The latest ad for Spice Mobile’s Popkorn phone seems to have caught people’s attention. The quirky lyrics (salute to @meajay) & composition, the unusual style of storytelling and exposure on World Cup cricket seems to have worked. Not to mention the stand-out feature - projection phone - in a market where handset manufacturers seem to be outdoing each other to bring the next mobile phone-plus-coffeemaker. At Rs.7000/- the phone seems to pack in a punch - though I am skeptical of phones that promise to do everything- they usually end up doing a mediocre job of all.
Anyway, I digress. The point of this post is about the missed opportunity in the digital space. Search for Spice Popkorn and you get a host of links pointing to tech sites. Not a single one leading to the official product page.
Alright, the phone maybe targeted at those who don’t seek information about their phones through the online medium perhaps (I am guessing here) . But I would have thought the feature allowed for an equally great creative expression in the digital medium. But we have this:
I am sure the campaign creators have their reasons for not creating special digital content for this brand. But it seems like an opportunity missed, especially given the extent to which the Western world has progressed in this medium. When will we play catch up? Any projections?
Are advertising agencies consultants, partners or vendors? How do clients view them and more importantly how do agencies view themselves? I guess a lot depends on the client’s attitude in general to Advertising & the agencies. However, most agencies aspire to be treated like brand partners. Agencies sometimes equate themselves to specialist consultants like doctors, as an argument for clients to accept their recommendations without seeking options. Clients, on the other hand, seem to accept recommendations without seeking ‘options’ only from specialist consultants of great repute.
Is there a mismatch between the aspired positioning and the one that is practiced? Quite common, me thinks. We want to act like consultants but behave like vendors (noun - a person or company offering something for sale, esp. a trader in the street), especially when it comes to pricing. How often have we seen agencies undercut each other when it comes to new business pitches? Or display an ‘as you please’ attitude to remuneration?
If you look at the client-agency relationships that have lasted a long period of time, common factors include a commitment from both parties to make the relationship work, senior management involvement, consistent quality of work and perhaps a just remuneration. And there are others who keep calling for pitches every two years. While the reasons cited could be quality of inputs & work from the agency, it could be triggered by change in brand management team or wooing of the client by someone who offers the same wares at a cheaper price. Ditto with pitches. I can understand competitive pricing but some agencies will go so low with their pricing that it becomes difficult to sustain servicing of the account over time. And it triggers the cyclical process of poor servicing, followed by a pitch.
There could be 3 broad ‘levels’ in almost every department in an advertising agency: Directional, Supervisory and Execution. Each of those levels have certain expectations and job profiles (usually unwritten). In reality, the approach to ‘levels’ and designations is ‘as you please’, especially in Account Management & Creative. A ‘Senior Account Executive’ in one agency could be equivalent to a ‘brand associate’ in another and an Account Manager could be senior to an Account Supervisor depending on which agency you work in. In Creative too, there could be Creative Group Heads managing a group of er..1 (including self) - essentially designation is a not a ‘CD si baat’.
When it comes to ‘who does what’ - especially with Account Management, often the lines get blurred. Everyone does everything. I am not suggesting that senior people should not be ‘hands on’ or roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty on operational work. They should. Getting involved in operations is an inescapable part of our business - no matter how high up in the echelon you are. It is not all about putting your feet up and ‘strategizing’ once you become a ‘Senior’ something. It boils down to time management - extracting the best out of others so that you find the time for the ‘thinking’ part of the business.
But irrespective of change in skill set, mindset or experience it is customary to expect a promotion and a title change every years. Like clock work. So if someone joins the industry at say, 23 and stays on till his early 30s he is most likely to perform a directional role - as AD, CSD, Branch Manager or even a GM. Fact is, not everyone gets to become a profit center head in their early 30s. But everyone expects a promotion every 2 years. It doesn’t stop at the junior levels. Even Profit Center Heads seek a title change and maybe even a role change (larger responsibilities, geographies) pretty often. I overheard someone being introduced to a group of people as ‘Meet XYZ. He is the Branch Manager of ABC’. Immediately that person reacted with indignation: ‘No, I am the Executive Vice President’.
