Putting the mojo back into advertising

Written by Lakshmipathy Bhat | Updated: May 31 2011, 05:36am hrs
Despite being a non-MBA with only a bachelors degree in zoology, I had an almost irrational passion for the advertising business when I finished college. It manifested in me collecting print ads from newspapers and magazines and segregating them into agency foldersin maintaining a log book of TV ads that appeared before a popular programme. And in making a trip to a newspaper shop on Chennais Mount Road everyday just to buy the Mumbai edition of The Times of India (it had way more ads than the local daily, The Hindu). The passion and the burning desire to join the advertising business were triggered by the quality of ads (led mostly by print) and the halo around some of the agency leaders of those days. The industry appeared to be fun, creative and fulfilling not just for me but for several others who joined the business then. And it happened when the influence of media was relatively less pervasive compared to today.

Cut to 2011. The general feeling among ad industry captains is that as a career option among freshers, the business is not as attractive as it was. The inability to attract and retain the right talent has been a common grouse for years now. Information technology, media, FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) and telecom are seen as far more attractive by graduates both in terms of pay and career growth. Sure, successful advertising campaigns and ad industry personalities are showcased in mainstream media a lot more nowadays and thereby get a larger stage, as it were. Yet, one gets the feeling that a lot more can be done to portray the uniqueness of the advertising business, especially among the youth. The unique nature of the advertising industry is only appreciated by the industry insiders. We know that its not just about dreaming up bizarre scripts or clever linestheres a lot more brain power that goes into the business.

How do we bring this alive to the general public How do we raise the profile of the ad industry so that its seen as a profession worth chasing At the heart of the problem is the ability to pay well which is directly linked to agency remuneration. Now, thats a subject with no easy answers and beyond the purview of this article. It calls for the industry to unite and take concrete steps to revise the remuneration for our product ideas that have a lasting impact on brand creation. However, I feel the industry can take relatively smaller steps that go a long way in creating a halo around the business.

Trigger the passion

I think a concerted public relations (PR) effort on successful brands built on the back of great advertising will go a long way in showcasing the industry's efforts. Industry bodies are best suited to spearhead such a campaign. As part of the 50 years celebration of DraftFCB Ulka in India, we had a supplement showcasing some of the brand-building work over the years. Many youngsters who saw the supplement responded by saying that it brought back memories of their childhood daysof popular ads that were etched in their memories.

When we grew up in advertising, essential reading on the industry included several books which showcased advertising from the US and the UK. Books like Draftfcb Ulka Brand Building Advertising Concepts and Cases Book 2, released recently on the occasion of our golden jubilee celebrations (authored by M G Parameswaran and Kinjal Medh) now offer a chance for prospective ad industry professionals to appreciate the thinking behind some grown brands. As Kinjal puts it in an interview: It aims to highlight the important role that advertising plays in building successful brands psychology to analytics, from strategy to creative and craft of filmmaking to sophisticated media sciences. In a sense it is the ultimate team sport -- as demanding, as exciting and as rewarding. Steps like this can make industry insiders feel proud of their profession and in turn create positive word of mouth. Maybe a concerted PR effort will have an impact on prospective employees too. Yes, it is a logistical nightmare to implement such a campaign but there is merit in showcasing our successes through PR and ground events.

Social media and online engagement

Blogs and social media have been used as personal branding tools successfully. Several corporate brands too have an active presence in the online space through company blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook brand pages. They go a long way in creating preference especially when used as a tool to promote thought leadership. I feel Indian agencies can do a lot more in this space be it blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube playlists or Facebook fan pages. In the US, blogs are a sure-fire way to promote an agencys views, philosophy and culture especially among the small and medium sized agencies. Even Twitter can be a tool to broadcast news, views and work of the agency (ad gurus like Lee Clow use Twitter to share their views on the business). While several holding companies have an active online presence, if used well, the medium offers a great opportunity for local agencies too.

Catch them young

Great advertising usually evokes a response like how do you guys dream up such stuff and leads to some kind of admiration for creative minds. In my brief interaction with MBA students, the correlation between great advertising and great brands is clear. Maybe there is scope to showcase advertising as a career option to a whole lot more students.

Aside from the above, there are several other to-dos. A gap that needs to be filled is the clients involvement in the celebration of the industry success through creative awards. Today, several clients equate award-winning work to bizarre, scam or obscure advertising. If clients were to see the efforts behind genuine brand-building work, maybe their perception of advertising itself will change. Also, the creation of specialist units has led to a fall in interaction among agency teams. Sharing each others knowledge and success will go a long way in creating the feel-good factor.

The author is vice-president, Bangalore, of DraftFCB Ulka. These are his personal views.