28.

Love these. While dining with it, feels like being transported to another era.

Amrita Puniani

IMG_9796IMG_9792

Bowl set; Wheel work
2017
Stoneware
5.5 x 2.5 inches

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“Being a force for good to grow”

“Perhaps the loudest alarm is that despite spending $600bn (£454bn) a year on marketing, our collective industries still aren’t growing enough, holding stubbornly on to low single digital market growth,” Marc Pritchard said. “You might say that never have so many done so much for so little.”

Marc Pritchard makes some very important points in this talk about transparency, brand’s voice and partnering with platforms (in effect marginalising agencies). He talks about brands being a ‘force for good’. And I am glad that someone as powerful as him is pushing for more advertising that is good. So many of us in advertising do sexist, classist advertising and then we feign ignorance about advertising’s social impact. So someone pushing for being more conscientious with brand messages is a fellow soldier I want to hi5 with.

But when he said about being a ‘force for good’, initially I didn’t take it as simply the brand stance being progressive. I had a more radical idea in my mind. The problem he talked about was of low growth and what is the most common-sensical thing to do for an FMCG player to grow? Sell to more people!
Who could these ‘more’ people be?
Millions of refugees are braving death and worse to reach safer shores. Surely, if they find safer havens and are given the opportunity, they will stand on their feet soon enough and very well could become loyal consumers of brands that helped them.

So here’s the radical idea in a nutshell –
Grow by Doing good – Helping refugees find save haven and become self-reliant economically.

Western markets are saturated, real growth is practically the sole preserve of  developing economies of Asia and Africa. Whatever growth you see in US/ UK is speculation based – lottery bets on who gets to dominate the world in the future by monopolizing some commons or the other – amazon, apple, FB, google.

Helping refugees seems like the obvious answer to brand’s growth woes. By helping people grow, brands would in effect create a new and growing base of customers.

It would be cheaper than global campaigns – $600 Bn is spent on marketing by brands, he said, for declining growth. “…You might say that never have so many done so much for so little.”
Imagine what could be achieved with even a fraction of those funds if employed in service of humanity.
Imagine being a refugee. Imagine a P&G volunteer helping you with supplies when you reach safer shores. Imagine being helped by brands to set up your home. Would you be more likely to buy P&G products or Unilever products, there after?
Brand contributing to the cause would not be simply creating customers, they would be building possibly lifelong loyal relationships.

So here’s a radical idea Mr. Pritchard, How about companies like P&G and Volkswagen and all the rest of them… how about doing a concerted effort, perhaps by setting up a shared fund among all the global conglomerates to help refugees.  A fund to help the refugees find a home and in turn, create a new middle class that could consume your wares? You have the power to do good and you have lead with example with the empowering messaging. Here’s a stronger way to grow and to lead.

After all, inequality is market growth’s nemesis. No matter how much efficiencies you increase and smarter algorithms you create, if more people get poorer they simply are not going to buy enough for you to sustain your growth.

Helping refugees is the only way to sustainably grow over the long term.

Enamored with ‘simplicity’

Enamored with ‘simplicity’

Simplicity is good. A Simple message is more readily understood, more readily spread. So I am all for the final expression of ideas being simple – the tag line, the copy.. simpler the better, generally.

Even if we look under the hood, the thinking behind the ad, the strategy – simplicity often helps prioritise, helps clarify. The search for simplicity helps us frame our questions better, zero-in on key questions quicker.

However, simplicity has also become an excuse for the ignorant not to learn. Simplicity has become a tool that helps older generation remain in denial. The simplicity mantra has allowed the advertising industry leadership to remain complacent in the face of existential crisis.

Life is not simple. Understanding life is not simple. To arrive at a simple clarity, one typically has to go through fairly complex experiences and a conscious effort to engage with that complexity. Engaging with complexity to unearth meaning is the bedrock of human evolution. We are evolutionary deadwood if we don’t engage with emerging complexities and strive for relevance in the new world.

