Shreyas Kulkarni

Creative Week 2021: From agency culture to clients having “FOMO” to ads making you squirm

It was the India chapter of The One Club’s “Creative Week 2021 Global Media Talks” hosted by afaqs!.

As part of The One Club for Creativity’s Creative Week 2021, Ashwini Gangal, executive editor, afaqs! caught up with four of Indian advertising’s buzziest and hottest minds to understand what’s happening in the industry.

afaqs! was the exclusive India host of the “Creative Week 2021 Global Media Talks”

The session’s panellists were Amer Jaleel, group chief creative officer and chairman, Mullen Lowe Lintas; Kainaz Karmakar, chief creative officer, Ogilvy India; Tista Sen, regional creative director, Wunderman Thompson; Sambit Mohanty, creative head-South, McCann Worldgroup.

From the state of agency culture to ads that made them cringe and saying no to a client, the session touched upon topics trending in the industry today.

Edited Excerpts:

On agency culture

Amer: Agency culture started to change when we lost our personal space and style that would dictate the kind of creativity that happened, the feeling of excitement and pride in the profession.

This particular time (lockdown) has made me realise we need to reinvent the agency culture that inspired all of us. Why did we get attracted to this profession? We got attracted because of a reason. People walked the corridors there, you felt like that too because you were a part of that agency, a part of that legacy, and even today a lot of people have that in their mind about advertising.

Today, we’re largely responsible and conscientious people in advertising but people remember that… I would like us to go back to that and reclaim that culture.

Tista: It should not be about the people, it should be about how working in an agency makes you feel. If I walk into an agency and I see the junior-most feels liberated, empowered, and good to be in that working environment… If you’re allowed to be, you are allowed to think, to flourish, to come up with ideas.

If your agency culture was based on mutual trust which I think a lot of our cultures are based on then the whole work from home (WFH) thing is far more seamless because you can do it and be comfortable knowing the day you feel terrible and there are many such days, you can safely put up your hand and say, “I am not tuning in today” and somebody gets that.

Sambit: Culture is a way of life, a set of values to live by, and people are at the centre of it. For me, agency culture is one that fosters creativity. As someone rightly said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast' and it is something on which you have to walk the talk, you don’t just wake up one day and say “I imbibe this culture.” It has to run the reigns of everyone who walks through the corridor of that agency.

Coming to Covid times, it is challenging because you have to keep that sense of belonging intact. We’re all miles apart and disconnected but we have one purpose and that is to create great work. I think it’s easier said than done because creating that work is far easier when we are working under one roof but now we are connected through these little windows and it’s far more important now to foster that sense of belonging and empathy plays a huge role in fostering that culture.

Kainaz: In the last one and a half year, all agencies went through a learning curve. Initially, everyone said, “no boundaries” because we were working from home day and night, the boundaries just merged. Some agencies took cognizant of the fact and changed things while some did not.

Agency culture is basically how you make people in your agency feel.

Recent Indian ads that made you smile and squirm

Sambit: I adored the CRED campaign that came in like a breath of fresh air especially the one starring Rahul Dravid and the boy band featuring Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad… I can’t remember the last time I was truly entertained by advertising.

In terms of misses, quite a few brands have made misleading claims; Patanjali being the most infamous of them and electronics brands have gone overboard in promising protection against Covid and that was really not necessary.

Tista: I have a permanent squirm list. When brands were opportunistic and said everything is germ-free, such Covid ads were on top of my cringe meter.

Kainaz: I quite enjoy the work Webchutney does whether it is 8-Bit Journo or Siwggy. When I see the output, I see them having fun and I look forward to what they’ll come out with next. I am also fond of the work we’ve (Ogilvy) done for ITC, Unilever, or Mondelez.

Amer: Several brands are trying to make people cry. I feel this whole trend of emotional work has to change. Unfortunately, when we should have rescued ourselves from emotivity and done something whimsical and fun, Covid hit us and we went into overdrive.

We’re trying to think of a new kind of work, not just to do with insights or consumer thinking but what is the new way to attack advertising because they’re just doing video, video, video. That’s why the one piece that stood out for me was the Cadbury work which spoke to people in Covid language and not copy language. It brought people together and did good for small people.

The right strategy for brands on social media

Kainaz: Brands should do what they have the right to do in that space. If you’re a hygiene brand, this is the time to tell the hygiene story. If you are not, then you are not being very smart. At the same time, if you’re an electronic speaker and say my waves will keep your home germ free and exploit that opportunity, then it’s not what you should be doing. What irritates people is “Let me find some way to be present no matter how far-fetched it, let me instil so much fear in people that they will go out and buy my product.”

Sambit: Honestly, it’s good to be quiet if you do not have anything pertinent to say. It is ridiculous to jump on a bandwagon because everyone else is doing it. The need to help has to be a genuine effort, you have to put your money where your mouth is. Whether it is social media or any media, brands have to be circumspect that these are trying times… We have advised clients if they have nothing substantial to do, it is better to stay quiet.

Tista: Most marketers suffer from ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO) way more than normal people. I feel more than ever, as a brand, you have to be authentic and genuine in what you are peddling. Don’t try and change your DNA.

On agency-client relationships:

Amer: There are really smart clients and really dumb clients. The pressure clients are facing is horrendous. Today, there is an explosion of media which is creating the biggest pressure and it’s being transferred to agencies. People are becoming hyper about responding but what we need to do is take a breath and relax.

Tista: Do you belong to an environment that allows you to tell a client “hey, not right now” and does your agency allow you to do that? You should be able to say no. Agencies should stand up and say no.

Sambit: Some clients understand it is a partnership and not a transactional relationship. Today, most clients are in a hurry to get things done. It has become a numbers game and that’s not an achievable objective because it makes everyone focus on what can we do to garner attention.

As an agency, if the relationship is slow and steady with the client and the strategy is to be dependable, is to be trustworthy and to shoot straight, it would lead to a more long-term and better relationship. This age of instant gratification from a client’s perspective needs to be relooked.

On staying inspired

Kainaz: It’s not just about keeping yourself inspired but keeping your team(s) inspired. One thing that is really important to be connected to your people, to do enough calls to not just review work but to have a laugh and a chat. To stay inspired, you have to make sure your agency does inspiring work. You have to be more human than ever.

Tista: The lockdown has inspired different people in different ways. Not having to run from meeting to meeting and commuting has freed up a lot of time for people to think about what to do with their time. Do one interesting thing every day, it could be cooking or reading some poet… I believe that it’s true for everybody. Nothing inspires you more than others’ work.

Sambit: I try to be more of a sponge, take time out to watch more, read authors I haven’t tried, and be inspired by work around us that’s not just related to advertising.

Amer: Whatever I did and whatever people did around me at my agency before Covid-19 helped us go through it. It’s the connection, the bonds, all the things that were there with us and those things will return one day... The hope that we will go back to these things inspires us the most.

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