The latest fad among advertising professionals at social gatherings is to discuss the deteriorating state of the communication business. Everyone has a valid viewpoint in raising this issue while knocking back a few stiff ones. The inadequate quality talent coming into the business, professionals deserting their advertising agency and setting up consultancy shops of their own, the decreasing margins for the advertising and media agencies, and the loss of respect for the discipline.
I think the key concern will be the prospect of losing respect within the industry. If you lose respect with the person sitting across the table, then you lose stature for the organisation you represent. This is a losing battle and it becomes imperative today that we do a rethink on the processes employed, and evaluate them for practicality in the market. It is only then that we will connect the investments made and the returns on them in the market.
They say you learn more by spending time with a knowledgeable person than spending years at a business school. When I rewind two decades of my life, I remember the time I had spent with a gentleman called Suren Chawla, who had taught us the basics of media planning and the relevance it has in the communication business. Apart from the quantitative learning of the formulae, the terminology and its implications, the real pearls of wisdom were in the qualitative aspects. The ‘feel’, as Suren defined it. And the ‘life’ as I saw it. This aspect involved focusing on consumers, and how one bunch was different from the other. How markets are different as they get segmented geographically. How caste, religion, customs, superstition, beliefs and values play a vital role in effective media planning.
I doubt if any of these variables are ever used as a filter in outlining media plans. I do not blame anyone as it’s a mad rush for business and getting a major chunk of it. It’s a belief that tomorrow never comes, hence make hay while the sun shines. Everything is now or never, and in the process, a creature called ‘Brand’ suffers. Nobody complains as everyone is doing well. The popular saying ‘All is Well’.
Distance changes the character of the market
It was enlightening to know that in a state like Rajasthan, every few kilometers the way you tie the ‘pagri’ (head gear) changes, the flavour of the famous dish – gatte ki sabji – changes, the communication form and stance differs, and so does the traits in the attire. These market feel no media manuals will teach you and thus, the learning was to observe commonsense and never lose track of native intelligence.
Commonsense and native intelligence taught us important hot buttons like state of mind while consuming media and its importance. This important trait may sound very simple, but the fact is that it is rarely thought about while delivering quality media plans.
‘State of mind’ in management jargon can be structured as ‘receptivity’ of the consumer. Receptivity is all about the aperture of the mind and its ability and readiness to absorb the information being thrown at him. The larger the aperture, more will be the receptivity and hence, the likelihood of the idea or concept being accepted. In media effectiveness terms, larger the aperture, lesser will be the media intensity needed to convince the prospect. This means, lesser reach and even lesser frequency to achieve marketing targets. Simply put, good old commonsense driving ‘More for Less’.
I was amazed, when I put this simple qualitative trait into practice by analysing one category – food. There are snack foods, biscuits, soups, noodles, pizzas, burgers… the list is endless. Over a thousand crores are spent every year on the idiot box alone in promoting and sustaining market shares for many brands. I can say with conviction that more than half the investments are not put to good use, as they do not connect with the consumer in any way. This is not a polite statement to make as it involves the mental faculties of many specialists, whose job is to ensure success in the market place.
Understand the mindset and don’t chase GRPs
What is the job of the planner working on a noodle account? The main job in my mind is to excite the 10-year old, who in turn will make his mother’s life miserable till he gets his favourite noodles cooked and served hot. The mother should be receptive to the convenience factor that it gets ready in minutes and hence, she has a pacified and well fed child.
Now, the critical question is when is the child likely to throw a tantrum for this snack food? Commonsense will tell you that when he is famished and he is likely to be famished when he returns from school in the late afternoon. But if you analyse the food brand plans, you will find majority of moneys being invested in prime time (21.00 hours to 23.00 hours), when the child is well fed and hence, all the prime deliveries which are 3-4 times more expensive than afternoons are a complete waste. But yes, they drive salience and impressive plans on paper. What is needed is performance in the market.
The food category is not alone to overlook the receptivity factor. There are many more and can be substantiated, but few would want this practicality to be a reality as it involves lesser budgets and lesser halo for the brand manager, who looks at writing his resume using the media investments. Owner driven companies may understand this sentiment better… surely. The so-called professional run companies will always follow suit. History has taught us this lesson.
‘Gopi’ as he is fondly known, has been in the advertising and media business for over two decades. His journey has taken him through destinations like the Anandabazar Group, Mudra Communications, Lowe Lintas, Leo Burnett and TBWA. In this journey he has worked on a host of consumer, corporate, service and media brands. He has served on various panels of measurement and has been published as a syndicated columnist in various business and trade press. The fourth estate has always trusted his expert views on the media and advertising business. Strongly believes that in a competitive and growing economy like India, historical correct answers will not work and hence the onus on marketers to be innovative and redefine rules of the game. He spends time as a ‘visiting faculty’ at Jaypee Business School, as it keeps him connected with youngsters. For the last 18 months, Gopi has been off the advertising and media radar, as he was attending to a medical emergency at home. He has set up his own media consultancy.
(Gopinath Menon is a strategic media consultant. Beginning this week, Menon will be writing for exchange4media on alternate Thursdays. Responses and inquiries are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.)