiosities, getting religious… Fear of death is a fountain of activity.

g. Amusement

Well, not all of us are brave enough to acknowledge death. We must remain in denial. We must remain entertained and amused. God forbid that the internet stops working now. We would have riots the next day.

2. Social Life


Intimacy is beautiful with the right partner. It’s a private hell, otherwise. Under lockdown, people are discovering this, often for the first time. Record number of Chinese couples filed for divorces in Wuhan after lockdown was lifted. What will happen to your relationship by May 3rd?

Social dinners

To meet someone in the capitalist world is to spend money collectively on an evening/ afternoon meal. Under lockdown, we are now instead playing games together, complaining about the bad connection of video calls together…
To be social need not be about spending money.

Family life

A family may stay apart in today’s world, but it worries together. We police each other, we exchange news and laugh uncomfortably away the political differences.

3. Community

Public spaces

In the last century, the socialists imagined great things from public spaces – fertile spaces for ideas to emerge, art to get created, political discourses to be enjoyed, anthems to togetherness be sung…
Public spaces died first with malls. Covid was the latest nail in the coffin. The public imagination for possibilities with public spaces has taken a tragic turn.


Crises are opportunities to disrupt. Revolutionaries can tip over the critical mass. Or capitalist can profiteer and strengthen hold over the resources.
Privacy, masks, foodgrains, brandband access – everything is an opportunity with someone losing, someone winning.

Health-centred orientation

Microfinance empowered women and rebuilt community relationships around finance. Maybe time has come now for health centred co-operatives, shared insurances, indigenous knowledge systems meeting modern medicine?

4. Culture

Us vs Them

Covid will strengthen the xenophobia, make us sceptical of each other. We are hurtling towards the dark ages where we seek people to pin blame on rather than seeking co-operation. We will come-around. Fingers crossed.

Caste & Religion

The whatsapp university graduates are busy turning social distancing into a communal/ casteist conspiracy. Social untouchability might become untouchability. How do we ensure that caste system doesn’t gain currency?
Religious powers are bound to gain power everywhere.

Small town vs Cities

The epidemic has made evident the absolute lack of safety net for the migrant labourers in city. Demonetisation, CAA riots and now Covid induced hunger. Third strike and out? Would migrants demand more now? Shouldn’t they?

Time for taking economy to small towns instead of getting people from small towns to economic centres.

5. Economy

Capitalism & Human capabilities

With imagination and agency, human enterprise can shapeshift to adapt and counter the threat of any crisis. If every swiss person is ALSO trained in operating arms, and many last-generation villagers could ALSO sow paddy, why can’t most earthlings be trained in multiple capabilities? Imagine a person being able to serve first-aid AND code. Another can bear arms AND do financial analysis.
Capitalism wants specialism – one cog doing one act repeatedly in service of efficiency and cost reduction.
For humanity to thrive that model must change. The cog needs to be empowered to react, empowered with more capabilities than one.

Digital v/s physical

The ones with wi-fi access and jobs that can be done online are the new haves. The have-nots are the ones who must interact and produce something in the physical world.
Until the next vulnerability to digital world is discovered. Diversify our existence between digital and physical?

6. Politics

Governments versus subjects

Will this be another excuse to consolidate power and disenfranchise people in one way or another?
Covid-19 might pave the way for Authoritarianism rule in Southeast Asia.

Global versus Local

A globalised world is a world that globalises risks too.
Many countries will wake up to this insight and start ‘diversifying risk’.
Local capabilities and resources are not replaceable, cannot be made redundant. We will witness a hard swing to localism.

7. Planet

Why commute now that we know WFH works?
Why fly so often when we can do without it?
Why spend as much in shopping, entertainment when we now know that we can do without it?
Look at the blue sky outside. Look at the birds that have returned. Wouldn’t we want to retain these things in our lives? We might just end up not pushing our children in the climate change induced hellhole.

Evolving for times of Crises

Covid-19 has knocked the wind out of the global machine that humanity lives in. It has shattered our illusions of stability, our belief in global capitalism (about time), our hopes of certain growth forever.

