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Provocations: Desai, Bali, Balki debate on advertising’s risk and responsibility

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Provocations: Desai, Bali, Balki debate on advertising’s risk and responsibility

The Subhash Ghosal Foundation’s annual event ‘Provocations’, that took place recently in Mumbai, saw a gathering of almost hundred people. Santosh Desai of Future Brands moderated the debate between Vinita Bali, CEO, Britannia and R Balakrishnan (Balki), Executive Director, Lowe.

‘Provocations’ is an annual debate that takes place between two leading personalities from the advertising industry. This year, the debate revolved around the topic of ‘Risk and Responsibility’ in advertising, and the trio brought to light various issues concerning advertising. “The topic has a baritone quality, and is a heavy, intellectual one,” Desai commented, while kickstarting the the discussion.

The hour-long debate between Bali and Balki ended with Desai’s musing on the absence of no definite conclusion on such a complex topic. While Balki felt that advertising agencies deserve more monetary credit on the success of a brand, Bali challenged him on the accountability of advertisements and their effectiveness on driving sales.

“The agency’s accountability comes into the picture as much when the idea is liked by the people. What about the success of various brands which benefitted from the work of the advertising agency? Agencies are not paid as much as they should be. If an advertisement does well, then the brand benefits for years,” Balki expressed.

Balki also felt that it was not the job of an advertising agency to have expertise, but it is just to provide an idea. “An advertising agency is all about providing an idea,” he said. Bali, on the other hand, spoke about issue of an idea’s relevance. “What is the use of a great idea if it doesn’t increase sales?” Bali wondered.

The event, which started with the latest advertisement of Mint, showed numerous other advertisements like those of Motorola, Lux, Perfetti, Cadbury’s and Voltas AC. Bali pointed out each of these ads and asked Balki about a continuity in each of the ideas and whether they helped in sales. “It is very important to understand that there is a brand behind an idea. An idea cannot stand for itself, without there being the relevance of a brand behind it,” she said. Bali expressed that an advertisement should, at the end of the day, drive sales. “It’s important to know how many people are finally going out and purchasing the product.” Balki, however, argued that it was not possible to gauge such a direct impact of an advertisement.

“It is important that the client and the agency together find out what results we are driving,” said Bali.

Bali also brought up the controversial Fair and Lovely advertisements. “These ads perpetuated the idea that the terms ‘fair’ and ‘lovely’ go together, and that in order to be lovely, one needs to be fair,” she said. But later on, she went along to agree with Balki when he defended himself by saying, “I don’t see why anyone should have a problem with the Fair and Lovely brand. I think ‘Fair and Lovely’ was a great idea that worked, and it attempted to provide a solution. Many women are looked down for not being fair and this gives them some hope,” he said.

Further, Bali spoke about the issue of celebrity endorsements as well, and commented on how it was, in some way, a kind of laziness. Towards the end, Balki restated his opinion about advertising agencies needing to be paid better. “In advertising, I think it is important for people to trust those who’ve gambled and won often,” he said.

The event was sponsored by Mint, the recently launched business paper by Hindustan Times, while exchange4media was the web partner.


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