Sunday 16th February 2020,
Sandeep Mann
Spotlight

Something Amiss

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a leaf from diary of a client services director

A couple of years ago, there used be fun in advertising, there used to be an element of logic to things, and there used to be a sense of professional satisfaction. Advent of the turn of century, and it all began to painfully disappear. Innards scream.

Let us lead your thought into what has begun to happen.

Manpower Flux. We have witnessed rise of numerous nouveau industries or explosion in established industries: telecom, insurance, software, ITES, et al. These have poached other industries for their manpower needs. This has happened at a mind-numbing pace with the single agenda of somehow matching the numbers required. Consequently, we are saddled across such organizations with varied background people: ethnic, functional, educational. The takers of these new job slots in our economy are blessed with an attitude of risk-taking, and an attitude of aggression. Now, though very quick on gut feel and reflexes, they haven’t gone through decades of tempering in exercising their assumed roles. The lack of maturity is patent, the impulse to apply common sense alone is paramount. Whereas client side touch points left virtually all things to the hired advertising agency, this new breed of client side staff meddle in everything. They have a smattering of knowledge of all areas, even of advertising, and they are dominators with huge egos. They are so sure of their own thought, that they end up treating the advertising agency team like nursery kids, prescribing agenda like dominating parents, leaving no freedom.

No More Excellence. Definitely these are times of pressure. The consumer or the buyer is inundated with options, and he doesn’t seem to have time enough to savor the benefits of whatever is bought. Despite increased spendings, you see in restaurant platters full of leftovers, you see costly gizmos lying unused in some corner of the house having been hardly used for a couple of days, you see wardrobes overflowing with a set of garments being worn not more than 5-10 times in a year. The buyer has gone crazy, increased spending powers forcing him to spend left right and centre. Apparently the buyer no longer thinks very hard before committing to a purchase decision, he is spurred on by fanciful liking of one-two attributes in a product. It just doesn’t matter to her whether the buy is good or not, the obsession is with acquisition, not consumption. Years ago, the buyers used to evaluate for longer time and on more number of attributes. This all has prompted many industry marketers into believing everything is selling and the only important step is to be there before the buyer. You need not have fabulous products anymore, you just need to be there and you would be bought. In the same vein, you needn’t bother too much with what your sales pitching message is: any damn slogan would do, any damn advertising layout would do, any damn celebrity model would do. The market dynamics too have reshaped the current thought. If earlier Sony would research for nine months, because things then took time, now with technology it can manage the research in six months. However, wherein it took the Taiwan cloners four months to clone, leaving Sony marketers just four minus months to cash on the major returns, the current Taiwanese have the clone ready in a week. Sony marketers are fazed with the daunting task of managing major returns in merely a week. Where is the incentive to develop multiple attribute product.

Financial Muscle. The scale of operations of the MNC giants is bewilderingly huge. Earlier days the stress was extracting maximal returns from the ad dollar. Efficient usage of funds deployed used to be a concern. Present day marketers are like cobras injecting half a liter of venom where a mere drop used to be adequate. No doubt the multiplicity of channels of advertising has jacked up promotion finance needs. But even then the current ad spendings have astronomical proportions. The drive is to win the market by stunning the fund starved competition. Naturally, massive spendings of this ilk make any average advertising campaign also very visible and larger than life. So no more striving to come up with a legend-in-the-making ad campaign.

Strategic Shift. World over, processes are emerging as the key thing. Strategic thought dictates making people unimportant. There is a growing group of marketers, esp. with large corporates, which thinks that coming out with advertisements rememberable for their creative content is a bad strategy. They argue this puts expectation pressure on subsequent ads, and if they fail to come up to the level, the advertising begins to put the brand in a negative shade. This league of marketers therefore snub all attempts to generate exciting advertisements. They are happy being visible in the market, to hell with differentiation.

Segmentation Cross-overs. No longer can strait-jacket water tight compartments be etched in the market place. It was never like this earlier too, but now the blurring has thickened. It does make very frustrating trying to evolve an ad campaign targeted on a specific segment, the reach costs have jacked up, and buyer apathy makes fine thinking not worthwhile. With sensibilities blunted, nobody seems interested in creating marvel campaigns.

Measurability Issues. Everything is connected. The simpler days of one two television channels, clearly identifiable print top two three players, and our single station radio are no more here. Then it was justifiable coming up with some credible return on investment figures. Now, it has become too complicated. The conviction behind market research is melting, singular traceability of effects like sales, hits, brand recalls to specific media efforts is impossible. Surely, an element of directionlessness has creeped in, you keep on plodding on all media paths, never sure you are on right track or not. Everything seems to matter, this is the only consolation you enjoy, getting a license to liberally appear all across, as if it all were necessary evils. Thus hit and trial is the rampant algorithm.

More Haste, Less Speed. Time has always been a tricky resource, defying human endeavors to rein it in. The stress of times has promoted a paranoia, bulldozing all calm thinking and planning. The turbulent future prevents long look ahead, the deadlines to deliver things are the proverbial ‘yesterday basis’. Goaded by all this, the clients lay down extremely tight and short deadlines for advertising agencies. The window given could be, let us say, ten days for launch of a product. The hard pressed for time agency rigs up a quick patchwork in ten days. However, internal dynamics of the client side, eventually launch the product, let us say, two months later. Ironically, the creative and logic intrinsic to the launch material design is still the developed-over-ten-days one. Later on enhancements on the material are superficial and incremental, not structurally as profound as were possible had a one month window been given. Incremental enhancement and garnishing a fundamentally deficient salad won’t win you the culinary competition.

Mindset Conflicts. Relating to a client’s needs has always been one of the challenges before an ad agency. This has got accentuated with emergence of technology firms as major spenders. Now B 2 B message positionings have traditionally enjoyed a tech wrapping, something with which we authors dissent. But to have a tech style of communicating for B 2 C products too is repulsive. Hard core technology driven firms like Bharti and Hutch were quick learners, veering to a consumer psyche pitching style. The software and hardware giants are however two steps lagging, still insisting on intricate copy-laden jargonistic communications. They understand technology, but not marketing communications. This also has somewhat of hiring politics, the tech guy on the client side would bring in a non-assertive marketing agency.

Conclusion. The eventual dissonance is that with best of salaries and best of work environments, the most financially endowed firms aren’t able to manage appropriately superior marketing and its communications. Job satisfaction on the ad agency side has to be kaput since there is pervasion of intellectual shallowness. Fictitious timelines need to be sorted out. Winning wars needs a different mindset than just winning quick battles. Whatever pretensions, the global corporate leaders in India have succumbed to the mediocrity of Bollywood, not acknowledging that even in these times of churning and flux, Hollywood still prolifically manufactures quality output, more or less. Solution has to be found in nurturing the deeper insights giving qualitative research than drumming the mountainous quantitative one. No doubt real time solutions are needed, the relaxed in-depth approach worked in yore, but the pressing need is what works now has to be discovered. We believe size alone has never been a successful entry barrier in retaining/furthering firm’s competitive advantages. The any-other-advt would have been as effective, the subservience of logic behind a communication plan to frivolities of ham-handed untrained inexperienced marketing decision takers, the pyramid of human resource having grossly less talented people at base taking key operational decisions while top shot stay insulated in their strategic contrivances, all this has to go. Dynamics change, but those with character do not cower, they forge newer pathways.

Authors: Sandeep Mann & Gaurav Sood.

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