It is not just a pandemic. It is a huge question mark that stands tall in front of humanity. What’s the meaning of life? What matters? and most importantly, what should we do?

The global machine – capitalism, globalism – runs on the grease of specialism: that I be a specialist brand strategist, that someone else be a specialist health worker and so on. In times of crisis though, this very grease is becoming the gunk that’s contributing to the machine falling apart.

Crises are times when an overwhelming force requires to be countered by overwhelming efforts from the part of united humanity.

Against divisiveness, towards unity

So firstly, we can’t counter these overwhelming forces effectively if we can’t ‘unite’ effectively. A machine that runs on the principles of divisive exploitation is bound to falter and possibly disintegrate in such a situation. Global Capitalism is based on constant replacement of labour with cheaper labour. It is based on inability of people moving as quick as the money does. It is based on exploitation profit principle which perpetuates and amplifies inequality. It is based on divisive politics that pits one community against another.

Under such conditions, humanity can’t unite. The exploited class will remain suspicious of the ruling class. Toilet roll brawls, disbelief fueled corona-parties happen, religious gatherings happen, demonisation of minority happens… the global capitalism had sown the seed of dissent in its very DNA. So there goes unity.

The anti-dote to global capitalism too is seeded in it’s DNA – platform economy. Facebook, amazon etc have shown what platforms can do. Unfortunately, these platforms are right now running with capital mindset of greedy fucktards. But the truth is – platform economy’s logical endpoint is a new form of socialism. A new kind of economy where most essential things can and should be free for most. I have written more about it here. We must work towards this possibility if humanity is to survive and thrive.

Against specialism, towards adaptability

Secondly, the issue of specialism. Specialism is great for maximizing efficiencies, scaling, reducing cost etc. It’s a must for scaling effectively. As such, its a must for global capitalism. But it’s also making us vulnerable to destabilizing catastrophes.

Like Swiss, South Korean and Israeli citizen, who are trained to take up arms in times of emergency (which meant war for them), global humanity must also have a strategy to build capabilities in every global citizen and communities to respond to health crises/ biological warfare/ riots/ wars/ famines etc.

Govt/ corporates/ power centers essentially must build capabilities among their citizen to adapt to emerging situations if the power that be want to maintain their power structures (stability and status quo).


In a complex and Dynamic system such as the global humanity, we can’t rely and wait for institutions to strategise and respond. Global communities must be empowered to unify, take informed decisions and respond quickly. For a health emergency a substantial proportion of people should be trained to respond with nurse/ care/ logistics skills. For wars, an overlapping set of people in substantial numbers should be trained to organise, mobilise, evacuate, arm and respond if necessary. For natural disasaters, similarly another overlapping set of people should be capable of rapidly transforming into first responders, medics, cooks, truck drivers etc.

The essential principle to survive and thrive in the new globalised world is to,

  1. Build Platforms as Commons
  2. Build Capabilities among citizenry to respond rapidly for emergencies

Markets & Corona virus

This post is not about brands or advertising. I had recently started investing. And the complete equity portfolio now is in deep red.

I wasn’t smart enough to exit early on. Now the question for me is – should i absorb losses and exit (fearing recession) or should i stay on with the assumption that market will recover in a year or so.

What do we know so far:

  1. World is shutting down. Today, domestic flights were grounded in India. There are curfews in all major cities.
  2. Not enough people are getting tested. nor do we have the capacity to take care of them once people get infected. so we don’t know the extent of spread in India as of now and can’t have confidence in the governance to manage the situation well. some estimates suggest that the death toll from this epidemic in India would be around 1 to 2 million. This will mean healthcare infra crashing down.
  3. We are atleast a year away from cure/ vaccine. so we are likely to remain quarantined for a long time.
  4. Food, essential shortage will create chaos. govt aren’t prepared for such curfews. chaos and fear will reign.
  5. Without cashflow, how will companies survive? unemployment will rise sharply. and during curfew how are these many unemployed people going to rage on religion and diversionary topics like that? recession looks inevitable.
  6. what could ensure normalcy in a few months? if social distancing actually works and infections are within limts. if the curve flattens out. china is opening up in three months. maybe India too can open up in three months. it will be a slow start but that’s the best case scenario.

