Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Great Indian Digital Fault

(Warning: A longish post. Now that you are here, you might as well read it!)

Indian digital agencies are sitting on a seismic fault of their own making. The fault is that they are scraping the bottom of the marketing value-chain showing little or no intention of trying to move up. Now it must be mentioned here that even traditional advertising agencies are fast sliding down the marketing value-chain. This is a topic that is much debated across agency forums and therefore we will skip that for now.

What is the reason for this sorry state of affairs amongst digital agencies?

Digital agencies in India do not talk the language of the brand and business. They have no perspective on the digital revolution and its impact on culture and behaviour. The fact that digital is about ‘doing ideas that work’ is missing when you take a look at the body of work from these agencies.

Digital agencies in India are busy selling their ‘tech’ expertise. So it is all about SEO’s, SEM’s, PHP’s and SQL’s. They are great implementers and therein lies the problem. Clients view and treat them as ‘production shops’ in the much the same way they would treat a print production company – only difference being you get a digital ‘brochure’ instead of a printed one.

All this has resulted in digital agencies fighting amongst themselves for the miniscule budget that clients dole out. It is not surprising to see clients having more than three agencies in a panel with ‘jobs’ going to the lowest bidder. In many ways the current Indian digital agency scenario closely resembles the Indian IT services business. The main value they bring to the table is the low value of their services. 

A quick scan of the Indian digital landscape will reveal the following types of agencies. This is by no means exhaustive but only representative.

Gremlins: Like Gremlins they replicate at an alarming rate and hence are all over the place. They normally consist of a motley crew of ‘tech’ guys who want to do ‘something digital’. 
Flash Gordon: Any digital solution has to involve flash. An animated film that is a spoof of a Bollywood film that is somehow integrated into a brand constitutes a viral. It is a joke – literally and figuratively.
Master Yoda: You cannot miss them as they are the guru’s who-know-it-all on the world of social media and digital. To them it is all about conversations or collaboration or whatever is the latest jargon doing the rounds. You can see in their eyes (and mouth) the zeal and fervour of the convert and nothing else.

What unites these and other types of digital agencies and its people is their total lack of brand experience and perspective. They have never experienced the magic that comes into play when strategy and creative intersect. They have never seen how ideas, big and small, can power brands (and individuals) to another level together. They have never dared. 

Take a look at this amazing collection of great digital work and you will understand what I am trying to say. We in India have not even attempted to think like this, leave alone doing it. I am aware that there are many sceptics out there who think all this is a bit too much for India. 
In the digital space there is no such thing as an Indian standard and a global standard. Hey, a similar view about loos in recent times drew a great deal of flak. Anyway, this is my belief and the basis for questioning some other established notions like:

We do not have clients who are prepared to take the leap: I agree. This is true even for majority of the work on TV and print media, what to talk of digital. However, this is a journey in which the agency has to take the lead...er...leap. There is no silver bullet. They have to constantly demonstrate passion with a capacity to come up with radical ideas. There will be rejection not once but many times over. Hopefully, one day they might get lucky. I am talking from experience here. 

Low internet penetration: I am not denying that India is largely a TV and print media market and will continue to be so for many years to come.  I am also aware that digital is at a nascent stage. However, that does not mean that digital has no role or that one cannot try and produce work that we can be proud of. More importantly, 5% penetration translates to over 50 million internet users and this number is growing rapidly. There are some categories, especially aimed at urban youth and young professionals, where digital possibilities are enormous. More importantly, with over 55% penetration (that is 600 million users) mobile is virgin territory!  

Digital budgets are so low: Not all ideas require a large budget. If one can demonstrate a clear benefit in terms of brand growth – sales as well as reputation – budget will be no constraint. More importantly, clients need to see value from the engagement for them to scale up the budget. They do not see it now amongst any of the agencies and therefore are unwilling to loosen the purse strings.

Amidst all this you might ask what happened to those large agency networks with their ‘integrated marketing’ approach. The only thing they are busy integrating is profits. The large agency networks are fast asleep at the wheel. They do not get digital and they do not care. I have already explained why.

But things are changing elsewhere in the world. Traditional agencies are fast closing the tech divide. It is led by relatively smaller agencies like Wieden&Kennedy and Goodby,Silverstein who have developed a strong digital soul. Not only have they developed a strong digital soul, they have also demonstrated it with some outstanding work. This they do by experimenting with an interesting mix of people and by rapidly scaling their ability to navigate the digital landscape. Pure-play digital agencies are watching this development with interest and even a degree of apprehension. 

Wieden&Kennedy’s views best exemplify these developments and are music to my ears as they mirror mine.  

Digital and traditional are anachronistic way of categorizing agencies.Digital is not a channel. It is a context in which everything lives. New campaigns and ideas must combine an understanding of tech and media along with ‘traditional’ skills.  

