The Business Today Cross Fire session offered intellectual stimulation of the highest kind, in addition to pure entertainment. The subject was ‘The advertising start-up is dead’ and the warring parties were Madukar Kamat (Chairman, Mudra) and Kiran Khalap (Co-Founder, Chlorophyll). The moderator was Suhel Seth.
In his opening speech, Seth classified the Cross Fire as an essential which is about communication and intellect, but these days, there is almost no room for dissent. Discussions and debates are often disregarded and there is a singular argument, which pervades and holds dominance. The same symptom is leading to a situation wherein people just don’t write ads anymore, they simply create visuals.”
Moving on to the subject, Kamat stated, “Name one agency (start-up) in the last five years which has made a considerable difference to the advertising scene. My definition of a start-up differs vastly from the general notion. I would not label an outfit such as Dentsu as a start-up but Madison, Ambience, Rediffusion and Mudra are definitely start-ups (of yesteryear), which have done considerably well for themselves. Yet you don’t find a single start-up these days that matches up to their calibre. You just don’t find people who match up to the task.”
He added, “ What you require is communication start-ups and idea start-ups, rather than everyday agencies or their clones. Media-neutral solutions are needed which would change the advertising scene. We got to reconcile ourselves to the fact that people of the likes of Mohammed Khan (who changed the laws of gravity, as far as advertising is concerned) are no longer around and hence there are no genuine start-ups.”
Defying Kamat’s perception, Khalap strongly reinstated the philosophy behind his own set-up, Chlorophyll. He asserted, “ Today’s great agencies are all yesterday’s start-ups. MCM gave birth to 15 other start-ups. As for the argument that the start-ups of today just don’t match up to the task, it’s all under the presumption that the intention of a start-up is to reinvent itself into an empire. At Chlorophyll, we look at ourselves as self-employed professionals; my intention is not to be a legacy of any kind. As long as we stick to our principles, and bring in genuine value, I would say that my start-up is a success.”
Khalap cites the success of Alok Nanda and states, “He (Nanda) began his start up with a vision, and he knew that he would only take on clients who share the same vision. His own outfit has put him in a position where he can stick to his principles and, hire and fire clients, as he deems fit. The fact of the matter is that in a big network, the cost of maintaining doesn’t really allow you an intangible commodity called ‘conscience.’ A person like Nanda chooses to deliver, and yet has the luxury of firing clients with the same regularity as he takes them on. Again, with a start-up like Chlorophyll, the intention was never to branch out into an empire. If you only equate success with that premise, you are applying a measurement that I am not interested in.”
Needless to say, that the debate was never quite resolved. While Kamat’s fundamental argument was that successful start-ups are a thing of the past, Khalap defied the very definition of success. On a sombre note, Khalap ended the session saying, “ I will stick by my principles and generate genuine value. In that sense, Chlorophyll, as a start-up, is very much alive.”