The scenarios

  1. Best case scenario: The lock-downs are efficient. Indian heat has reduced virus’ ability to spread. But even then, the high density and low hygiene standards means that the casualties would not be like Germany, but more like Iran. A complete quarantine is a near impossibility in India. so the best case scenario will require public-private partnerships to manage to healthcare load, reduce economic uncertainty with free rations, services etc. Job losses limited to tourism, restaurants, events, aviation, travel, personal services etc. manufacturing coasts along with some months of without pay shut down and govt assistance to companies to remain afloat. services to build capabilities to WFH effectively.
    This scenario will see Indian economy to first suffer slowdown in next quarter and recovery post july perhaps. my portfolio in which case will fall further 5 – 10% (its down by 25% now) and then start recovering.
    I give this scenario a 30% possibility. its an arbitrary figure which i will tweak with new information.
    Its less likely that worse case scenario because – for it to happen, many efforts need to happen by various stakeholders in good faith. Its simply easy for the world to descend to worse case scenario.
  2. Worst Case Scenario:
    massive spread of virus -> spiraling casualties -> gloom & doom -> companies running out of cash -> govt unable to support companies or people -> rising unemployment and indebtedness -> rising NPAs -> finance sector stressed -> demand slump -> Depression -> lack of info/ panic – > chaos -> mob rule and breakdown of social life

Given the right wing forces, rise of misinformation, precariousness of finance sector and of personal finances of most Indians, and lack of info about possible infections – the worse case scenario seems more plausible.

70%. will tweak it with new information.

so overall should take at-least some of my money out of market, since markets will move downwards in most of 2020.

but to make decisions regarding individual choices, i am planning to analyse the companies along following parameters.

<when i get time> damn. WFH actually keeps me more busy. the to-do list never gets exhausted.

anyways, here’s the factors. will update about analysis when i get around to doing it. i must, soon.

Factors to consider

Nature of markets

1. Dynamic systems

Markets are a dynamic systems with many moving parts that affect each other in unimaginable ways. at an aggregate level, the complexity multiplies – it doesnt cancel out. 

so be prepared for events that have asymmetric impacts, for events that would develop quickly and cascade in directions we cant anticipate and events that surprisingly don’t affect a change or affects change slowly over long periods of time. 

how will climate change, right wing political landscape, move to e-commerce… affect each other and the market? 

2. Long term dependence
“Past continues to influence the random fluctuations of the present.” 

So what factors in our past will haunt us in the Corona-virus epoch? what choices now will influence long term prospects of companies?

3. Market turbulence tends to cluster 

Mandlebrot says that markets typically have periods of high volatility with long lulls. Right now we are in the high volatility phase. we are yet to see more turbulence. 

4. Variable speeds 

One, market movements will be ‘fast’ now.
Second, some industries will bottom out now. some others may take years yet to bottom out. Need to figure out which ones will bottom out when. 

5. Emergence

What would emerge from current situations – what new organisations might emerge? new civic minded coalitions? religious extremists seeing corona as god’s will? new

what new habits and behaviors will emerge? surveillance and open access to health records? Increased hygiene routines? 

Increased legitimacy of online living – gaming, AR, e-commerce etc.

Global factors.

1. State of information.
If stock exchange is an exchange of information, we need to have confidence about how much we know. if people feel that there is lack of transparency and control, the market will remain volatile. 

Modi enjoys a messianic appeal. He can use it to reduce the volatility and showcase control and transparency of key information relevant to markets.  

Crisis is a good opportunity for the govt to embrace facts for a change.

Will it happen? i give it 50-60% probability. the event of 22nd march with claps is a test of his charisma. more mobilising will follow at war footing. some of it i hope for the good. and as the situation gets worse, hopefully govt will be forced to work in partnership with private companies and as such make relevant data public. fingers crossed.

