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NEW: AdAsia 05 – Day 3: Agencies must shift from being creative suppliers to solutions providers, says FCB-Ulka’s Anil Kapoor

24-November-2005
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NEW: AdAsia 05 – Day 3: Agencies must shift from being creative suppliers to solutions providers, says FCB-Ulka’s Anil Kapoor

SINGAPORE: After two days of broader deliberations, Day 3 of AdAsia 05 turned the spotlight on what Asia holds out to the world. It was about Asian brands, brand management and the way forward for advertising in the brand resurgence that is happening in Asia.

Setting the tone through his presentation on a ‘Made in India’ model for the advertising industry, FCB-Ulka’s Managing Director & CEO, Anil Kapoor, first took the audience back to the basics with the historical contribution of India to the world – discovery of astronomy, mathematics, medicine – and of course Kamasutra.

“India has a history of knowledge creation and sharing the same. Perhaps a ‘Made in India’ strategy could help the advertising industry, which has been in the throes of a crisis for quite sometime, find a way out of the woods,” he said.

Client-agency relationships had been under severe strain for quite sometime, leading “to a destructive cycle”, Kapoor said, adding, “This is all because of quarterly performance pressures and shareholder activism. There has been a 30 per cent rise in ‘forced resignations’. And CMO tenures have hit an average of under 24 months.”

What is the way out? Kapoor’s solution: “Ad agencies have to shift to a new paradigm in the way they perceive themselves and their role. Agencies should be strategic partners of their clients – they have to play a brand architect’s role.”

He held that agencies had lost their way with “creativity becoming very narrow-focussed and specialised in the last 30 years. In the process, agencies forgot their basic role – to provide the big idea to their clients on the basis of their understanding of consumer needs and behaviour”.

It is ideas that matter in the ultimate analysis. The iPod, Amazon and Seven Eleven were brilliant ideas that drove the business of their respective clients, Kapoor said. He gave the instance of his own agency, FCB, in the US, which, many decades ago, was asked by its client in California to come up with a campaign to increase orange consumption.

“But no consumer can actually consume more than one or two oranges. So, in a creative brilliance, the agency hired an engineer who came up with the world’s first juicer! Bingo, a glass of orange juice requires four to five oranges to get that much juice. The campaign followed. And for the last 93 years, Sunkist has never reconsidered its relationship with FCB. The big idea always works with a client,” Kapoor asserted.

His prescription for ad agencies was simple – hire top-class talent, who in turn will provide better consumer knowledge. This will pave the way for greater creativity to create “big, defining ideas”. He added, “Agencies have to shift from being creative suppliers and become solutions providers. Only then can the Destructive Cycle make way for a Virtuous Cycle.”

If a McKinsey or a Boston Consulting can get the best minds, why not us, he asked. “Better talent means greater value addition for the client, better focus on strategy and a higher level of trust with clients. Let us remember that no army of mercenaries ever won a war,” he observed.

Adding an international perspective to the discussion was Deborah Malone, Publisher, inter national ist, USA, who said, “Clients nowadays have a ‘break through’ attitude, doesn’t matter how. This could make things difficult for agencies. Besides, new research has begun to show that contrary to conventional marketing wisdom, consumers want better products rather than differentiated products.”

Tanvir Kanji, President of UAE Chapter of the International Advertising Association, commented, “At the end of the day it is all about the 15 per cent issue and cutthroat approach of our media agency brothers.”

The debate is still alive and the ad industry is perhaps yet to find a reliable bridge to cross over from the destructive cycle to the virtuous cycle.

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