Ashwini Gangal

afaqs! Throwback: "Lowe has a bit of well-earned arrogance": R Balki

R Balki has decided to move on from Lowe and advertising. A look at our 2013 interview with the former creative supremo and group chairman of MullenLowe Lintas Group.

It's been over a decade since Lowe Lintas & Partners India participated in a creative awards show outside the Effies and other such effectiveness-based competitions. Earlier this year, when controversy was swirling around Goafest, afaqs! decided to interview R Balki about his agency's longstanding absence at the Abby Awards.

However, we caught the chairman and chief creative officer just days before the fourth edition of Lowe's own internal awards show, 'The True Show', an event where the agency will appreciate its own work and also reward what it believes is the best of the industry.


Edited Excerpts

It's nice to celebrate work that you're proud of, but isn't something missing? What about third party approval, competing with peers and industry bodies deciding the best work? This is like you giving yourself a pat on the back...

It is! We don't recognise any third party. We're here to outdo ourselves. Lowe has a bit of well-earned arrogance, a bit of which we like to exhibit every now and then. These awards are an excuse to do that. They're also an excuse to party.

If you don't know your best work, I don't think, you can have a third party tell you what your best work is. For us, we are the harshest critics of ourselves. If we can decide something is good or bad then it doesn't matter what other people think or don't think about us. We're better judges of our work than anyone else can ever be. If you don't know how to judge your own work, you're a very bad creative person. We don't do things by the rules of juries or by what juries believe is the definition of creativity. Over the years, this whole process of chasing metals has become a business.

These industry award shows are like games. We don't want to play the game. It's the most stupid game where you pay money to play and the trophy is not worth a penny. How can you judge an ad without knowing the problem it was trying to solve? If I'm trying to solve a problem that press has no role to play in and I do a press ad, the jury must disqualify it for using an incorrect medium; but it will reward me for it. That's rubbish. That's not the way to judge advertising.

But isn't that for the jury to decide? After all, they're there because they're believed to have the credibility to pick the best work...

First of all, I dispute that juries have credibility; all juries don't have credibility. Suppose there are 25 people on the jury. Of these, if I don't want to recruit a majority of them in my agency then how do they have the credibility to judge my work? And we, ourselves, are not the only people who're acknowledging our own work. There are millions of consumers out there who do so, because ours is very popular work - the kind of work that has changed the fortunes of brands. This work doesn't require the acknowledgement of 20 people on a jury.

The positioning we have for our agency brand is, 'We don't give a damn about awards'. We waste less time and save a lot of money because of this stance.

Sure, but at the end of the day, winning an award is rewarding for not just the agency but also the client...

Those are all outdated phenomena. No client is happy winning any of these awards anymore because most clients also understand that it has nothing to do with the brand performance or how good the piece of work is. Clients have also understood how agencies win these awards. The disdain that clients have for these awards is also obvious. Clients have become wiser far faster than agencies.

The client is not waiting for 20 people to acknowledge that piece of work before he puts it on air. He is buying your judgment. So your own judgment on your work is the most important thing. I'm the first guy to say the industry needs a credible awards show. Instead of safeguarding the trash we already have, we need to formulate an awards show that tells the world: 'If something wins here, it is truly great work'.

So what would this credible awards show be like?

It would not have a 'pay per entry' system. I'd say, 'Let's collect pieces of work, by asking people to define the problem that work was meant to solve'. And I'd say, 'Please don't make this a money-making racket'. Rather I'd encourage agencies to donate a certain amount to the organisers, per month. The jury could be seven clients who produce fantastic work on their brands. That's why the Effies are more credible than Abbies; there are a lot more clients on the jury.

Ok, clients aside, what about young CDs? Awards on their CVs help propel their careers...

Nonsense! That used to be the case 10 years back, when people were fools. Work propels careers. We're not dumb enough to hire someone if we don't like the work and the work has won an Abby.

Also read our 2013 Cover Story around Balki and this brand of creative leadership here.

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