2. War-time economy doctrine: who benefits, who suffers?

Whose infrastructure/ resources will the govt need to commandeer to say manufacture ventilators, test kits at a war footing? which hotels would the govt want to convert into makeshift hospitals? 

3. Crisis are the moments in history when great changes take place.
Will authoritarianism take hold or the ensuing tragedy of millions of deaths lead to stronger democratic institutions and a new political force? will the world take left or right?

4. Global shock
US goes into recession, Oil price shock, weakening rupee, supply and demand shocks due to disruption.

refineries, airline industries are disproportionately affected by the oil shock, demand shock.

as the world re-orients itself around corona virus – it will require new companies that can help the health workers work more efficiently, create services for the affected etc. 

A whole new economy is yet to emerge.

Company specific factors

5. Financial strength to weather the disruption for a year

the ones with ample cash war chest. the ones not depending on short term cash flow to survive. the ones with low amount/ no debt. the ones with no/ little obligation in dollars or other foreign currencies. 

6. Dependence and risk to work force’s health

well, this affects everyone. for whom does it affect less? service sector yes.? but where is the asymmetric advantage highest? mostly new-economy digital services, but which ones?

7. dependence on raw material whose supply might be affected

well everything is made in China. we might see China slowly get back to business in the coming months. but would some Indian companies take this opportunity to grow capacity and grow? Govt is pushing for electronic component manufacturing and pharma ingredient manufacturing. There are some opportunities here in the long term. 

but as the situation gets severe in India, it might actually be a very difficult scenario. local supplies, if disrupted, would be problematic for most manufacturing companies. 

we are likely going to see severe disruption to manufacturing in the coming months.

Consumer related factors

8. dependence on consumers whose demand is affected

As pandemic spreads, companies will lose employees, people might lose jobs, bread earners might die. Great gloom will spread. Consumption will go down. we are entering recession, no doubt about it.

Outdoor social economy will collapse. 

rentals collapsing in europe where airbnbs were reducing the rental supply. with corona, low tourism so property owners are moving to rentals. real estate has been fucked since a few years. this will be death knell for quite a few real estate players. but yay! i can begin to imagine owning a house one day. if i manage to keep my job/ and if not, manage to make enough money to save some. 

In the medium term though, social distancing means a full stop to consumption at restaurants, pubs etc. but the rent payments, bills won’t stop. but home deliveries are booming. maybe home deliveries will start charging premium as panic grows?

Work from home services are booming – conferencing, collaborations tools, broadband, telecom etc.  

Entertainment at home is booming – OTT, gaming etc 

People are getting bored at home – will they end up spending money on fashion online? boom or bust for myntra?

9. Balance of capital

Rich people with enough money on hand and strong enough cash flows but too worried about volatility in market, might end up spending it on luxury items? luxury cars, real estate, art, cosmetics etc. 

the vast middle class might return to FDs and public bank deposits. and away from MFs, stocks etc. so large established banks like HDFC might gain somewhat? the upper middle and middle class will save as much as they can. 

the lower class will feel the disruption the most. social distancing is already playing havoc on daily wage earners and even house helps. in rural areas the distress might get acute – constrained cash flow, fewer opportunties and gloom of corona deaths. 

They might find succour in religion (dangerous tilt to right for the nation?), alcohol, small indulgences (snacks) and cultural identity based events/ activities?

Alternatively, will the urban rich/ upper class flee to hinterlands creating new economic opportunities in the interiors?

The very real Digital/ Mainline divide

Advertising business is a messy beast. The mess is a function of different medias it caters to – TV, Print, Digital, OOH…

These medias are fundamentally very different
1. The way it is consumed
TV – passive, lean back, long form
Print – scan, quick, purposive, linear
Digital – exploratory, non-linear, lean in, active…

2. The way its content is created
TV – relatively high production value, expensive, periodic but not very frequent (more frequent than cinema, less than digital), hi-def motion picture
Print – more frequent that TV, less than digital, static, still pictures
Digital – many kinds of messages (txt, gif, movie, sound..), many frequencies, all possible resolutions (from hi-def movies to low def gifs), variety is intrinsic to it.

