The Z to Z of 2009

Written by Prathap Suthan | Prathap Suthan | Updated: Dec 29 2009, 05:42am hrs
Another year is coming to a clichd pass, but I dont think there has been a year quite like this. If one thing needs to be said, this certainly doesnt make the clichd year cut.

Not one of us was equipped to deal with this year. And anyone who claims to have waded fearlessly into the challenges of 2009 is a true advertising professional. And not pure bred human being. Trepidation was standard supply at most conference rooms, and almost every annual plan was pruned, and re-pruned to several notches lower than the previous year. After all, the financial slowdown was upon us, snapping at all our posteriors with giant invisible teeth. And there was no place to run and hide.

In our business, getting ready for a bad year would mean a couple of things. Among them, the searing number one priority on the CEOs agenda is to sack those who didnt have a broad enough shoulder at the wheel. That was also a move thatd have a quick double-edged effect on his plan. The agency numbers would look leaner, and the hapless rest would work swiftly ever harder to keep their relevance brighter and therefore live longer.

These were tough times, and tough times inspire us to bring out our survival spirit, and laterally at that. Full marks for splendidly thinking out of the box. The next plan on the agency CEOs agenda was to fight his way through the apprehension and the darkness. This possibly included plans to goad the hordes to go out on a no-holds barred conquest of new business.

For many clients who thought their existing agencies didnt bring enough thinkers to the meetings, this was manna from everywhere. Different thoughts, brave thoughts, and free thoughts. There was literally no agency that wasnt extra eager to thankfully respond to a new business scent. In fact, the business of calling for pitches seems to have found favour with more clients than normal. Most of them were quiet invites.

Across 2009, more than harvesting from new business, the big boys at our offices also had ideas on their agenda to make business grow organically. Most account leaders were responsible to seed, plant and fertilize existing clients with new communication ventures. With their performance bonus for the year intrinsically linked to the success of these projects.

Surely, red lights would started flashing the moment the over enthusiastic and sprightly account director made that call to tell the client how excited he was to go across and chew a great new thought together. And I bet the moment he walked in, he would have put the already wary confectionary client on a triple dose of caution. I can also be more or less sure that even the boldest client would have seen right through the agencys sudden chivalrous attempt, and at many times shallow, to present a completely wayward initiative.

I mean when you consider the agencys sudden discovery of a completely new target audience that lived between the owners of cows and owners of goats, even the most cash rich client would resist reaching for spare change. Jokes aside, as an industry we allowed ourselves to climb different lows this year. We succumbed to ridiculous frugality time and again. So much so that many senior people moved industries, moved loyalties, moved cities. And these are losses that will come back haunt us. There were also many senior creative people, genuine talent, who decided to move shop and begin their own little ventures.

Most of our CFOs led a bull charge on indulgent spending. There were certainly less workshops, less team bonding games, less seminars, less hires, and of course less people traveling to Cannes and even GoaFest. Despite the year being such a wonderful thing for all of us Indians, global efficiencies were employed gainfully to clip participation and even entries. In all this blood and gore, did the industry balk and keel under Did we keep our ideas locked up and play fetch for clients

Well, some of us did walk the line, fetched big time, and delivered safe advertising. The fact that a pretty well insulated India took care of itself in the long and horrid wake of the worlds gigantic financial shakeouts, provided necessary succour for them to beam a little more towards the end of the year. But I think many brands and many agencies misread Indias robust and solid domestic market, and completely missed a great opportunity to build equity. Yet some others, driven by a thinking that recession was the last reason to be invisible and the first resort of the meek, took advantage of the collective doubt of the industry, and lashed out some of boldest work we have ever see in this country.

From a creative point, I think this years global recession allowed many of us to work with international production houses, directors, and post houses. The rupee was mightier than ever this year.

I cannot end this piece without paying tribute to one game changer that this industry and this country experienced. Vodafones Zoozoo campaign. I dont think any other campaign redeemed our collective talent more than that campaign in a year of skepticism, and I doubt if there will be another campaign that will steal as much thunder as it did.

May those two zeros in 2009 merrily remind us of those fabulous eggheads, and of the fiery dragon that threatened to fry all of us, but went away hungry. Good riddance!

The writer is national creative director, Cheil Communications