Prathap Suthan
Guest Article

A letter to advertising from 2016

The key trends that will dominate the advertising landscape this year.

Dear Advertising,

A letter to advertising from 2016
I sense a great upheaval is upon us. This business is going to get wracked by some imminent changes. I see these as market corrections. It's pretty much warped how things are stacked. However for now, let's leave the bigger looming realities of IoT, product digitisation, consumerisation, connected IDs, programmatic advertising, virtual reality, native video, hybrid adtech etc. aside.

These are evolutionary changes that will swamp life. And splinter talent, people, and agencies. No one out there is quite going to be a generic expert. Nobody can be, considering the speed at which the core of advertising is getting heated.

Jargon aside, let me take you through what I see for tomorrow. Provided your creators have the wherewithal to see my perspective.

Old media won't die yet

In India, where traditional media has just about covered the country, you will continue to see the rise and co-existence of radio, print and television. Unlike in other geographies, where the balance had long shifted to contemporary media, old media will continue to thrive.

But new media will chomp old media

It's no longer the secondary medium. It's growing to be the main media platform. Everything digital is getting brighter and more intense. As more and more phones turn smarter, brands will invest away from traditional media. The day isn't too far before they gobble up the dinosaurs.

Mobile was king, will now be monarch

You knew this was coming. The ubiquitous mobile that keeps reinventing itself every couple of months, will be prime media. And, you will create all content to work first on mobiles, and then on others. The phone will be the first stop for advertising that will get customerised, or customised to the user.

Content creators will rocket

There will be an explosion of content shops -- mobile and otherwise. And, they will come up almost everywhere in the land. With each geography offering distinct culture, landscape, food, language, idioms, sights, sounds and stories. As the race for unique film, music, pictures, art, and photos grows faster, hybrid shops will sprout all over and cash in on the demand. All this at the cost of weakening bigger agencies. The recent arrival of AIB as a content agency is the beginning of this wave, and there will be many more scheming at this moment.

Local and small businesses will boom on Facebook

The simplicity and the user-friendliness of this platform is awesome, and makes it the best bet for local and small businesses to advertise and flourish. It's quick, easy, geographically focussed, and almost inexpensive compared to mass media. There will be at least a couple of million small businesses that have active Facebook pages in India, and that's a trend that's going to grow. This is also going to make a lot of freelance creatives extremely busy across the country.

Budgets will run out faster than batteries

With the proliferation and growth of multiple social media platforms from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, to SnapChat, the advertising life of average content is going to be ephemeral. Surging and constantly refreshing timelines will completely drown content, and unless more and more money is pumped in, regular budgets are not going to be sufficient. Of course, great content will rise and surf on free and inspired sharing. But, great content is as rare as a jackdaw that can play chess.

Social media will call for experienced handlers

Social media creative generation, listening, analysing, curation, and nurturing is an extremely specialized skillset. And, if not handled well, can damage and corrode brands. Unlike regular media that carpet bombs impassive audiences, without getting any ack-ack fire, social media communication overlaps into live and heaving intelligence. Junior bunches of people, while they are fluent with the medium, aren't experts at handling mature consumer feedback and its spite.

Honestly, there is no way a kid with three years of social media exposure can handle the venom of a grizzled college professor upset with his phone bill. Ducking, and sidelining, and prepared responses can save up to an extent, but when the firestorm comes in, you need hard-core well-versed, and well-rounded communication experts to step in. As India matures as a social media market, the intensity of this business will demand better stock. Including people who can write compelling language.

All agencies will demand more money

Currently, the mathematics is all wrong. And, I have no idea why people aren't reading this right. Contrary to popular belief, social media doesn't deserve your junior-most team to grind away. You need to employ your best talent. Each campaign has to be conceptually strong. It has to be conceived well. Posts have to be laid out, much like small print ads. With great visuals and stopping lines. These are the print ads of this medium. Films, too, have to be aesthetically done. Considering that there are dozens of posts, multiple films, and 24/7 continuous interactive monitoring and nudging to be done in real time etc., you ought to demand more money. The time you spend on running a social campaign is far more intensive, consuming, and exhaustive than a traditional campaign. Clients have been throwing peanuts at you, and you have been recruiting langurs. And, this will continue to happen until you show some spine.

A film isn't a film isn't a film anymore

There are billions of sadly made films finding their way into the great social sewer. They comprise all kinds of trash. Including films made by big brands which they conveniently call web films. Hello, your audience doesn't realise the difference between a film made for the web versus television. For people including all of us reading us, it's a film. Most are badly made. Some are downright ugly. Very few are beautiful, and therefore, shareable. Now the thing is, take your eyes off quality and finesse, and you have a sad film representing your company, product, or brand. A social film has to be equivalent to a regular TV film. It's not just a web film anymore. Save yourself from the gutter and the clutter. Bad content is arsenic. It will eat your brand from inside.

More brands will get appy and appier

With brands wanting to do more business and commerce directly with the consumer, apps are the way. Better the app and easier the app, more are the chances that it will get used and favoured. I see brands and agencies doing all that you can to get people to download them onto their phones. Every large brand would ideally build embedded app control centres within themselves.

More brands will get misled and misguided

Considering the avalanche of new products, services, eCom and tech-enabled ideas entering the Indian market, many of them are sadly, but boldly captained by people who have very little understanding of brands. Most of them are products of an economy that grew like Frankenstein, and therefore, hideously spawned in the wake of that rush. Most have technology, analytics, logistics, sales and even academic backgrounds. They have their own interpretation of advertising and the world of brands. Without remorse, and without fear. And, since they obviously sit in the hallowed chairs of client offices, they also have the financial muscle to get their agencies to pander to them. The result has been ridiculous, and there's going to be more dark matter going to haunt our advertising consciences.

Funding is tight. So keep your wits together

Thankfully, most of the VC guys are pulling the plug on free money. I think they had enough and more stress seeing their money burnt in daylight to influence consumer habits. Essentially in the eCom world, the sun is not hunky-dory anymore. The days of spendthriftness are over. A certain sense of monetary austerity has set in, and therefore, the larger budgets will see ruthless chopping. In an economy, that has built brands through sheer advertising profligacy, this stifling will be hara-kiri. As a result, creative and media agencies will end up doing more work, for much less. Unless you guys learn to push back and make use of your 26 bone structure that protects your spinal cord.

And there will only be 24 hours in a day

Sorry, I can't help with that. But, with platform and content profusion, there will be lesser time spent on everything. Watching an ad for more than three seconds won't mean anything, liking and sharing something may not mean anything because you can never gauge the quality of that like/share, comments and debates will gain more value, local will get mixed with national and global stories, mobile and digital real-estate and timelines will get smaller and precious, and brave brands will flourish.

Before I end this, do take care of your people, their spirit, and their collective drive that will make originality rise over the mediocrity that threatens you. Without your people, dear agencies, you are nothing but expensive real-estate.

Yours sincerely,

2016 AD

(The author is managing partner and chief creative officer, Bang in the Middle.)

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