3. It’s effect
TV – appointment, collective, shared utopia, modernist
Print – stand-in for truth, modernist propaganda, images to navigate life by
Digital – gives agency, enables to do more, individualistic, post-modern, post-truth, hyperreality

4. Time scale
TV – takes long to create and used to linger for long in conscience. Culturally significant still. A good TV ad campaign can run for years.
Print – Can be used to drive a certain imagery in culture. can sustain for long, but often used tactically for temporal claims.
Digital – impulsive, in the moment, of the moment, pulsating with the pulse of the world. it is forever adapting, moving, remixing. it is forever building over history. It is a never ending meme-machine growing ever taller, larger.

How can one business align its processes to cater to these different medias?
The answer is inefficiently.

There are integrated agencies for sure. But there isn’t much data forthcoming to argue that they are more effective and efficient than a brand getting its branding done through multiple specialist shops. My bet would be on the latter.

The business incentives, economies, ways of working are different for each of these medias. And advertising companies are a mess because they have to reconcile with these divergences.

More often than not, agencies do not have a thesis on how to tackle the issue of multiplicity of media modes. They simply go through the motions. The chaos gets romanticized and junior poor suckers end up spending needless nights and days getting artwork out for the brands. There is no easy way for one team to manage across these mediums.

The farce of integration

I have been working for one ‘integrated’ agency after another for the last ten years. But none has been truly integrated. DDB was the most enthusiastic of the lot who put their money where their mouth was. Theirs was the tried and tested strategy of divide and conquer – create departments and get the leaders of the departments to meet often. In my experience, they were the best at this game. The leadership truly made efforts in knowing each others work and syncing their efforts. It’s down to chemistry though. The structure itself is not amenable for true integration. And I witnessed DDB ten years ago when digital was a completely different beast. Big Data, AI, marketing services… the game is different now.

I am currently working in Wunderman Thompson. With the merger, Wunderman’s data capabilities were supposed to work seamlessly with JWT’s advertising capabilities. I am yet to witness this synergy. Perhaps it down to the fact that most of our existing clients’ scope of work is traditional in nature. We get digital content projects on an ad-hoc basis. Often the economies of these are very different, necessitating different kinds of contracts. It’s understandable.

Social media, for all the songs sung regarding its importance, still doesn’t earn much monies for agencies. TVC still do.

Marketing services and analytics is a whole different ball game altogether. Frankly, I don’t even have the capability to serve that need.

To create a truly effective TV ad requires thinking that is very different from the most effective digital campaign, which in turn requires fundamentally different kind of thinking to generate leads with AI and so on. One single person can’t’ possibly master and act on more than two skill sets. And one team can’t possibly orient themselves to serve the need of both social and data needs or social and TVC needs.

If a person can’t learn more than two capabilities and if a team can’t orient and shapeshift to service two different medias, why even bother?

Lastly, even if miraculously someone does it – what brand are you building? integrated is a much abused capability – everyone claims it, nobody truly delivers it. I mean, clients who spend more on TVCs, prioritise that expertise when they are looking for an agency. Clients who prioritise digital, likewise prioritise that skill. the other way of looking at it is, the ones who prioritise TVCs, compromise on digital and vice versa.

The pitch

The pitch for integrated agencies is that of brand stewardship. People who are masters of branding will co-ordinate the work on the behalf of clients.

But why can’t that be sold as a specialist service as well? The question is does the integrated package deliver higher premium or would the un-bundled specialist services deliver higher premium?

So what does it all mean?

Mergers and integration is inefficient for branding. The future is fragmented specialism. Modern technology enables efficient co-ordination among multiple ‘vendors’. There’s no reason agencies will be exempt from this. For most other things, big corporations already have SAAS and teams to coordinate between thousands of vendors.

