Ad agencies need to bring back the creative spark: Satbir Singh

Published: October 20, 2015 12:39 AM

The ability to change, evolve or edit communications on-the-go will open up opportunities for modern agencies

The core of our business is creativity. Often, in the day to day running of business (what with dwindling fees and missed targets), this point is ignored.

Consider another creative industry: films. You would readily watch a movie on the mere suggestion that it is by Spielberg, Hitchcock, Christopher Nolan, Scorsese or Tarantino. Or, closer home, by a Mani Ratnam, and, if you like beautifully choreographed exploding cars, Rohit Shetty. All other factors, while as important in its making, do not get you all excited about a movie as a director, the creative force behind it.

The advertising industry, on the other hand has been forced into a corner partly by business priorities and partly by external factors.

As a result, the phenomenal creative talent that powered the industry now has several other outlets for creativity, including setting up own independent shops that can breathe creativity.

It would be unfair to blame the agencies alone. Buyers of work must share it equally. Today, it seems the most important stage during many pitches is financial negotiations and not creative or strategy. Agency remuneration is going down like the price of used cars. The way it is going, someone joked, agencies will be paying for the privilege of creating breakthrough, effective, memorable campaigns in the not too distant future.

The reluctance or the inability to allow creativity to play a central role is paying back by taking a sizable bite off the posterior of many agencies. And agencies that have had a headstart by putting creativity at the top of their agenda for the past couple of decades, are sitting at the top. The industry will only see infinite possibilities if it brings creativity back. It has never been this important.

Today, a brand’s communication is fighting for eyeballs with the video of a duck crossing a street during rush hour traffic somewhere on this planet with her ducklings. Or people slipping off a springboard into the pool. Guess who’s winning?

The attention deficit malaise has spread like plague and your 30 seconds commercial is reduced to a 5 seconder with an in-built skip function. To top that, ‘ads-free’ will increasingly be the new normal.

The trick will be to not be blinded by technology but to bring back the focus on ideas and storytelling.

Technology has democratised creativity. With smartphones, everyone is a photographer and moviemaker today. The ‘shot on iPhone’ campaign is a case in point. Clients are increasing digital spends, even if due to pressures from global HQs. Very soon, it’ll go up to as much as 40% for some large spenders.

Infinite possibilities will open up for agencies that mirror this in staffing and invest in digital knowledge. The good thing is that many have started doing that.

Running commercials made for television on mobile phone, for instance, might not always make sense. You could maybe require more close-ups because of the small screen size. Sound will have to be designed differently too as people consume content on mobile devices in crowded places like cafeterias, waiting areas or in transit. Point size of supers that works on TV may not work on mobile. And so on.

The ability to change, evolve or edit communications on-the-go in keeping up with social media conversations is something that will open up opportunities for modern agencies. Communications will have to be created within hours and not weeks. To achieve that, approval processes will have to be quicker than thinking and execution. Businesses can open up infinite possibilities for their brands in this connected world when they realise that ‘digital’ is not a synonym for cheap, R2 lakh films. ‘Digital’ also doesn’t mean a three-minute film.

Over the past decade or so, agencies had started offering various services in silos. So you could choose the buffet or order a la carte. In hindsight, it only created an image of generalists rather than experts. A specialist design company can ask for and get paid a hundred times more than an agency for the same logo. We also happily give away strategy for free in beautifully designed thumb drives at the end of pitches. Infinite possibilities can open up if we truly integrate and rebuild our reputation as communications experts.

There’s no point in looking at the rear view mirror and feeling happy about your history. The future will not be about rear view mirrors.

Remember, driverless cars are coming.

By Satbir Singh
The author is chief creative officer, FCB Ulka

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