Abhishek Chanda

<font color="#ff0000">Special: </font>Thinking Out of the Box

Agencies love to talk about the 360 degree integrated campaign. Why is it, then, that when they dream of advertising, it is only about the TV commercial?

Nothing makes the point of this story better than the most discussed campaign of recent times, the Zoozoos campaign for Vodafone. Ogilvy India released 25 TV commercials during the five and a half weeks of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in April and May this year and swept the nation off its feet. However, when the campaign went to other media, the creative was a pale reflection of what we saw on TV. Did it have to be this way?

Ogilvy could argue that Zoozoos could only have worked on TV. Probably. It is a familiar story nevertheless. For all the proliferation of other media, somehow the big idea seems to be not a media-neutral one but a TV-centric one.

You could ask: How does it matter if the idea is great?

The right questions to ask are: Is it true that other media are being starved of the best minds and resources because creative hotshots in Indian advertising dream and work only in the language of television? Are they self-perpetuating the superiority of TV because they leave the other media for their juniors to handle? And finally: Do creatives unconsciously push TV because their own careers depend on it?

Don't look further

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There are two aspects to understanding the situation. One is the economic or business aspect of why TV is preferred. The other is the human roles and interests of the people involved in the creative and media processes.

Thanks to competition, TV in India offers an amazing variety of news and entertainment for a relatively small sum of money. This explains why cable and satellite households continue to grow rapidly (34.6 million at present). As Anisha Motwani, executive vice president, marketing and chief marketing officer, new markets SBU, Max New York Life, says bluntly, "If I can get national reach by investing in, say, three general entertainment channels and spread the message, why would I invest money in 15 newspapers?"

In marketing terms, a typical brand funnel would mean a journey from awareness to familiarity to consideration to first choice to purchase to repeat purchase or loyalty. According to Motwani, TV works best for the first two stages. Little wonder then that it is increasingly preferred as a brand building tool over print, which is now used tactically in many of the big-spending categories.

R Gowthaman, leader, Mindshare South Asia, says, "TV is critical for most brands as they are in a category building mode and in such a mode, the medium serves as a demonstrator. It helps to show a cause and effect relationship much better than any other medium."

As Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer, Future Brands and a former agency man, says, "Going by the need of the market, TV is the medium of choice. The creative person just exaggerates this skew towards TV all the more by swearing by the medium."

Is 360 degree solution a myth?

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Touted by many in the business and dismissed by others as the 'last slide' in a client presentation, the 360 degree solution is taking quite a battering, both in terms of client monies and creative involvement. Says a candid KV Sridhar aka Pops, national creative director, Leo Burnett, "Because the client spends crores on TV and maybe a few lakh on other media, I have to be more involved with TV."

Since TV is often the lead medium, the role of other media in brand building has been sharply reduced. Satbir Singh, chief creative officer, Euro RSCG, says, "Print isn't dead, but has surely lost its sting. After pricing itself out, it has got reduced to satisfying the tactical needs or short-term goals of the marketer. So, we see more of 'Hurry offer closes on the 31st' kind of campaigns, as compared to good brand building exercises, on print."

The building of the Raymond Man or the Lakme Girl in print now belongs to another era. So much so that art directors in an agency would have been extinct, had it not been the award shows, chuckles Pops.

Radio was once a strong medium that fell into disuse until the coming of FM revived it. However, in a typical day at the agency, the seniors wouldn't be involved in the medium.

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Another medium that is languishing in creative terms is out of home (OOH). It has been reduced to a reminder medium that usually has the last frame of the TV commercial adapted into a horizontal or vertical hoarding.

Shashi Sinha, assistant vice-president, Laqshya Outdoors, ruefully says, "There is a huge lack of talent in this medium and the talent which is there doesn't have the right approach. Mostly, we are selling locations like a Bandra or a Noida, rather than selling an idea."

As for digital, most agree that the medium is surviving on bread crumbs of the client's money and attention. It is true that Internet speeds and penetration in India aren't great. However, the biggest hindrance for this medium has been the lack of understanding, says Navin Kansal, creative director, digital, OgilvyOne Worldwide. While search based advertising has been useful in getting small advertisers online, the creative effort by major advertisers and agencies has been largely unimpressive.

So, even though clients love to boast that their agency delivers 'holistic or complete solutions', 360 degree would still mean engaging the consumer from every possible touch point. It will be foolish to think that every medium will be given equal weight or spends. And why so?

Desai explains, "The concept of a lead medium will always be there because of the economies involved. If the client had unlimited money, he could have spent it in every medium equally. But because we function with a budget, we have to channel a part of it in one medium as the lead, and then logically support it with other media."

Star of the show

No one argues about the power of TV, especially in the Indian context. Could it be, however, that TV thrives also because it is the medium creative people enjoy the most - and one which is most likely to determine their professional success?