Here’s a few anecdotes of what I want to convey –

A client wanted to create a ‘platform for X’: a very promising and untapped area. But they had obviously not thought through yet. I thought of Scott Galloway’s insight that lists 10 factors that affect chances of success for a global platform company. The fact is, even this list of 10 factors would be considered over simplification by wiser folks. But it could help us help the client see the obvious areas of improvement in their business plan. Climbing up the value chain for us – from simply brand identity to strategy consultancy.

But unfortunately, the agency leadership did not understand and did not have the time to understand the basics of the new economy. They didn’t want to dabble into things they don’t understand, fair enough. But that means sidestepping a fair amount of opportunities.

Their desire for simplicity meant tremendous opportunity costs.

Second anecdote –
This was a typical NGO project related to changing certain health habits. Creative team jumps onto a morbid ‘shock treatment’ idea. Why not do something like ‘dumb ways to die’? The death part, not the fun happy jingle part. Never mind the context.

Fear works! they pronounce.
I show research saying that it is not very helpful. Some people rally, but a vast majority of TG would perceive it as an attack on their identity and pull up their defenses, strengthening their bad habits. It is a fairly well documented effect – the backfire effect. But sharing the knowledge of backfire effect, backfired. Creatives pulled up their defenses and held their morbid deathly idea even tighter to their bosoms.

They responded by ridiculing the research – there are so many conflicting researches. No point in listening to it. We ‘know’ fear works, they pronounced.

Fear to engage with unknown psychological complexities held them back from doing what could have been amazing work.

I feel that people who analyse ads often put far more thought than the people who make those ads. Because it is their job to deconstruct complexities with the first group. And to simplify and elicit a reaction for the latter group.

How do you learn if you don’t engage with the complex?
We need ruminations over complex matters to achieve the essential simplicity.

The ones who don’t engage their grey cells and their heart with real complexities, won’t find the elegant voice of truth that shapes great creative work.

Stop feeding the parasites

Stop feeding the parasites

I received a curious mail today from Campaign magazine. It was soliciting content. so far so good. I skimmed through it and was delighted. They wanted content and towards the end they had mentioned a huge sum of money, almost half a year’s salary for me. I assumed it must be honorarium for the ones whose content is selected. I was thinking, man, these guys are amazing – can they really afford to give away that kind of money to contributors? Didn’t make sense. Perhaps it is a way of cultivating the best talent?

so I read the whole thing – turns out, they are not giving honorarium, they are ASKING for the sum. In exchange, the contributor gets their photo published in the magazine.

This is some weird shit. All this while I thought their business is in getting free content and distributing it at profit.  (which I find problematic anyways. Why should any labor be free?) But it turns out, their business is about validating the poor insecure idiots in the narcissist industry of advertising, who seek validation for their expertise.

I understand, for many small agencies perhaps, this is a way of getting noticed by the right people. For a down and out senior person, this is a way of getting back in the game. For a low esteem somebody, it is way of feeling secure about their expertise. and I am sure it is of positive utility to somebody somewhere, the use-case for which I can’t think of now. Nevertheless, what a scam!

The mice needs security and the vulture is selling helmets.

Advertising industry is plagued with this insecure-narcissistic game that drains its people of their money, their time and their esteem. The countless awards, the countless publications, the countless events – what good comes of all that masturbation?

Awards

Cannes, One show, Effies – what a fucking waste of money and efforts. It does curate some amazing work, but it is not available freely for all industry folks to learn from, now is it? It is available at a price and not readily usable. The learning, the cases, they are not turned into usable insights, usable learning tools for the young in the industry to learn from, freely. If it is behind paywalls,  it is useless. It is unethical to first charge for entries and then again charge for accessing the end product. Its the most dick move ever. In the age of AI, why can’t knowledge gathering digital dust behind paywalls, be turned into an Open advisory for a world where businesses grow more efficiently and people don’t have to weather terrible ads?
I can see the parallel here with the pharma industry – companies that have recipes of wonder drugs that can cure TB, malaria – but won’t give it out to needy people. Well, the comparison is wrong – atleast pharma companies own their own IP, all that award shows do is massage a few egos. Its the most expensive ‘curatorial’ service ever.

Awards might help build agency credentials. But why does a company need new credentials every year? I mean, I don’t see volkswagen or Mahindra spending as large a proportion of their revenue towards awards, as agencies do. No other industry spends as much money on validation as percentage of its revenue as we do.