Unless Indian agencies, both digital and the older agencies trying to develop a digital soul, have a strong perspective like W&K and put it to practice, the seismic fault will result in tremors pulling everybody down. And remember you heard it here first.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Top 10 I Wish I Had Written This (Edition 10)

The posts are not in any order of priority. Hope you like them as much as I did. More importantly, I request you to continue to direct me to more such awesome posts.

Advances in technology, online communities, and platforms that empower is creating a world where only the best ideas have the best chance to succeed. But it is not going to be easy.

Absolutely moving piece by Reddit’s founder which is a tribute to his mother for inspiring him to overcome odds and reach great heights.

Why do most new products and services fail? The simple answer to that is the product or service is wrong. But how can all the stakeholders come together and get it right?

The conventional definition of creativity does not apply to the digital world. There are is need for the creative folks to network, participate and do stuff continuously with their peers and critics to be truly creative.

“On the web, words can be more than just words. They’re small little reflections of who we are, what we believe, and what we want others to know about us.” Therefore....

If a brand is loved by everyone but they find no relevance for it in their lives, you have a nostalgia brand. You also have one BIG problem. I can say this from experience.

A great deal is made of when someone stays off the internet for a period of time. This is wrong. The author rightly says that “demonstrate our grasp of human relationships by our ability to relate face-to-face, as well as online”

Do not be fooled by the headline. On the contrary, this is an insightful post about ‘why you client is acting like a shithead’ and cause of it is more likely YOU. And therefore what can you do about it?

Agencies and consultants have the dream part of any project. They just ‘waltz’ through the process with little knowledge of the hard-work needed internally to make it a success.

Now, BBH is an agency I admire greatly. To leave such a company is not easy. But if you do leave, write a post like this on the last day.

(Image courtesy: Olivander)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Of strawberry jams and the anomalous outcomes in research

If I were to ask you to name three Hollywood action movies that you liked in recent months, your spontaneous answer might be - Inception, Expendables and Salt - in that order. Now if I were to ask you as to why you prefer one film over the other with a detailed questionnaire, your (spontaneous) ranking is likely to be reversed with Salt now becoming your most liked film.
Hard to believe? But it is true.  

Jonah Lehrer, renowned psychologist and author, in this wonderful article (courtesy via Bobulate) talks about the findings of a path-breaking study that was undertaken using various brands of strawberry jam. According to him, thinking too much causes us to focus on variables that do not matter. 

In the research, the respondents could easily pick the brand of strawberry jam that gave them the most pleasure.  

When researchers added extra analysis to the study, asking participants to explain the why of their jam preference and justify their decisions, the “extra analysis seriously warped their jam judgment” – the really lousy jam won.

Why is this so? 

“Thinking too much” about strawberry jam causes us to focus on all sorts of variables that don’t actually matter. Instead of just listening to our instinctive preferences, we start searching for reasons to prefer one jam over another. 

The researchers also showed that the same effect interferes with our choice of posters, jelly beans, cars, IKEA couches and apartments. We assume that more rational analysis leads to better choices but, in many instances, that assumption is exactly backwards. 

These studies represent an important re-evaluation of the human reasoning process. Instead of celebrating our analytical powers, these experiments document our foibles and flaws. 

The implication of this study on the research we do for brands can be profound. We think respondents behave like scientists providing well analyzed, rational answers on the choices they make. It is far from the truth. Respondents are people first, like you and me. Spontaneity and irrationality rules but we do not want to admit that. Now, it stands to reason why the best of ideas are toast in research and why mediocrity triumphs most of the times. Little wonder that over 80% (or is it 90%) of product launches and campaigns fail in the marketplace.

Therefore the most successful marketers and business leaders, according to Dave Trott, are the ones who dare to take the intuitive leap ignoring research and its anomalies. This is best exemplified by this quote from the legendary Akio Morita: 

“The biggest assistance I had, in growing Sony to a worldwide brand, was the total failure of nerve on the part of western businessmen to move without research.” 

Need I say more?

(Dilbert courtesy via)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where good ideas come from

Video courtesy: David Gillespie

The sign-off "Chance favours the connected mind" says it all.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bridging the gap: Madison Avenue vs Silicon Valley

This presentation by John Keehler (Director of Interactive Strategy at Click Here ) is brilliant, balanced, insightful and extremely relevant.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I lost my way and found it here

It has been over 3 months since I wrote a post. In that time I was juggling with issues related to my career and health. I thought I needed a break to resolve these issues – a clear head and what not. That was not to be. If anything, things remain as muddled and unresolved.  I also contemplated shutting down my blog altogether and focus on my life-stream blog, FreeMix, which seems to have a life of its own.
But writing a post can be very addictive. This is something I discovered in the time that I have been away. Even though I might have a limited audience, nothing beats sharing one’s views and opinion and seeing the magic it creates amongst them. I also missed exercising my grey cells that comes with writing a post – reading, analyzing and crystallizing thoughts into a cogent narrative.
There’s more.
Gavin Heaton, one of the world’s leading blogger on Marketing and someone whom I admire says it best in his latest post:
One of the most amazing things about social media, and blogging in particular, is the chance we have to create personal connections and very real friendships with people all over the world. Sometimes this means you connect with people who live in your own city and sometimes it means you connect with people who are on the other side of the planet.  

