While the ‘99.9 per cent safe’ route has been reduced to a farcical meme-generator, the people behind it are being savaged on social media. What if most of them had guns to their heads? A point of view, from L Suresh.
"Created a thousand bad ads.
Died a million deaths.
Switched the lights off.
Drew the curtains.
Hid under the bed.
Broke the remote.
Tried avoiding the morning papers.
But the sun still rose.
And the bad ad released."
If you've worked long enough as an advertising professional, or as a brand manager, and haven't mentioned this in your resume, you're being dishonest with your disclosure.
The longer your career, the more are the chances that at some point or the other, you've been part of a team that has produced communication worthy of ridicule.
My generation got away with it. Today, social media makes it impossible to escape the meme brigade. The ad is out in the morning, and by lunch, you're toast.
And, there's absolutely no escape. The more scathing the comments, the more the likes and shares.
Bad communication deserves all the criticism it can get – hopefully, the ones responsible for it will end their interference and leave it to the designated experts to give the brand the respect it deserves.
Where things go out of hand is when the entire team is jeered and abused online for such half-assed outputs without being given the benefit of doubt.
The current (COVID) pandemic has seen a long list of brands communicating their anti-virus properties and assurance of 99.9 per cent safety. To the outsider, advertising suddenly seems to have more clowns than Jumbo Circus. "How can they be serious?" "What next? Neem-flavoured condoms for added safety?"
While I've been lucky not to be involved with any of these brands, I have to confess that in a different era on a different planet, I've been there and I've done that. The baby of the team would look up innocently during the briefing session and ask how one could come up with such a ridiculous proposition. We would all avoid looking at one another. Servicing would launch into a lengthy explanation without ever getting to the point until all of us, fearing the onset of rigor mortis, would crawl out for a tea break.
Once outside, the servicing person would confide in us that he/she had had the same conversation with the account director, who, in turn, had had a shouting match with the brand manager, who then proceeded to call our branch head to complain. Later in the month, the totally sloshed client would reveal that he was forced into this by his boss, who was, in turn... The chain was endless.
Essentially, nobody was convinced. And yet, the damn thing had to go through.
Doing work with zero conviction is a skill by itself. And having to put in night-outs and weekends into something that's going to be trolled online can't be any fun. Even as you're hitting the print, or the send button, you know it's going to happen.
And there's nothing you can do about it.
Have a drink, or two. Maybe more.
Sometimes cry yourself to sleep.
And often stay awake, watching reruns.
Meanwhile, the mind is playing its own reruns of the entire episode, from the first option you created (which is now in your portfolio) to the steady deterioration and the final comatose version that threatens to see the light of day. Intercuts of how you fought every step of the way, lost your cool, threw tantrums, smoked countless cigarettes, and hoped and prayed that those toying with the creative would meet with gruesome accidents on their way back home, add to your trauma.
But your efforts were not good enough. Tomorrow, social media will be saying the same thing about your advertising skills.
There will never be a footnote at the bottom of the ad which explains that everyone from the head honcho to the security guy - from both the client's side and the agency – ended up in bed with it, leaving the creative team to clean up the morning after, and 'incorporate all the inputs into one cohesive piece of communication' (borrowing a choice phrase from servicing's email).
There will never be a disclaimer that says that you had to choose between getting trolled on Twitter and posting a ‘COVID has left me jobless’ plea on LinkedIn. Or that your agency had to do what it took to hold on to a key account. Or that you had way too many responsibilities to prioritise your professional ego over your EMIs.
Here's the irony - if rank outsiders, B-school students, consultants and social media warriors think it's an appalling idea, wouldn't you, who breathes, eats and lives advertising, know better?
But who's to tell them that the terrible, terrible ad came out not because of you, but despite your best efforts?
Who's to let them know that while they were busy taking you apart, you were already dying a million deaths?
(The author of this guest article is a creative consultant.)