Look at Publicis. With a year’s worth of spends on awards, they are planning to build a AI assistant for their employees! (Shitty idea, but one must commend on trying to be relevant) I mean they could start new businesses every year with that kind of money, put it to far better uses than advertising awards.

With Unilever, P&G cutting down their ad spends, agencies will have to further tighten their belts. They better start with the awards, instead of employee raises.

Publications

Which other industry has so many ‘thought leaders’, so many publications and yet doesn’t move an inch ahead in the game of innovating it’s own value proposition?
What do adage, campaign, afaqs, thedrum etc add to the universe’s knowledge? Not much. These publications regurgitate same points of views over and over again. They keep discussing similar trends over and over again without critical analysis (programmatic is the future, maybe it is not. Native is the future, maybe not. Context is king. maybe not. where is the data to support the hypothesis anyways?) Never have I read an actual original point of view about media/ business/ culture/ consumer in these rags. They are mere propaganda vehicles for ad agencies and its career climbers.
Its quite possible that half the ‘views’ and engagement of ‘famous’ campaigns are generated by people in marketing only – readers of these publications. I suspect, the feedback effect is detrimentally strong in advertising. Shiny, smart ideas get propped up even if it might not be effective.

Lastly, I feel the publications normalise the alienating bubble of advertising. By repeating trends that are not actually trending, by idolising campaigns that are not effective, by giving trophies to agency folks…  they are holding back the industry.

Agencies often have fairly smart people. People with ideas. People who can start their own businesses, create things of great value. Instead they get too comfortable by publication powered validations and publication powered point of views. They hold them back in the industry.

Events

Well, I think, advertising people would gain far more if they went to art galleries, tech expos, civic issue seminars, political rallies, academic seminars even etc. There’s marginal utility in going to advertising industry events where you will bump into people exactly like you. (unless you want to network).

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Essentially, stop becoming fodder for these parasitic industries that are growing bigger and bigger as the host industry diminishes. Get a grip on yourself, advertising industry.

Making slavery palatable

Check out this latest ad. Keep in mind that this came out in year 2017. The year of pussy-grabbing Trump, the year of men associated with ruling party harassing girls and then others joining in victim-shaming instead… well just another year where patriarchy tightens its grip on the society and all we can do is impotently outrage at it.

Anyways, coming back to the ad. The way I see it, its a day-in-the-life of a mentally unsound family. The protagonist, the housewife/slave, is a thin gaunt woman who compulsively smiles at her subjugation. Smiling at the absolute disregard with which people treat her. Gulping down insults to her self-worth like they are inevitable pills for an illness that can only be controlled, not cured.

It’s a ‘normal’ uncaring, narcissistic household where the housewife retreats from imagination of people around her and she comes in forefront only to service their needs and desires. She could very well be a slave in 1700s of USA, of Indian caste system of all times, of smuggled adivasi children made to work as maids in Delhi.

It’s all ‘normal’ – true of the world we live in. Most of us know about people around us who live these lives. Some of us recognise this injustice and know the delicate nature of interventions – the futility of arguments, the futility of ‘rescuing’/ ‘making aware’. The strategy of acceptable increments and subtle nudges. Some people might see this ad in that vein, that this ad is bringing to fore what is a hidden but common practice.  But it fails because it reinforces the injustice, it rewards the injustice, it makes no petition to conscience, it makes petition to tokenism.

The ‘identity’ of a ‘great hindu family’ is tied to subjugation of women at its core. There is no ‘tradition’, no ‘culture’, no ‘pride’ if there is no woman in the household to subjugate. The narcissism of the Hindu family is absolute. I imagine, a lot of middle class Indians agreeing, commiserating with the ad – feeling good along with the client, that indeed if they use one less utensil, they are doing a good deed. In their little regressive heads, they think that they are ‘good people’ to sacrifice the comforts of using more dishes. The complete absence of even suggestion of the man contributing to the chore is evidence of their lack of self-awareness. That there can be a world where men also contribute to the household chores. That children are not little inconsiderate assholes. That being elders does not mean being infirm. That individuals can and should take care of themselves.

