Advertising is a reflection of where the country is: R Balki

On day two of e4m Content Jam, adman and filmmaker R Balki, joined Nawal Ahuja, co-founder and director, exchange4media,  in a no-holds-barred conversation about the changing nature of ads

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Nov 27, 2020 9:11 AM  | 6 min read
R Balki

An unexpected pandemic has forced us to reckon with the change it has brought along with it. Keeping that in mind, exhcnage4media hosted its e4m Content Jam over two days from November 25 to 26.

On day two of the event, celebrated adman and filmmaker R Balki, joined Nawal Ahuja, co-founder and director, exchange4media,  in a no-holds-barred conversation about the changing nature of ads and advertising in the past few years, and what the future holds for the field.

R Balki is an advertising maven known for his work on brands like Idea Cellular, Unilever, Surf Excel, Tata Tea, and many more. The theme of the session was “Beyond 2020: the Visual Future of Content Marketing”               

The powwow began on a holistic note as Ahuja asked Balki about his roots, the “good ol’ days” of television and where things were headed when it came to creative and content. 

Balki responded in his typical candour on how glad he was to see advertising take a stand in setting things right and asking news channels to behave or they will pull their funding.

“For the first time, advertising is exercising its might by saying—don’t destroy society. It is the best show of advertising in a long time,” he said.

Ahuja then proceeded to ask him about creativity in advertising and the dwindling attention spans among people. He inquired about the psyche of a creative professional in a world where ad duration has reduced from 60 seconds to 6.

“If you look at OTT consumption, people are watching long-form content. As long as it is interesting, people are willing to invest 8-9 hours. It is not about the duration. The basics of advertising are pretty much the same, which is the idea and how effectively are you able to communicate an idea,” averred Balki.

He stated that the medium and the domain ads are being featured in might be changing but even today 90 per cent of advertising is about video or a story one tells through video. He spoke about advertising being consumed in a certain way by people whereas they shun ads on another occasion.

He added that it is not about being thrown off by the number of distractions available and not knowing what the consumer watches which is not true. “If you look at the 7-8 years, not many brands have been created except for maybe Swiggy or Fogg. They have been built in a traditional way as in they have been built on cricket. So everything else that brands do is paraphernalia, which is done to increase the noise around the brand.”

On being asked about the trajectory of creativity in ads in the concluding decade, Balki said barring a few brands which have been interesting, advertising has become conservative and less ambitious by and large.

“I think people are more satisfied if nobody curses than who praises their ad. It is very strange. There should not be any trouble. ‘I do not want to get trolled’ seems to be the mantra of late,” said Balki.

He cited the example of the Indian Premier League (IPL), and how the standard of advertising during the event is saddening. He said that despite spending so much money and so many people watching the league, advertisers are playing it safe.

“Advertising is a reflection of where the country is. We have lost our sense of humour. We are taking things damn seriously. Everybody seems to be paranoid about trolling and it does not make any sense,” he lamented. “No consumer criticizes an ad, it is only a non-consumer who do.”

He said that advertisers should not be worried about praise or criticism; what’s more significant is who has noticed the ad, what the consumer is talking about when he sees the ad, and whether they are even talking about the ad. “Most advertising is not talked about even after the IPL which comes for 60 days and its sheer weight of noise,” he grumbled.

When prodded about the bland nature of advertising and the contributing factors, Balki said he did not know whether it was a lack of ambition or the misreading the environment in which one lives in.

“At a time when content writing is going through the roof, and creativity is going through the roof, it is sad that advertising, which should be leading, is such a lagger. The only reason to be in advertising is to set a trend,” he mourned.  He rued the fact that a successful ad today is the one which has not been cursed.

He said that it is the time to fight it out. “You have to fight for the right thing today; it is an opportunity rather than a problem. I don’t understand why people are not willing to fight.”

Following this, Ahuja asked Balki about the message he wants to send out to young people looking to join the industry.

Balki urged the young to fight as there is no opportunity if there is no screw-up. He said that there was a paucity of boldness and ideas and an abundance of fear. “This is the time to come to advertising.”

When asked about the regulation the government plans to introduce for OTT platforms, Balki dismissed the endeavour as a “waste of time”.

Ahuja asked whether movies can impart any wisdom in ads and brands which Balki termed as a futile exercise as movies themselves are uni-dimensional where everybody wants to play real-life characters.

“Movies are suffering from lack of originality; movie is just another canvass and it is not just about portraying stories from newspapers. Only advertising can teach advertising,” said Balki.

On emergent trends in the movie industry, Balki said that movies are concerned with the future of their release. “Shooting is not a problem which is improving with each passing day. In the beginning, a lot of OTT bought movies which were lying in the ranks but it is not economically viable.”

He said that big-star vehicles cannot trust OTT platforms which will redefine the economics of the movie industry which is wrapped in uncertainty as of today.

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