Bang On!

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 17, 2014
There have been cries that creative advertising in print is declining. What exactly does being creative mean? A look at the changing role of print advertising in India.

These days, you may not see as much creative copy in print as you may would have liked to. This is despite the fact that print continues to dominate the art school, portfolio-based hiring and pitch arenas.

Anil Jayaraj

Karan Kumar

So, is the work getting relegated down the agency food chain? Yes. Is that bad news for print? No.

India is one of the few countries in which the print industry is growing - and growing well at 10 per cent. According to TAM AdEx, total print advertising volumes (measured in column cm) grew by 6 per cent in 2013. And the growth story of regional papers could take up an entire article.

According to the FICCI-KPMG 2014 Report, estimated figures for TV and print advertising for 2014 are Rs. 15,200 crore and Rs. 17,900 crore respectively. Why, then, is there an apparent lack of enthusiasm in agencies towards print advertising?

One school of thought mourns the death of print as a medium used by creative guns to show off their craft. Reminiscing the times agencies like Trikaya and Enterprise built brands on the back of print, KV Sridhar (Pops), chief creative officer, Leo Burnett, Indian subcontinent, says, "Print today is a neglected child. Most ads are one-off, opportunistic - around women's day or diabetics' day. Rarely do you see good, thematic print advertising. Advertisers use print as a transactional, sales medium. The copy no longer makes readers laugh or cry."

For Pops, the heydays of print ended 22 years ago, before the satellite boom. That was the time when print was the lead medium, through which agencies built both, equity for their brands and reputation for themselves.

Shubhodip Pal

Manish Bhatt

To the other school of thought, however, this change is hardly the worst thing in the world. They accept that the audio-visual medium (TV and digital) is more glamorous and that if cracked, helps put a struggling creative director (CD) on the map. "If," says the planning head of a leading creative agency, "today, a CD wishes to specialise in print over other media, he may be considered either old school or a rebel. Print is not what it was in Mohammed Khan's time. But that is fine because it has a totally different role to play today."

Role. That's the operative word here. There is no denying that print has evolved. How? And why?

Craft to catalogue

Today, brands tend to use print more as a tactical platform to communicate promotional offers and discounts, than as a medium for brand building or storytelling. Some term it 'the derivative medium', as the content is often derived from the brand's TV ads. And TV, in turn, is the medium most likely to be used for relationship building and consumer engagement. Digital is even more sharply focused.

Of the total print advertising, transactional - which includes sales, discount, promos, offers, contest-led - advertising has a share of around 21 per cent. That apart, much of the remaining advertising is pretty straightforward with product-related messaging.

As Mandir Tendolkar, vice president, communication, Lokmat, puts it, the objective of a print ad has shifted from "image building" to doing what's necessary to cater to a "consumption audience." Niedhie Verma, head, digital marketing, Amar Ujala, chooses different words that mean the same. "The print communication thrust," she says, "has moved from brand building to the 'last line of communication'." And price trumps product benefits as a differentiator. "Hence a lot of price and discount-related ads get into the pages of a newspaper," says Tendolkar, adding, "Earlier print was chosen as a product launch medium but not anymore."

While last year, the categories that advertised heavily in print included services, education, auto, banking, finance and investment and retail (in that order), experts say segments such as real estate, fashion, cosmetics, luxury, travel, durables and retail will leverage print in the days ahead, as will local brands that benefit from geo-specific advertising. "Print today plays a big role for products with a what-you-see-is-what-you-actually-wear or use kind of offering," says Manish Bhatt, founder-director, Scarecrow Communications.

Experts point out that FMCG has made a "comeback" in print in the recent past. Nitin Chaudhry, business head, Hindustan Times, Mumbai, says, "Over the past few years, FMCG advertising has been weaning off print, year-on-year. But over the past year we have seen a reverse trend - FMCG print advertising has grown by 100 per cent for us."

Other segments likely to follow suit are mutual funds, finance, durables and automobiles. Counter intuitively enough, in general, at a cost per contact level, television is cheaper than print. But for categories such as these, that target very specific sections of the population, TV often does not work out to be cost effective, because there is a lot of media wastage.

Manas Mishra, EVP and national strategy director, Vizeum, a media agency, explains, "Television is a wider medium. Print, to begin with, is for the literate and is again split into language, and then into geographies. So for certain categories, the effective cost per contact works out lower through print." There are other differences too. "Print," says A J Christopher, national head, marketing, Eenadu, "is a more 'serious' medium, while TV is an informal medium. With categories like banking, finance, real estate and automobiles, a lot of analysis goes into the purchasing process. So print becomes the primary medium. TV is more of an 'experience medium'."