Now you know why I let my addiction win. This time around I intend it to be a controlled addiction. I will be irregularly regular and hope to cover areas other than marketing and etc (They tend to be a bit too boring and repetitive)  All this is in line with my new working philosophy – promise less and delivering even less :) 

Lastly, this blog is the only place I can call my own and it feels good to be back.

 (Image courtesy: Stefan)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why do clients (and some suits) hate the word creative?

Gapingvoid(Hugh Macleod) nails it on the head with the above cartoon.
He attributes the quote in the cartoon to Mark Earls, another great mind - 'I think it embarrasses the grown-ups: a lot of folk think business is some separate rational sphere of activity, in which maths, analytics and rational thinking prevail (whether it’s in customers’ or employees’ minds). "Creativity" makes things personal – makes you put your balls on the line. It cuts through the crap of “strategy” and all that pseudoscience that we hide behind.'
Hugh goes onto say - ‘To survive in the future, we're ALL going to have to get more creative- not just the boys in the black polo sweaters, but every last one of us, regardless of job title.’ 
It is indeed a very powerful and valid prediction, more so when it comes from an incredibly creative person like Hugh.
Meanwhile, I urge you to subscribe to his daily cartoons for your morning dose of awesomeness. It is one of my dreams to buy at least one of his cartoons. Er...let me figure out how to get the money for that first.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Top 10 I Wish I Had Written This (Edition 9)

The posts are not in any order of priority. Hope you like them as much as I did.
There is no point in advertising if it is not talked about. Amen
Extreme self-denial is not an act of love, but a form of neglect. Don’t be selfish. Do something you love. A simple, moving post
Provocative post that the author explains the way he has done away with conventional creative team in his agency to keep up with changing (digital) times. The comments were equally awesome.
The best start-ups ideas are those that answer the question: what do you wish someone made for you. The other less successful (and painful) method is trying to predict what the market needs.
I love this take on the intensely debated issue of privacy(online) and how brands should orient themselves for it
The author spares no one including himself for the errant ways of the gurus, evangelists and authors. Keep this in mind every time you read a ‘hot’ post or article from them. Love this post.
The title is the answer to the question on ‘how to save the world’ and the author spells out the reason why. Very thought provoking
Start thinking of people and the people they hope to connect with as a powerful network. This is the way brands can capitalise on the all-pervasiveness of digital technology
The best brand creativity transcends the screen and therefore to debate digital or otherwise may not be the right thing. The authors have made it interesting with lot of examples
Why is critical thinking important and what are the characteristics of a critical thinker is very well explained

(Image courtesy: e_walk)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A blank page

A blank page taunts me, mocking my inability to extinguish its existence. The taunt spurs me into action. I exhort my already exhausted grey cells to work overtime. But nothing seems good enough to take on the blank page. Helplessness has given way to despair and now seems to be in a mad rush to admit defeat.
I realize I am no match for the blank page. I am not an avid blogger with a point-of-view on anything and everything. I am neither a voracious reader with eclectic tastes, one who can pull a trick or two from the bag. I am just a passerby on a busy street. If something makes me smile or gets me worked up, I am prone to have a go at the blank page. It is then that thoughts, like dark thunderclouds, begin to emerge in the corners of my mind.
Alas, now my thoughts are swept away by the bright countenance of the blank page. Words that were trying to sneak in also beat a hasty retreat.
This is not a battle amongst equals. A blank page is a formidable foe. How can you fight nothingness without fighting yourself? You will try hard to sound more intelligent than you really are. You will try to be more curious than you really are. You will try hard to be more social than you really are. You will try to be anything but who you really are. That is the power of your opponent.
It is when faced with such moments that all brave men resort to the same powerful strategy. Surrender.
A blank page continues to taunt me.

