Mohammed Khan flags off AAAI's The Block in characteristic style

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 29, 2004
The Triple A's multi-tiered creative workshop commenced with veteran adman Mohammed Khan conducting the opening session late last week

The Block - the multi-tiered creative workshop being organized by the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) through the months of March, April, May and July this year - got off to a start on Saturday, March 27, with veteran adman Mohammed Khan (chairman, Enterprise Nexus) conducting the opening session of the 10-stage workshop. Over the coming four months, the workshop, which is targeted primarily at creatives in agencies, will include sessions by senior creative professionals such as Piyush Pandey, R Balakrishnan (Balki), Prasoon Joshi, Prasoon Pandey, Alok Nanda, Deepa Kakkar, Sumantra Ghosal, Preeti Vyas Giannetti, and Namita Roy Ghose and Subir Chatterjee.

Setting the pace for the three-hour session, Khan started off by telling the gathering of young minds that good advertising doesn't happen by accident. "You need an environment that makes good advertising possible, so you have to create an environment where everyone believes in the creative product," he said. Khan also touched upon the need for creatives to shed their egos, as the ego is the biggest obstacle in the way of great work. Arguing that creativity is not a prerogative of creatives alone, Khan said, "Anyone can come up with a good idea, so it is important for you not to let your ego hinder good work from happening." Commenting upon how there are "just these three-and-a-half truths about how advertising is produced", and how these get "repackaged over and over again", Khan then revealed that he would rather dwell on some of his learnings from his long and illustrious career.

Extract the right brief, is his first piece of advice to creatives. "Getting the right brief is like milking a stone," he said, much to the joy of those gathered. He argued that good briefs are those based on common insights, but added that common insights, because they are so obvious, are also hard to find. Citing the example of a couple of Nike ads (including 'You don't win silver, you lose gold'), the Reebok commercial ('sofa'), Smirnoff ('bottle') and Axe ('train'), Khan demonstrated how each ad was based on a common insight. "The insight in the Axe ad is that it is every man's dream that the woman will make the first move," he pointed out.

The brief also figured in the second point Khan made. "Is the brief sharply focused, and does it have a single-minded proposition?" he asked. Making merry of briefs with 'single-minded propositions', Enterprise's honcho joked, "When you ask what is the one thing you want the advertising to say, the answer starts with: 'Point number one…'" He also urged creatives to insist on the one-page-brief. "The one-page brief is great because it forces one to focus and make choices about what to say in the advertising. So junk anything that doesn't come on one single sheet." He added that the temptation to say 'one more thing' in the advertising is natural, and that there would be pressure on creative. "But resist it," he insists. Khan gave the examples of ads for Wonderbra, Guinness, Fox Sports ('nail gun' and 'boat') and our own Hutch to show how single-minded propositions work in advertising.

Don't go it alone, was one of Khan's warnings. "There is a tendency in this industry to do everything individually, but this business is designed for teamwork," he said. "You cannot be expected to know everything, and advertising demands expert knowledge from so many different people." Khan is clear that if the advertising one creates has to be the best, one has to get the best out of everybody. "My reputation is built on the genius of a hundred other people," he said, citing the example of the famous Charms campaign that shot Enterprise into fame overnight. "The best things in that campaign happened spontaneously, because the photographer was given a free hand," he says. "Tell people what you want from them, but let them figure out how to do it best." Khan also spoke about the Times of India films to make his point. "The agency had stray ideas about what to do… no script," he says, with amazing candour. "Much of the Times of India films came from Prasoon (Pandey), and a lot goes to the genius of Chetan (Shashital). It is a great example of teamwork. Khan is also adamant that one can't do great work with second-rate people. "If you want to achieve excellence, go for the best talent."

Facts pertaining to the product being advertised, Khan believes, are extremely important. "Soak in the facts," he said, adding that great advertising is usually based on facts. "The famous Rolls-Royce ad ('ticking clock') couldn't have happened by sitting in the office. Similarly, to create the Volkswagen ad ('To close the door, open the window') someone must have sat in a Volkswagen. We are becoming a lazy industry… we have to take the trouble to learn the facts." The bearded professional also strongly advocated benchmarking and setting of standards. "How do you know whether what you have done is good? Always benchmark your work against world advertising in that category, and see how you stack up. Aim high."

Khan also egged those gathered to keep things simple, as simplicity helps in getting the message across faster. He drew attention to the ads for Durex ('Father's Day'), and the films for Womankind ('abuse') and the Toyota Celica ('Looks fast') as good instances of simplicity in advertising. Likeability of ads is also something Khan touched upon. "The objective should not be to make a 20-second commercial - it should be to make a likeable ad," he said. "One of the great qualities of likeable ads is that they build a relationship between the brand and the consumer. Hutch is a very likeable ad." The ads for PlayStation, Wonderbra, Disney ('glass shoe'), Axe and Stella Artois ('doctor') are also likeable in Khan's opinion.

Khan took the opportunity to attack what he calls "the two epidemics" that have hit the business in the last few years - computers and Cannes. "They are both destroying the way people approach work," he growls. Likening working on the computer to the elephant and the blind men, Khan said, "The art director looks at ads in bits and pieces. What makes a great layout is perfect proportions, and the computer prevents that. No one knows what they have designed till the final printout is taken, and by then the work is done." Khan added that the standards of work have fallen internationally because of the computer. "The computer is a great tool, but it can't substitute for brains. Let the computer be your slave," he implored.

Cannes came in for criticism on two counts - promoting scam advertising, and ignoring long-copy ads. "Come November, people grow halos and start doing public service advertising, all for the sake of doing a good ad. The client is the one who pays your salary - do a good ad for him. If you can't do one good ad for him, what are you good for?" Khan also attacked the Cannes habit of awarding Lions to visual-led advertising. "A picture is worth a thousand words, yes, but even good copy sells. Cannes has set a bad example for the industry through the kind of work they have awarded year on year on year. Cannes has killed copy," he bemoans.

Khan also stressed upon the need to pay attention to execution ("Idea and execution are two sides of the same coin - you cannot have one without the other."), both in print and television. Specific to television, he added that "It's not the scripts you write but the scripts you make," that determine the success of a commercial. "From the time you write a script to the time it comes out in film, so many things can go wrong. You have to nurture the script." Citing the AirTel film ('Express yourself') he said, "This could have been a very ordinary film, but the execution is what makes it so fresh." The films for Honda ('cog'), Xbox ('Life is short') and Johnnie Walker ('first step') are also recent examples of great execution in Khan's book. "These are not scripts you write," he opined.

In conclusion, Khan asks creatives to answer three posers every time an ad is made. "Ask yourself, 'Do I want to see this film a hundred times?' That is the true test of likeability. Then ask yourself, 'What is wrong with it?' Don't look at things only from the right end of the telescope. There's a lot of crap on TV that has everything that needs to be said, but it's still not good enough. And finally, does your advertising make people ask for more?" Using Times of India, Fevicol, Hutch and Nike as examples, Khan made his point. "You have to raise people's expectations through your advertising, so that people wonder what will come next. At the same time, people shouldn't be able to predict your advertising. Advertising has a propensity to surprise, so keep that surprise intact." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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