Lead generation

Speaking of comebacks, Anil Jayaraj, chief marketing officer, Pidilite Industries, tells us, print has begun making an interesting comeback for his brands Fevicol and Dr. Fixit, over the past year, in select SCRs (socio-cultural regions) and geographies such as parts of Gujarat and Kerala. It is more direct. "For example, our print ads for Dr. Fixit promote a helpline that people can call for water proofing problems - this helps generate business," he shares, before selecting the phrase "invoke instant call to action" as the best way to explain the meaning of "generate leads", which is pretty much the objective of most print ads that scream 'sales' and 'store launch'.

Elvis Sequeira

Nitin Chaudhry

For some, print has become a platform for information dissemination above all else. For Shubhodip Pal, chief marketing officer, Micromax, print is a platform on which he can "talk technology" something, he insists, is very difficult to do in 30 or 45 seconds without overloading the viewer.

"You can create imagery and build a brand on television but every medium has a role to play and we use print to convey a lot of our product specifications," he says. Some advertisers, though, cram all the post-television, 'residual information' or "nuts and bolts", as the founder of a creative boutique terms it, into their print spots. Is Pal guilty of this? "Cram," he says, "is a negative word. Print is not just another brochure. Our real challenge is making all the tech jargon consumer-friendly."

For others, like Karan Kumar, general manager, marketing, lifestyle retailing business division, ITC, print has become more exacting and powerful than it was in the past. "Yes, seasonal, discount-led communication is on the rise in print, but does that mean strategic work is not being done?" The answer, according to him, is No. For the fashion and lifestyle categories in particular, Kumar insists, print work does have a "strategic language" that rides on evocative imagery and aesthetic visuals - the very stuff Pops swears has disappeared from newspaper ads. "Sure, for white goods (like televisions, refrigerators and washing machines) and packaged foods (like chips, biscuits and aerated beverages) print lends itself to a lot of rational, attribute-led selling," admits Kumar, embracing the shift of brand personality-led work to TV.

Joint effort

Another growing trend is the way newspaper brands are increasingly co-creating print work along with agencies. Of late, several newspaper brands have upped their level of contribution to the final creative. Previously, these media owners offered agencies language support when needed, but now, they lend design support to the advertiser's creative agency in equal measure. Many newspapers even have special in-house teams for this purpose, called 'ideas team' or 'innovations team'.

Shailesh Amonkar, chief marketing officer, Sakal Papers, says that this trend has grown over the past 15-18 months. "Newspapers have started adding value to the creative agency's work by recommending innovations, suggesting ideas that the agency can base subsequent ads on and tweaking the language to better suit reader sensibilities. It's a joint effort," he says.

Some creative folk aren't too happy with this new avatar. "Today, print work is evaluated like outdoor - do you get it in 10 seconds or not?" frowns the strategy head of an agency. Elvis Sequeira traces the trend back to the client brief. "The print brief is not dead," says the executive director of Hakuhodo Percept, "It has arisen in a new horrifying avatar which goes - 'Put the product picture here, logo there and the headline in this colour. Ask your guys to write something catchy and... can we see it tomorrow?"

Print may not lend itself to consumer participation in the same way as digital can, but if agencies apply their minds to it great things are possible. And not only if the ad is backed by technology or has a QR code or layered app. Consider art and stationery brand Kokuyo Camlin's recent Join The Dots print ad (created by Infectious) that got thousands of kids to actually sit down, connect dots and fill colour into an ad that their parents later uploaded on the brand's Facebook page.

Perhaps agencies and brands just need to look at print differently, in the wake of the new role it plays today. Can a young CD get 'discovered' in the agency system on the basis of her print work? Our feeling is that the answer may not be a discouraging one.

A Note From the Editor

Sometimes, it is easy to miss the obvious. We've seen for years now that most of the really creative work for big brands happens on television and very little in print. Television is the lead medium for the bulk of the brands and what we see in print is, often, an adaptation of that message. That explains why print sees far more purportedly creative work from little known brands - also known as scam ads. (It goes without saying that it is also easier to create a fraud ad in print than on TV).

With another award season looming, we decided last month to ask agency folks as well as media whether creative agencies neglect print advertising. Some said yes, it was true that TV was handled by the top creative boss while print was relegated to juniors. Of course some interviewees said that this was not a happy state of affairs but nobody denied that this was not the case.

This raised an obvious question. Fine, creative hotshots prefer the audio visual medium for its impact and ability to propel their careers forward. What about clients? Are they satisfied with the existing attention that print gets from agencies, especially considering that print rivals television on ad spends and is still growing?

It was the search for an answer to this question that led us to this cover story. The role of print has been changing for some time now but seeing it all in one place was interesting all the same.

It is easy to whine about and pine for the great heyday of print, before the satellite boom, when it was the lead advertising medium. The happy truth, however, is that even if TV does take the spotlight, print is as indispensable as ever. No wonder ad spend in the medium continues to grow at about 10 per cent annually.

That's happened because advertisers are playing to its strengths. As the advertised products get more complicated and consumers want to know more about what they are buying, the detailing that print allows is proving priceless. So too is its ability to focus geographically.


(with additional inputs from Devesh Gupta)

To download the PDF version of the article, click here.

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