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Read the brief in the client's mind: Balki at The Block

By , agencyfaqs! | In | May 31, 2004
R Balakrishnan, executive creative director, Lowe, is of the opinion that sometimes, the best briefs lie hidden in stray thoughts and concerns that clients express


A favourite grouse among many creative people in ad agencies is the inability to get clear, well-articulated client briefs that can set them in the right direction. It's a genuine problem, no doubt, and one that Balki (R Balakrishnan, executive creative director, Lowe) agrees is hugely responsible for the dearth of good ads in Indian advertising. However, rather than lament the absence of good briefs, Balki urges creatives to seek out the right brief for themselves.

Addressing young creative professionals at the sixth session of The Block - the AAAI's 10-stage creative workshop - that was held in Mumbai on May 28, Balki said, "The paucity of good ads has nothing to do with the quality of creative minds India has, but with the kind of briefs we get. But the trick lies in reading the right brief - not on a piece of paper, but in the mind of the man who is putting his money behind the advertising."

Balki's reasoning is that not all briefs can be written, and sometimes, the best briefs lie hidden in stray thoughts and concerns that clients express. Which is why he believes that it is critical for creatives to go out and meet their clients. "The client is the one who is spending the money, so he knows what he wants from his advertising. Talk to him to see what his real problem is. It is for you to find out what the client expects from you, as you have to ultimately deliver a solution." Balki added that advertising is not something that can be taught through a secret formula. "Advertising is a series of accidents, and we have to try and make sure that the right accidents happen instead of the wrong ones," he said.

Elaborating on the theme of 'reading the right brief', Balki cited a handful of instances from Lowe's recent advertising to make his point. Using Fair & Lovely as an example, he pointed out that writing a brief for the brand is far from easy. "FAL is a dream brand, so how do you communicate to people about a dream?" he asked. He then went on to explain how two years ago, the brand's advertising was faced with a unique problem. "FAL advertising was all about boy-meets-girl, boy-rejects-girl, girl-uses-FAL… The problem was that the competition was also doing the boy-rejects-girl routine. So the client told us that our job was to make FAL 'look bigger' than the competition. Now how do you do that when the brand is a closet brand? If FAL had to be bigger than the rest, it had to solve a problem that, for a girl, was bigger than unfulfilled romance."

What followed was the much-criticized 'air hostess' film that dwelt on parents' desire to have male children to turn to for support. "Parents wanting a son is a big problem for girls in this country, and the commercial faced the truth by addressing the problem," Balki defends the ad. However, the commercial ran into trouble, with a spectrum of rights groups and intellectuals terming the communication regressive. "The ad worked, but we had an opinion problem, so the next thought we got from the client was to create advertising that did not show a woman suffering because she was dark," he says. "So we said, let's do the next truth - an ad that shows people leading perfectly normal lives without FAL. However, we say that with FAL, you can be happier in your new-found confidence." The result was the 'cricket commentator' commercial. "How do you write a brief for that film which is about a dream and a transformation? We fixed a lot of things with that commercial," Balki says, although he still believes the 'air hostess' ad was "closer to the truth, and distinctive".

Speaking about the 'Hoodibaba' thought for Bajaj Caliber, Balki is of the opinion that the idea is a good example of the process of creative ideation. "Here we had a bike that was about 'great mileage' and 'great power', and the account guy kept insisting we couldn't sacrifice one for the other," Balki explained. "Somewhere in the conversation, he also mentioned that although the bike was about 'great mileage' and 'great power', nobody is interested in the specific figures we quote for the two. From there we arrived at an expression of excitement and exuberance that stood for a 'wow' bike - Hoodibaba. But no one knew what to do with the line till somebody said that it could be an expression of a son worshipping his dad as an everyday hero - the Hoodibaba dad. Hoodibaba doesn't fall into any classical definition of good advertising, but people loved it nonetheless. While advertising comes out of discipline and method, sometimes you get ideas by breaking the rules."

Balki also gave the example of the new television campaign for Parker, while elucidating his point about listening to the client. "The client told us that his problem was that air travelers who traveled by business class were extremely conscious of the clothes they wore and their other accessories, but were toting cheap pens," he said. "The fact that business class travelers were not viewing their pens as 'status accessories' rankled the client. This is not something that would have come out in a brief, but once the client told us his problem, we created a campaign featuring a sarcastic Amitabh Bachchan making fun of business class travelers for not owning Parkers." Among the other examples that Balki cited were ads for Vim, Pepsodent 'Dishoom-dishoom', Pepsodent Flexipic toothbrush, Surf Excel Quick Wash, DSP ('Happy endings'), Camlin Exam Pencil, VIP Luggage ('Bye-bye') and Saint-Gobain.

Lingering on the client brief, Balki argued against the concept of a short, one-page brief. "I don't think a brief has to be short - a brief has to be understood, that's all," he feels. "I am not one who says give me a brief on a Post-it note. Imagine going to a doctor who tells you to tell him your problem in a three-word brief. The client comes to you because he wants a problem solved, so he will say everything that he thinks you should know to get the picture. They will spout, and you have to listen, but the important thing is you have to filter information that is relevant to you. Advertising is all about solving problems, so learn to listen and read your client's mind."

Balki also spent considerable time egging young creatives to take on the challenge of working on big brands. "Big brands require big solutions, but talented young people shy away from big brands, which is a problem. Indian advertising needs solutions on big brands, and it is the youngsters who can bring freshness and out-of-the-box thinking into big brands. The problem is that if youngsters don't come forward, these brands have to fall back on old minds, which is not the best thing for these brands. Please be greedy to work on big brands. Otherwise, you'll be limited to doing one-offs and promo-driven advertising," he implored.

Acknowledging the need that young creatives might have for winning awards, Balki addressed the reservation that big brands don't allow creatives to do showcase work. "Big brands allow you to do good work and win awards," he insisted, using the award-winning work for Hutch, Coke, Pepsi, Asian Paints, Bajaj, Fevicol and Cadbury to illustrate his point. "Yes, the game on big brands is different, but you have to get in and do it on big brands, because that is where the real joy of winning lies." Balki also defended big clients by arguing that big advertisers always buy the right advertising - "although it may not be your idea of great advertising". © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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