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How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.

"Look London, Talk Tokyo: The eternal schizophrenia of the advertising creative person"


Kiran Khalap, Founder, Chlorophyll

"One bright and sunny morning, when the lark was on wing and the snail was on the thorn, God was in his Heaven, at his constitutional, with his friends. By mistake (yeah, He was allowed a couple of errors every century) a piece of truth dropped out of his track-suit pocket. Sloppy guy."

Devil as usual was keeping a sharp watch on the bearded God: If only he could catch Him at some hanky-panky! He would torpedo this whole gooey-goody universe.

Then he realised: Hey, he had struck gold. He could indeed torpedo God's universe.

He pounced on the piece of truth.

Man, who followed the Devil, as usual, to share all the delicious wickedness he distributed, was puzzled, "Why in God's name do you need truth? You have a whole bagful of tricks to seduce men and women into sin!"

The Devil gurgled with pleasure, pitying Man for his lack of vision. "I will organise it, you fool, into religion, and it will become the most powerful divisive force on Earth"

When advertising began, in the early twentieth century, it started as a trading activity. An 'agent' bought space for his client in various newspapers.

Over time, this agent became a person who also advised the client what he must say in the space he bought. Advertising changed into a 'profession'.

A profession has the following characteristics: the practitioner has to have a minimum level of specialised knowledge and judgment which is respected by its clients, a certain set of accepted processes that minimise risk for its clients and a method of remuneration that is standardised to a large extent.

While advertising does share these characteristics in some measure, advertising is unique in other ways:

a. Unlike other professions, it does not demand any formal training from its practitioners. A low level of literacy suffices;-)

b. Unlike other professions, its practitioners do not share a common language. For example, to any medical practitioner anywhere in the world the GI tract has only one meaning: it's a tube of cartilage and flesh that connects one opening of the human being, the mouth, with the other, unnameable.

But to advertising professionals around the world, 'positioning' has a hundred different meanings. Worse, each defends her/his definition till s/he froths at the mouth, faints and misses her/his flight;-)

c. Its practitioners always have two targets to satisfy; and the person who pays their bills is not the person who 'consumes' their products.

The profession closest to advertising would be the lawyer's: He is paid by his client, but his argument is 'consumed' by judge and jury.

Very early in its life, though, a smart 'devil' decided that if he organised it well, advertising could become a business. Wow! Now that's a big idea! As the decades progressed, advertising as business became such a religion that speaking against it became blasphemy. Every practitioner had to bow before the four-letter altar of big business: "M.O.R.E". Some agencies even started getting quoted on stock exchanges. Yechh!! How gross can you get!

Unfortunately, the only member of the team who was divided into two by this fundamental schism was the creative person, the ideator, the girl or guy who brings the bacon home for the Agency.

Have you heard about this famous business head who resigned because he was unhappy that his Agency was raking in profits but was creating what his peers called 'boring' or 'invisible' advertising?

I am sure you have not heard about him, because he does not exist!

Have you heard of the creative person who was working on the largest account in the Agency and resigned because he just wasn't happy?

Of course, you've heard about him every day.

So what happened? How did this divide between being a professional and being a businessman grow so deep?

The divide between being a professional who offers his best advice to his client irrespective of the client's belief

versus

being a businessman whose only purpose is to make a sale, irrespective of what his client needs?

My first hypothesis is this: In the same way that religion did.

Just as few human beings have ever had the guts or clarity to ask whether the rituals of religion really lead to truth, few in advertising have questioned if advertising can deliver real advice to its clients when it's run as a business.

My second hypothesis is this: This question is most important to the person who has the skill and the judgment and the capability… the only person whose life is affected most by this inherently contradictory stance of the advertising industry.

The ideator or the creative person.

(Please remember that by creative person or ideator I do not mean a person working in the creative 'department'. An account planner, a delivery boy…anybody who produces and loves producing ideas instead of ****ing Excel sheets is an ideator).