Yes, it is important to reward people at all levels - it could be in the form of titles, more money (yes, please!) or more responsibilities. But someone must explain to youngsters that expecting a title change & role change every 2 years like clock work is not a good thing. We could be promoting someone to a level which (s)he may not be ready for. There is value in patience and equipping ourselves with skill sets that make us ready for the next level. But since we are all in a hurry, will we have time to ask ourselves if ours is a fast road to success or obsolescence?
While I get the idea (Touch him. And you touch everything he’s touched.), one can’t help the feeling that there’s something amiss…something lacking…crafting of copy, finesse of execution that just stops this short of making it world class. Especially in comparison with advertising from the West, South America or Thailand. No?
Who is best placed to handle Social Media for a brand?
Two recent Social Media snafus were in the news for different reasons: one, where the CEO was seen as insensitive in his social media avatar and the other where an outsourced social media agency used inappropriate language on a brand’s Twitter feed. The former was a case of ‘in-house’ social media presence and the other was outsourced. Social media content for a brand is created either through specialist agencies who handle ORM and social media content or through in-house teams at client companies. And then there’s the possibility of the mainline ad agency doing the job - through a specialist Digital team or Division. Who among these is best placed to handle social media activity?
The answer: it depends.
A presence in Social Media is not mandatory for all brands. Those who do need it come in varied shapes & sizes: heritage brands, technology brands, service brands, entrepreneur-driven brands, leader brands, follower brands and so on. Each one will adopt a Social Media strategy that is best suited for them: as a customer support tool, a means of entertainment and buzz monitoring. Even among the agencies who handle such activity there could be varied levels of experience & understanding of the brand, the medium etc. There are endless scenarios and possibilities. So naturally, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. But some general observations:
First, the pitfalls of outsourcing. Your new agency could be a ‘specialist’ digital agency with a great understanding of how the medium works. They may be great in creative too. But they are only as good as their understanding of what the brand is all about. One way of understanding the brand is is handling it over a period of time. Chances are - and here I am not dissing anyone - the copywriter at your digital agency has only spent a few years in the business. His understanding of what a brand is all about comes from what has been told to him. A sharp definition of the brand, its boundaries is critical in such a scenario. So is close monitoring of the content.mThe second danger of outsourcing, especially in a scenario where multiple agencies are involved (one which creates strategy & produces mainline advertising, another which handles PR, another which handles media etc.) is one of dilution or fragmentation of efforts. Working in silos never produces the best result especially when its all about team work.
On LinkedIn, I had asked if Social Media should be outsourced; here’s one of the responses:
Branding is much about consistency in the signals you send to your customers, and giving them the same experience of your brand no matter where, how or who they get in touch with it. Therefore, I believe that the company knows the strategy, but more importantly, also the values of the company the best.
It is perfectly fine to get a consultant to help with how to use social media, but eventually the company will be better at being consistent in the signals they send, thus brand themselves. If it should be outsourced then the values of the company and current brand strategy should be crystal clear for the agency taking over the face on the social media platforms. The agency might know social media very well, but it is a big responsibility to outsource.
It is eventually not about how competent you are at using social media but more importantly how competent you are at sending the right signals in coherence with your brand.
The option of doing it yourself, may work best for owner-driven brands whose reputation is linked to the head honcho. It gives a personal touch to the brand. Even with large corporations - airline brands, retail, automotive brands there are several examples of successful social media campaigns - perhaps created in house. I think companies should focus on whatever they were created for - making cars, creating financial products etc and leave the interaction with consumers (be it in traditional media or new media) to the ‘experts’.
The expert is one who best understands the brand and how to bring it alive in different media. Theoretically, it could be the ad agency. They have traditionally spent the maximum amount of time with the CEO, CMO etc in devising brand & creative strategies. But they have not acquired the necessarily skill sets (or at least seen not to have) to steer the brand in new media, leaving the field open to specialists. I hope the ad industry does not repeat what it did in the early ’90s (hiving off specialist media agencies) which led to total lack of communication between the two critical aspects of brand communication: creative & media. They are best placed to drive the brand perception in the right direction be it on a 30-second TV commercial or a 140-character tweet. But will the agencies rise up to the challenge?
The diverse nature of India is a subject of fascination for most foreigners. We in India are used to it simply because its all around us - depressing slums right next to posh residential areas, stories of opulence grabbing headlines along with those of extreme poverty. As consumers too, the diversity is apparent - glucose biscuits could very well be the only breakfast some can afford while there is a market for luxury brands too. India’s consumer buying power - 101 BMWs booked in one day in Aurangabad or the celebration of opulence through TV programmes like ‘Shaadi 3 crore ki' have made the news rounds.
