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Grow up, admen

Why are admen so hungry for awards? They go to any lengths — fake clients, copy an international award, release what they think is award-winning stuff without clients’ approval, among other things — to win awards.

In March this year some controversial (and apparently not approved) ads for Ford Figo were uploaded on the internet and were also entered for the creative Abbies at the Goafest, the annual ad jamboree that happened earlier in April. Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer at JWT and later Sriram Padmanabhan, the head of marketing at Ford, both left as a result of the ensuing controversy. After the Goafest this year the Awards Governing Council for the festival received 18 complaints on award-winning ads that have been copied or have not yet been approved by the client. In most cases the charge has proved to be correct and the ads have been withdrawn.


Beyond awards: The creative agency model is being battered. But admen are busy faking ads for old-fashioned awards. They really should grow out of it. Representation pic

It seems funny at one level. These are grown up men and women, professionals in a creative field who are so desperate for the Abby or Gold Lion, that they don’t mind winning it for something they haven’t done. This is no different from athletes who take drugs to win a game they would not otherwise have won.

Why does it happen?
It is probably a result of the culture of self-indulgent irreverence that creative people in this business have grow up on. In early 90s when I covered it for A&M magazine, advertising was the profession to be in if you wanted to follow your own star and make money. (If you only wanted to make money banking and FMCGs were the professions to pursue). It had and still has a collegiate work atmosphere where wackiness, real or faked, is a sign of creativity. There were instances of fake ads. We gossiped about them at the annual Bombay Ad Club and the CAG events. (Note that this was pre-internet and pre-media boom era.) But most instances were laughed away as the work of overenthusiastic junior guys in the creative department. The creative guys were treated like talented children who had to be handled and their minor transgressions overlooked.

Meanwhile a shift was happening at the business end. Till the 90s all the creative work on an ad, buying the media to release it and any other minor stuff the client wanted — a direct mailer etc — was done by the ad agency. The agency normally made a 15 per cent commission on all media spends. This was its only source of revenues. It would pay for its staff, and offices and everything else from that.

By the mid-90s when media buying became complicated, clients started going to specialised media buying agencies. By the beginning of the millennium it was clear that just the 30 second commercial would not help reach out, connect and engage with India’s increasingly prosperous consumers. So below-the-line or non-mass media solutions became critical. These could be in digital, doing an event, or any non-traditional form of reaching out to people. But the creative guys showed no interest in this. They only wanted to make 30-second commercials and at most do a print ad. So specialised agencies were bought or built.

As things stand today, the advertising agency as we know it is just a creative agency doing print, TV and perhaps radio ads. The non-mass media stuff, which is now 30-40 per cent of the $8 billion that Indian marketers spent on communicating with consumers last year, is done by a second agency that may or may not be owned by the creative one. Ditto for media buying, which is the remaining 60-70 per cent. This has meant a huge erosion in margins and prestige for the creative agency. From a place of pride in client boardrooms, a creative agency is now relegated to being a vendor, unless it has a big hotshot creative director.

As a result while the business has grown by over 13 times its size in 1993, the creative agency as we know it is a shadow of its former self. It has no control over the mass-media or other media spends and the only money it makes is from a creative fee. But its culture has remained what it was more than 20 years ago — one of self-indulgent irreverence. While the business model that supported their creativity was disintegrating creative men and women were too busy with themselves. They still are. Their lives, it would seem, still revolves around winning an award. Go online and read their reactions to recent controversies. Most are nonchalant, some defensive and others belligerent. This then begs the question, when will they grow up?

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik 

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