So deep is this divide that the creative person lives happily with its symptoms without looking for a medicine. Like 99% of Indians live happily with amoebic dysentery without looking for a medicine.

What are the symptoms? One is the struggle to reconcile the seeming extremes of effective advertising and award-winning advertising. Most creative people have never sorted this out.

They are then reduced to playing a sad game: If the advertising s/he created works but does not win awards, s/he takes on one stance. "Look, it worked…the Agency got a bonus of Rs One crore from client for achieving the objectives… come on, that's what advertising is all about".

If it fails to move the consumer, but wins awards, s/he takes another stance. "Yaar, the award was given by a respected peer group with an average age of 80 yaar…don't they know advertising? They said, 'This is the kind of advertising I would be proud of creating…imagine…these are guys who have won every award themselves… After all consumer behaviour is not just the task of advertising kya?!"

Somewhere everybody has forgotten neither stand helps in creating or approving advertising: Irrespective of what s/he believes, whether the advertising is effective or award-winning will only be known after it is released, and not when it is created.

Moral of the story? The business head has a single agenda: Business and profits.

But the creative person is divided between two agendas: So we have what we call in Mumbai slang, a Look London Talk Tokyo creative person.

Is there a way out? Can the creative person be made whole again? Can he or she have one focus that ends this squint-eyed existence?

Yes, if s/he has the guts. Or spine. Or balls. Or whatever part of the body you associate with courage and clarity and not hiding in a herd. Guts enough to accept whether s/he is an artist, a professional or a businessperson.

Option One is simple but not easy. If you believe you are an artist whose job is to express yourself through outstanding award winning advertising, go ahead. Here the trick is not being ashamed of using client money for personal goals. I know so many great creative people who have this focus. You will find enough clients who see winning awards as a shared, legitimate goal.

In essence, these are clients like the erstwhile Maharajahs: They subsidise art. I do not believe there is anything wrong with this focus.

But if you do not find enough of these, be ready to starve. That's what being an artist is all about!

Option Two is easier but not as simple: Second-guess the client. Check what he likes in his advertising. Big headlines? Jingles? No sex? More sex? Give him what he wants. This way, the responsibility is his, the money is yours. Here the trick is not being ashamed of being a businessman. I know an equally large number of talented creative people who have this focus. I do not believe there is anything wrong with this focus either.

Option Three is the simplest and the most difficult.

Say to a client, "Look: I know my job. My job is to change consumer belief or behaviour from point A to B within this budget and time.

I have heard you and your research.

I have internalised all variables.

And in my judgment this is the ad you should go with… not because it will win awards (it may)…not because it will be the most effective… (because we will never know till it is released)…

… but because I would be ashamed of being paid by you for not doing my job.

And if you don't respect my recommendations…it's okay… I can't change mine…find somebody whose recommendations you like"

Now that's a creative person who will be respected by his clients.

That's a creative person who does not need to be the puppet of a businessman.

That's a creative person who is not eternally schizophrenic.

A creative person with that rare body part: Conscience.

Not just balls, or just spine, or just guts, but conscience.

 
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How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.
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An ardent bridge player, a producer, a writer and a teacher - one could go on and on about Amit Khanna. Khanna has a wide lineage- he has worked in theatre, radio, television, journalism, advertising and films. He has been on the executive committee of IBF, Indian Music Industry, and Film Federation of India. He set up Plus Channels in '90s and quit in 2000 to launch Reliance Entertainment with Reliance. Khanna the Chairman of the Convergence Committee of FICCI. And also he is the Member of the Core Group of Ministry of I&B, on GATS and Ministry of Commerce. His contributions and association is a long list.
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exchange4media has been calling me for my Viewpoint, but like a true advertising person, I have no time! So I decided to write it in sleep (if you can walk in sleep why can't you write in sleep?) If it hurts your sensibility or you disagree with my views, please disregard this as a piece of junk - because I know it is impossible to pour water in a glass full of water - to give gyan to advertising gyanis.
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