The story that brought this alive for me was this one:
Years ago, a man visited the cosmetics counter of a popular departmental store in the Mumbai suburbs. He was ordinarily dressed and did not seem to be the kind who would frequent high end stores. What’s more he was asking for M.A.C brand of cosmetics - apparently the most expensive of the lot. He gave a list of products that were to be bought. He was given suspicious looks - thanks to his physical appearance. When enquired who it was for and if he had the money to pay for it (as the bill ran into several thousands) - he pulled out wads of currency notes. Turns out that he was a driver, who was flown in from Delhi that morning to Mumbai. His job was to pick up these cosmetics - worth Rs.50,0000 perhaps and fly back to Delhi - just in time for an evening sangeet.
If you’ve seen the ‘We are animals' campaign for Wrangler, the residual image is likely to be that of men & women in bizarre poses in the wild. So you've got to wonder when Wrangler says this about their new campaign:
Wrangler presents ‘Stunt’, the most action-packed, adrenaline-fuelled campaign yet in its exhilarating We Are Animals series.
'Stunt' features real life Hollywood stunt people performing truly fearsome stunts. The danger, the explosions and the sheer daredevilry are captured in stunning images by the outstanding US-based photographer Cass Bird, and crew.
Shot on the ‘New York’ streets of the legendary Paramount Studios in Los Angeles (a set used by Indiana Jones, Spiderman and The Godfather), the ‘Stunt’ campaign pushes Wrangler’s thrill-loving brand persona to the max, and tests the limits of what is possible in advertising.
Mountain Dew is action packed and adrenalin-fuelled. Not Wrangler. Having said that, like with previous campaigns, this too will get talked about.
Posterous vs Tumblr vs Blog Platforms: is there a battle?
One of the key trends of 2010 was the rise of micro-blogging platforms like Posterous and Tumblr. (As an aside, its amazing how among the millions of online brands, a certain few suddenly come into the limelight - like Quora recently). Anyway, when I tried out Posterous I was blown away by the simplicity of it all - right from starting a blog to writing posts. I found the Tumblr dashboard a bit confusing, relatively speaking, though there are pros & cons to both. On choice and looks of themes, for example, Tumblr wins hands down. Even big-name media companies are flocking to Tumblr.
As a blogger, I would like to maintain just one blog and focus on making it better every day - be it in terms of content or traffic. But the lure of Posterous and Tumblr is far too strong. The ease with which you can create content - be it through the dashboard, email or mobile apps makes it appealing. Sharing content that you find on the web - through the bookmarklet for example, is also a cinch. Both these offer options to cross-post your content across other platforms like Twitter, Facebook etc. So they truly can become the one blogging platform you will ever need.
But I don’t see myself moving away from Wordpress completely - control, choice, scope to tweak content in a myriad ways are all reasons to stick with Wordpress. But more importantly, the micro blogging platforms are great for ‘reactive’ posts - when you are itching to share something interesting or funny found on the web. But when it requires writing, especially those which require some time to think through one tends to veer towards posting it on a blog. Given the information overload around us, instant sharing (often mindless, robotic reactions) is bound to increase - its the easiest way out. It creates a feeling of having ‘participated’ or ‘contributed’. But blogs with great content or those which appeal to a niche audience (legal, advertising, Arts) will continue to thrive. But not at the cost of each other.
Specialist Digital Agencies: divide of another kind
The One Club called these Digital Advertising that Defined an Era. Some created their own list of ‘best digital advertising of the decade’. Common to any list that aimed to put down the best digital work of the last decade? Work done by large, often known as ‘mainline’ agencies featured in those lists. The independent or specialist digital agencies have made a mark on their own and have demonstrated that they ‘get’ the interactive business and don’t just adapt a TV idea into interactive. No wonder they are growing from strength to strength. WPP consolidated several of their specialist interactive agencies into one unit - Possible Worldwide.