No – that is an alien, ‘western’ concept, one that is against our Indian culture. It is easier to brush every injustice under the carpet of ‘our culture’, ‘our identity’ and then be smug about it. It is hard to look at ourselves for who we really are – narcissistic assholes who are subjecting vulnerable individuals who depend on us to inhumane subjugation.

In this narcissistic and ‘cultured’ home, the men are useless assholes who think their role in family ends at earning a living. Their career is an investment, the returns on which are paid by the housewife, over and over again, with her labour, her dreams, her identity and her soul. She must extinguish any shred of her identity if she has to be a ‘good wife’. That is our Hindu culture.

It is also our culture to raise our children into pampered dolts who can’t tie their shoe laces or even boil water. I know of men who say that they can’t cook with a certain pride. Apparently, they “simply can’t“. They are completely unable to. They say that they tried but they are handicapped. So essentially it is Indian culture to raise severely challenged and handicapped children who can’t take care of themselves, who can’t think independently. Anybody sound of mind would call on this bullshit – the faux inability is an excuse from responsibility. But it is not our culture to be conscious of the world around. It is our culture to be in denial. 

The ad is wonderfully shot – it brings out the characters really well. I think the director understood the regressive nature of the idea and subversively directed a film that anyone can get revolted with. Kudos to the director. Its the client and the agency who are undoubtedly mistaken in their beliefs. Because they are trying to start a movement of ‘use one less dish’ in the hope of being perceived as a progressive brand. What they are instead making clear is that they are products and proponents of the very patriarchy that their ‘consumers’ – the women – abhor. I worry that women who suffer from patriarchy also subscribe to the same patriarchy for their own identity. They are good wives, mothers etc. And this ad talks to that terrible version of self-worth. The ad just might work – especially in the cow-belt, where a cow is more valuable than a woman. That is the worry – patriarchy winning unashamedly.

This is the India that I do not want to be a part of. Unfortunately also the India that is winning against the argumentative, secular, progressive India. 2017 is a sad sad year of capitulation of modernism against the onslaught of regressive patriarchy.

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If you agree that this ad sucks, please do sign the petition to the advertising standards council to rein in the advertiser. Sign here. (A change.org link).

 

We can do this.

We can do this.

In a smoke-free meeting room, a tin box of crackers goes around with a dozen people munching, masticating, marauding the little round rascals. The biscuit is no good, someone opines. But that doesn’t stop him from dredging a fistful of those from the tin box. The box’s golden underbelly is now visible and that is causing visible disbelief to a few.  They had hoped it to be bottomless. Alas, they don’t make magical ever-full tinboxes of yummy, crunchy biscuits any more.

Is it the biscuit or the clank and clink of the golden box? The eyes in the room are narrowed and the smiles almost reach them. Must be the evening. A good way to leave office – on full happy tummies after hearty bouts and jousts of the brain. The preceding hour had been one of ideas been coaxed out, thrown around – like a beach volleyball. The idea gets tossed from one person to another. The difference being, in this game of volleyball, the ball mutates with every bounce – it changes colour, shape and its feel. The CCO sitting there gets worried from time to time – he is worried the ball will mutate into a lemon. But when the game is on, there is no stopping the mutation. It is a delicate art to stop the game when the ball is a pristine orb of furious energy and shining originality. It is easy for it to end on a sour lemon of an idea, if someone holds on to it too dearly. The chief creative offer then has to coax it out of the biased hands and set to back and forth bounce again.

Like a bunch of bandicoots made to wake up by digging them up at the height of noon, the end of game feels disorienting to many. But the CCO has found the shining beacon of originality and awesomeness. It’s time to make the idea happen.

The chief and the planner walk in, “so what’s the idea?”.

There is a moment of silence as no one is ready to start the new conversation. There is alarm in their eyes – eyes that are also dying to roll at the profusion of what-they-think-is, bullshit that is to follow. They are worried that the chief and planner duo will shoot out darts and puncture the various mutated globes they are holding in their arms so dearly. Most of their ideas would be punctured now. Only one idea will leave the room alive. Most will be killed pretty mercilessly.