The quintessential TVC has elements of literature, photography, writing, acting, music and now, computer graphics – all independent creative forms. In a way, it is the most visible demonstration of the creative person's abilities.

At a point of time when print was the lead medium and 'long-copy' ads the order of the day, the copywriter was hardly involved with the making of the TV commercial. "So much so, the client would directly brief the ad film maker and the copy person would only get to see the film in a hired theatre, after it was done. Forget about going for shoots," reminisces KS Chakravarthy aka Chax, NCD, DraftFCB Ulka. However, things have changed drastically now.

The fact that TV leads the creative person to fame and glory as people chat about his commercial is undeniable and widely accepted within the industry. Not to forget that, while seeking a job, referring to a recent commercial is likely to have far more impact than a half page ad in a daily. To top it all, a TVC can have a lot of impact, too.

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Agnello Dias aka Aggie, CCO, TapRoot India, says, "TV is instant mass popularity. People outside the fraternity would also have seen your commercial."

A possible explanation is that each country has its favourite medium and India, with its oral culture and penchant for theatre - and now films - goes with TV. For example, at a point of time, the London Tube was famous for its underground posters. The most prestigious job for a copywriter then was to write a long-copy ad for these huge posters spread across the walls.

So, if TV is the Indian creative's favourite medium, is the number of scripts in the portfolio of the applicant a popular way of weighing fresh talent? Most creative directors interviewed were of the view that there were several aspects to the question. For a junior copywriter, command over the language and ability to understand a medium is considered. However, when it comes to senior people, a healthy number of scripts with a sprinkling of awards helps.

The second aspect lies in the brand or client requirement. Besides, it has to do with the nature of the client: for a TV-centric brand, scripts would be the order of the day, but for a client such as The Times of India (TOI), which focuses on print-led advertising, the requirement is different.

On the flip side, creative folk have always favoured print and poster – and now new media – when it comes to winning awards because it doesn't cost much to create an ad and it is relatively easy to execute. Later, some of these award winning cream of the creative layer are pitched to clients to chalk out TV-led campaigns for their brands, even if the commercials are basic. It's a syndrome described as I-want-Picasso-to-paint-my-wall-white.

Behind the smokescreen

There was a time when advertising moved just that bit ahead of the consumer. Have creative professionals been left behind in their obsession with TV, even as the consumer is opening up to other media and other forms of communication? In contrast, the West has taken notice of the changing consumer and tweaked content and the medium. Today, the definition of a film in the Cannes Lions isn't restricted to an audio visual aired on TV, but has embraced films played on digital or interactive media. A recent example is the Philips Carousel campaign that swept the Film jury off its feet. Is Indian creative open to other possibilities at all?

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The answer may depend on how the agency's bread is buttered. Aniruddha Banerjee, president and chief operating officer, Publicis Ambience, says, "For a fee-based client, the agency would behave in a media-neutral manner and wouldn't think twice before suggesting radical ideas in digital or mobile. However, for a commission-based client, the agency is bound to be drawn towards TV." If only clients would pay for an idea, wouldn't that be ideal, wonders Banerjee.

The shift to non-traditional media would also depend on how well the current lot of creative executives are trained. The lack of understanding exists on the agencies' as well as the clients' side. The irony is that the typical creative person in his 20s is extremely comfortable with online and mobile but can't seem to use this knowledge when it comes to creating advertising.

Ravi Deshpande, chairperson and CCO, Contract Advertising, says, "The mechanics of understanding how a banner will unfold, how the flash content will behave, how the consumer would be led to a microsite and what he will do there, is a bit complex. So, people are taking the easy way out through TV."

Another commonly accepted fact in the industry is that the big idea once cracked and executed through TV and print by the traditional mainline agency, is later tossed out and passed on to agencies in other media, leading to mere adaptations and reminder messages. This way, neither the idea nor the other media options are getting a fair chance. Ogilvy India, for instance, recognises this and is trying to physically integrate its other divisions under the same roof for greater integration. Other agencies, too, have taken similar steps.

Banerjee of Publicis Ambience thinks that the answer lies in integrating the process first and not just housing everybody together. "Right at the idea or the creation stage, people from all media need to sit together and brainstorm, so that later when the big idea is born, it gets owned and believed by everybody alike," he adds. The solution for a brand first lies in the idea and not just a 30-seconder.

Deshpande equates the partnership between people representing different media with the partnership between the copywriter and the ad film director while they work on a commercial. They collaborate intensely, although they don't even belong to the same organisation.

The fragmentation of audiences even within TV, the number of channels continues to explode will force creative agencies to improve their expertise in other media. As Gowthaman adds, "The effectiveness of the individual medium is declining and today, I need multiple media to garner my reach."

There is no doubt which way the world is moving and the creative folk will have to move that way. But for a few years more, it looks like they will have TV on their minds.