Among the big agencies, there are possibly two kinds: ones who haven’t hived off specialist digital units (yet do great work in that space) and those who’ve set up specialist units. Among the latter kind, the Slide No.123 syndrome (‘and now for our Digital & Activation ideas…quickly) is perhaps common as they still see the specialist unit as an add-on. Over time, will this divide fade away? Will the strategists & creators of work in the digital medium be one and the same as those who do the same on Television? After all within agencies you do not see segregation between a Television Copywriter and a Print Copywriter. In my view,those who already create brand campaigns for the digital medium without necessarily having to create a separate unit (names like W+K and CPB come to mind) are at an advantage. Over time maybe even the specialist units which sit separately from the ‘mainline’ agencies will break the divide. What say?
There was an interesting article by @babitabaruah on the lost art of Account Management. From not knowing how to switch on the Proxima to not having a point-of-view on anything, pertinent issues regarding the quality of Account Management folks was raised.
We dress more casually than a Friday night out.
We do not talk. We do not make a point.
We have, in fact, no point of view, most of the time.
We look at the planner whenever a strategic question is asked, and stare at the creative when we need to recommend a creative route.
We lack relationship skills – internal as well as external.
Most of us have mastered the art of delegation.
There was a time when accounts moved with the account person.
Today we are lucky if we are even missed.
Do we have enough fire? Enough passion?
The pitfalls of being a mere ‘courier’ in Account Management (one who simply takes files back & forth from office to client’s office) have been drilled into me since I joined the business eons ago. I am sure all the Account Management folks who’ve been in business much before I joined have been told the same. We’ve all been told that as an Account Management person you are a brand custodian, a business man, a creative strategist…all rolled into one. Surely, the exceptional Account Management folks are. But not all of us are or can be exceptional. But it doesn’t stop us from trying. Unfortunately not many of us are trying.
The point of this post is not to hold a brief for mediocrity in Account Management. I guess the role is a ‘bits & pieces’ generalist role in an industry which is in a way bits & pieces. Let me explain: advertising has a little bit of everything - from psychology to art to film craft to science to art. No single person can be a master of all. The specialists among us - the film director, the media planner, the copy writer - all have clear cut roles to play and skill sets to showcase. The Account Management guy can provide the creative spark, can lead brand strategy, can monitor the media plan…the operative word being ‘can’. But he can only be a generalist. And like in cricket, the bits & pieces kind of players rarely make it to the top - even among all rounders, its the exceptional ones who are match winners. So those Account Management folks who truly lead the brand (whose accounts moved with the account person) were rare 20 years ago and are rare today.
But there’s no denying one fact. The quality of ‘senior’ Account Management folks (Account Director & above) was far superior about 2 decades ago. They were the ones who commanded respect from both the CEO at the agency side to the rookie junior AE in the agency. Ask me, I was the junior AE then. This is not a ‘back in those days things were glorious’ nostalgia trip. Of course, there have always been mediocre people with plain average talent or mere passengers in the business and there will always be. But the good ones back then (at a comparable level of experience) were heavy weights - in terms of their knowledge of business and respect earned.
You just have to look at the good Account Management-bred CEOs of agencies today - the hold they had with clients as Account Directors back then, is what made them CEOs & business leaders today. I would attribute it to the holistic grounding they had - an exposure to all aspects of the business, including media planning & buying - when they joined the business. Back when unbundling of specialist services was nit in vogue, back when 15% commission was still the industry norm. Sadly, today many of the account leaders (with 7-10 years of experience) are the ones who ‘look at the planner whenever a strategic question is asked, and stare at the creative when we need to recommend a creative route’. Less said about their exposure & grasp of media the better. Today, I am ashamed that an agency CEO knows more about media - be it the big picture media planning concepts, optimal media spends required in a market for a given category, the cost of a 10-sec spot on IPL or the TRP of a popular programme - than I do. So is it all the Account Manager’s fault? Perhaps not. It’s the ability of the industry to train the Account Management folks and be what we want them to be.
But no denying what Babita’s article mentioned: the change begins with us. As always, it will be the handful of exceptional people in the Account Management business today who will ‘get’ what Babita was trying to say and make amends. The rest will be just happy to drift along.
An employee from New Media Strategies sent out the R-rated tweet (having apparently just suffered through a difficult morning commute), and was promptly fired. Chrysler later apologized, saying: “Chrysler Group and its brands do not tolerate inappropriate language or behavior, and apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this communication.” The profanity is one thing—but just as weird is how ludicrously at odds this tweet was with Chrysler’s current brand messaging of celebrating Detroit, as seen in its Super Bowl spot with Eminem.