In this scenario, if I were a holding company, i wouldn’t be integrating. Instead I would be spawning small, agile, super specialist shops who can do what they do best. And on top of this layers of specialists, i will invest in code and brand leaders who can deliver the service of coordination and brand safety. Value unlocked.

I would bet the merger experiments to fail slowly and then suddenly in the next few years. I bet new smaller specialist agencies to pop-up to take up the space ceded by erstwhile global agencies if holding companies don’t invest in reinventing their business model.

Good places -> Good routines -> Good work.

Routines have a certain magical quality.
In my experience, good routines create a virtuous spiral – good routines increase efficiency, work quality and satisfaction with work. You feel in-control, you manage relationships well enough and manage to have fun while getting shit done.

The secret to forming these routines isn’t in our ‘will power’ or whatever the new-age gurus want us to believe. It is simply a function of good work atmosphere where we look forward to meeting co-workers and doing work together. (or at-least not actively hating the work or colleagues.)

In one of my earlier roles, I was handling in excess of 10 brands. It was made possible because clients were kind and considerate (so scope of work never was in doubt and we worked on actual problems, not manufactured ones. This was made possible by senior management setting the right expectations.), servicing team was smart and earnest (so I could delegate some amount of strategy work with them. This was possible because they were driven to grow in their career by the management.) and creative teams actually trusted me with my briefs and feedback (so we interacted more and more fruitfully. The agency had a culture of respecting the planner’s role. So when I entered the role, I did my best to preserve that expectation too.). The owner of the agency was instrumental in inspiring a hunger for success. He was a hard taskmaster but was generous too. All of these things allowed me to form a coherent routine.

I would start my day by writing for an half an hour – often this blog, or notes on a strategy project or a brief. This habit of writing everyday would intellectually stimulate me. Due to this, I would enter any new project with a charged up mind.

The second habit was to clarify the brief during the meeting itself. I was lucky to get some good clients who would engage in a dialogue and not misunderstand the questions with ego. Often, a well articulated problem statement is enough to kickstart great creative work. I would try to get that agreed upon during the first meeting itself.
The third habit was to write my brief as soon as I got back to office from the meeting, often on the way to office itself. I was usually excited by the brief, would have a few hypothesis already in my mind. Writing thoughts down helps find out errors in thinking. It helps build a coherent logic. So my argument/ ppt and briefs would be done on the day of meeting with clients itself.

Fourth habit was getting my brief vetted with the Chief creative officer. Thankfully, it was an excellent partnership where conversations led to interesting possibilities and ideation.

So essentially, good people enabled me to form good routine and consequently we did some great work together.

On the other hand, if there is no routine – chaos ensues. Chaos ensues because people don’t feel that they are in control. And that is a function of how badly the leadership runs the organisation.
At another place, we were forever fire-fighting – either imagined or real. Often because senior management had not set right expectations with clients or right processes internally. The work is forever delegated and junior-most person does all the work. this approach is bound to fuck up. A place where senior people do not deign to even write down their thoughts in an email or put together a slide or even think of an idea is bound to fail. The place was stratified – those who work as underclass, those who brow-beat (manage) the underclass during meetings/ email/ phone call as the ruling class. This kind of stratification cannot possibly lead to respect for work and hence creation of good work.

People would turn up late at work, because they were dreading what was going to hit them. So even a slow day would not bring a break, it only meant limbo.

There was a deep mistrust among people and leaders didn’t do much to change that. No one was celebrated, but blame was distributed handsomely. So people were busy avoiding blame, not chasing possibilities.

Which meant, I couldn’t depend on servicing team for basic things like competitive analysis, creative teams to listen to my briefs in good faith or have an honest conversation, leadership team to solve issues and not blame in return instead.

So we couldn’t plan our work well enough. Which meant no possible routine to build.

Without a drive to win, we kept on dragging. Projects took needlessly long time to get completed. There were numerous meetings that only served to break the flow and waste time. The agency was forever on backfoot.