The CCO makes an attack. Attack as in the music, not war. A confident start to the symphony that leads to the crescendo of ideas. It starts playfully, with laughter and grand pronunciations, with witty observations segueing into grand visions. Like an experienced conductor, he shores up confidence among his fellow team mates and encourages their ideas to be pronounced in sync with his melody. The rhythm unfortunately is set by a misogynist joke. But people weather it, knowing well that the joke is the support that swells the confidence in the conductor and questioning it now, will derail the symphony. The composition is more like jazz – improved upon as it gets performed.  The planner and the chief, seeing that the ideas are not ‘too bad’ and ‘to the brief’, sing along too. They add bass of reason and strategic perspective to shore up the melody. They envision what the client will react to and steer the idea in a direction that would be better appreciated.

The music changes – now it’s a call and response gig. The planner suggests, the creative team reacts, the chief questions, the team builds upon. The give and take goes on until everyone in the room is confident enough of winning hearts with the idea.

There is palpable excitement in the air. We can do this. Goddamnit we are gold.

If agencies remain married to ‘ads’, agencies are doomed.

Traditional advertising agencies were essentially amoral tongues on rent.  In the pre-digital age, where there was no other way of knowing the truth (or rumours) about products and brands, advertisements was the only major source of opinion/ information (after WOM) about the product’s usefulness/ efficacy/ likeability.
There was a role for advertising in the lives of people. It was global village’s emissary of good times. It was the window to a new lifestyle. It was the helpful aunt who knows solutions to all our problems. And it was all in good cheery humour. Oh, golly-gee. What a wonderful world advertising was building for people. In a media-starved world, people lapped up the shiny world painted by advertising. The modernist utopia was painted by advertising.

Internet broke that world. It made the world transparent. People could verify claims, could complain, could rally fellow consumes into shaming advertisers who were dishonest. Advertising just didn’t ring true any more. At best they were entertaining distractions. At worst they were insidious worry-mongers who amplified the worst aspects of humanity – misogyny, racism, greed…Mostly they were an annoyance best muted or ignored.

From a brand point of view, ads were not efficient anymore in telling consumers anything they didn’t already know or wanted to know. Advertising simply had lost the plot.

Then came Amazon, facebook and google. And boy did they take the life out of advertising. Many agencies are dead, they just don’t know it yet. They see pitches, dwindling margins as symptoms of economy, politics etc. They don’t see the picture. The disease is different. The disease is ‘death of brands’. And with it, traditional agencies.

People do not need ads anymore to inform/ educate/ convince them about anything. thank you very much. They have google, facebook for that. They stream their brand experience (mostly if it is bad) live on facebook. They pummel the brand social media handlers when brands do a faux pas. They’ve got the power and they know it.

People buy ‘products’ on amazon and flipkart now. They don’t care for brands anymore.
With Amazon’s Alexa and Prime, amazon will ‘seamlessly’ relieve the burden of choices and chore shopping for wealthiest of consumers. That means hello private labels and small players, bye bye big CPG brands.

Sure, some people might continue to believe that they must drink redbull and eat tacos and drive audis and exhibit iphones… but the vast majority of non-lifestyle CPG brands, daily use brands – brand on which we spend most frequently. They will see erosion in their ‘brand value’.

Go niche or go big. There is no middle ground anymore for most brands.

What that means for agencies? Forget the age of ‘lines’ and brand ethos. ‘brand with a purpose’ and ‘lifestyle defining brands’ can only be a handful. Most of agency clients are not these brands.

Agencies of the future need to help most brands become more ‘uniquely useful’ to the consumer. Agencies need to be able to create opportunities and harness unexpected opportunities for brands. Here are some interesting brief to work for.

‘How can we ensure that the consumer searches for my brand name and not the category name when buying on amazon?’

“How can we change the amazon prime habit and get the consumer to buy stuff at my store on his way home?”

How can my brand reach consumer better, quicker, more delightfully than amazon/ google can?

and so on.

The point it, days of ‘lines’ and ‘scripts’ are gone. We must be able to solve real business growth problems and be ready to leverage any medium/ expertise/ experience. If agencies remain married to ‘ads’, agencies are doomed.