The agency is on a downward spiral. The organisational structure ensures it. It is not led by owners but by ageing bureaucrats. They are whiling their time until they hit retirement. They hide behind hierarchies. They are jaded and can’t will themselves to learn new things. Which is not to say that they don’t know the buzzwords though. They throw meetings and new hires at new problems, instead of pausing, thinking and honestly changing something about the way they work. They have no thesis for their future. They are hurtling blindly into future and they won’t let the young unfetter their vision. They are doomed.

People are not idiots. They sense this. They call it bad energy. They call it a dump. The sincere most among them try to patch things over, work hard. The cynical merely enjoy the chaos. Neither can form a routine. Neither can work meaningfully.

Slow down to break the stride of bullshit surfers

Surfing Notions

Is candy no longer an impulse purchase?
Is the world still on the ‘liberal progressive’ journey?
Will Amazon/ Facebook ‘surely’ cede control to regulators?
Will they fight misinformation honestly?

From the trivial to the profound, I find myself in the midst of rushed debates where beautiful questions are raised and then summarily decapitated with bland certainties informed with nothing but an overactive ego propped up by a scrap of a half-baked notion. People in power build straw arguments on the back of one ill-informed notion after another.

Surely, candies are not impulse anymore because people are asking for leader brand by name. ergo….
Surely, people of the world still want freedom, liberty, equality. (they better be. my whole worldview depends on it. if they don’t, who am I? what would I do with my fractured beliefs?)
Also, How else to justify the progressive brand shtick? Also, how else to win at gold tinged bubbles named Cannes/ Effies?
Surely, the big tech will cede control. (I don’t even want to imagine the alternative. The owners are heroes, someone that I could have been. I can’t imagine them as villains or worse as simple humans capable of pettiness, narcissism or greed.)

Meaning drowned under the deluge of notions

Questions are such beautiful things. They are an invitation to explore, to understand, to meditate. They tease us to dig deeper, to dive in the richer complexity of the world.

Instead, questions are increasingly treated as simply the setup for a punchline.

This is a profound shift. It is the curse of the information age. The deluge of information is so profound that we can survive only by surfing it, not diving in it. The victim of this is meaning. meaning doesn’t matter anymore. what matters is appearance of meaning.

Information theory X Modern day management

Successful Managers embody this. They confidently keep spouting intelligent sounding bullshit that they can get away with. In Trumpian times, the secret of success is to overwhelm the others with bullshit, the constant stream of bullshit rendering the logic / truth seeker impotent. It is the DDOS attack on consciousness. Overwhelm, confuse, slash and burn.

Bullshit is always faster than truth. Truth emerges only slowly, deliberately. Bullshit is not taxed with effort or intelligence. all it requires is confidence and ability to surf over one straw-man argument/ logic/ fact to next.

Slowing down

As the responsible one, as the people who actually get shit done, it is important to slow down, to break the stride of the bullshit surfer.

It is important to throw the lasso of reason on the question raised and hold onto it.
Why is Candy no longer an impulse purchase? or did you mean that they are impulse purchases but brand matters? so some kind of mints solve a problem (post-smoking masking) while some don’t? or has there been some fundamental shift in the way human desires are triggered?…
So world is actually much more complex now with the rise of right-wing politics? the David of progressive politics versus the Goliath of racism/sexism/…ism is the right narrative to build? So the statement is a political wish, not a fact?
So why would the big tech cede control? is it in their interest? has there been any historical precedent of people ceding control willingly? what forces have been successful in ensuring that powerful cede control to the less powerful?

If we are persistent enough (and polite enough) with our questions, maybe we can unearth the real questions to answer.

As a planner, it means to physically slow down the meetings, hold clients longer until sensible questions and answers emerge.

As a planner that means to say no to unimportant projects that keep you needlessly busy. Need to free up that RAM.

It means to point out bullshit from where ever it might be emanating from – senior management/ clients/ fellow planners/ creatives… and politely help them arrive at a sensible goal to chase.