(Image courtesy:alles-schlumpf)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nobody knows anything

The line ‘nobody knows anything’ is attributed to William Goldman, Hollywood’s highly acclaimed and awarded story and screenplay writer.
According to him, it is not possible to predict people’s tastes and therefore the success of a movie script. However, studio executives (the suits or corporate B-school types) of Hollywood are in a state of perpetual denial of this fact. They constantly try to pre-test scripts and modify it with the hope of creating a winner. More often than not, the scripts produced this way fail at the box-office while the scripts that were lucky enough to escape the suits attention do well. For example, this year’s much awarded Hurt Locker was never researched. It was produced without a single change to the script and the rest is history.
Isn’t there a sense of déjà vu for people in the agency business when they hear this? Creative routes are constantly researched in an attempt to attain brand salvation. All it results in is brand homicide. Why does this insidious practice happen time and again?
Celebrated marketer Scott Bedbury says - it is the inability to take responsibility for the advertising that has been created that drives agencies and advertisers to take refuge in pre-testing. Focus groups can be like expensive toilet paper - they cover your ass.
Be it movies or advertising, big monies are involved. Research can play an important role in our understanding of the situation and in helping evolve a sound platform for the creative to be developed.  Thereafter, any attempt in trying to predict the outcome of the creative through research will only lead to disaster.
William Goldman’s line is at once profound and simple. It comes into play in far more critical areas of our lives than Hollywood and advertising. Economic forecasts and stock market analysis have been known to be repeatedly way off the mark. People’s hard earned savings and nation’s wealth have gone up in smoke as a result of trying to predict macro-economic behaviour.  All this makes the mistakes in Hollywood and advertising seem trivial. Don’t they?
(Image courtesy:aeter)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Google Chrome Advertising Campaign - As unconventional as the browser

How do you tell the world that you have the fastest browser in the world?
You don’t.
You show it.
This is exactly what Google and their agency BBH NY did with their latest campaign for their Chrome browser. The campaign had an unusual beginning. They launched it with ‘behind the scenes’ video which has helped create incredible buzz online for the campaign as well as the browser. As Griffin Farley points out, this is a departure from the norm. Normally the ‘making of the ad’ video is released on the internet after the ad campaign runs its course in paid media as a way for agencies (and clients) to extend the story.
But then you can always expect the unexpected from Google and BBH. Sit back and enjoy this great work from them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Slow Down Now

Bangalore is increasingly becoming one more urban-corporate junkyard. Temperatures are rising. Tempers are rising. Incomes are rising. Values, alas, are fast vanishing.
The other day I saw a young corporate Turk in his fancy car berating an old couple trying to cross an impossibly chaotic road. All this rudeness for a nanosecond advantage before the next traffic pile-up just a few metres down the road. People are taking themselves way too seriously and always seem to be in a mad rush to nowhere.
People need to slow down. The International Institute of Not Doing Much I came across (courtesy Iain Tait) sometime back is just what the doctor ordered. An excerpt of the lessons follows:
  1. Drink a cup of tea, put your feet up and stare idly out of the window. (Warning: Do not attempt this while driving.) 
  2. Do one thing at a time. Remember multitasking is a moral weakness (except for women who have superior brain function.) 
  3. Do not be pushed into answering questions. A response is not the same as an answer. Ponder, take your time. 
  4. Learn our Slow Manifesto. 
  5. Yawn often. Medical studies have shown lots of things, and possibly that yawning may be good for you. 
  6. Spend more time in bed. You have a better chance of cultivating your dreams (not your aspirations.) 
  7. Read the slow stories. 
  8. Spend more time in the bathtub. (See letter from Major Smythe-Blunder) 
  9. Practice doing nothing. (Yes this is the difficult one.) 
  10. Avoid too much seriousness. Laugh, because you’re live on earth for a limited time only.

(Image courtesy: fatboyke)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Calling the bullshit on integrated marketing communication campaigns

(Video courtesy: Ben Kay)

Everyone in the agency business knows that come awards time, agencies will be busy 'creating' integrated campaigns to justify entering the holy grail of all awards - 'The Campaign of the year'. What a bloody waste of time. Instead, agencies are more likely to win an award by doing great work that works. Remember Honda Cog?

This advertiser, Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri, brilliantly spoofs this practice while plugging a case for advertising in their magazine. The video documents how a Japanese car company promoted the launch of a new model … by building an entire zoo.(Source: Adfreak)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Top 10 I wish I had written this (Edition 8)

The posts are not in any order of priority. Hope you like them as much as I did. More importantly, I request you to continue to direct me to more such awesome posts.
What separates good content that is read from good content that is not is your ability to promote it. The author makes a good case for it in the online space. Holds true elsewhere in work too.
A provocative post that caused a raging debate in the blogging and twitter world. It is well thought ends with some useful directions for agencies that I am sure will be ignored!
The author, a musician, says not to make life complicated and to love what we do, and instil it in our actions and our goals. And that is what people actually want to hear from you.
“Try going to work one morning without pants. Then try paying your rent once you’ve been fired. That’s ROI”. Similarly one cannot ignore ROI of Social Media says the author
The author, a copywriter, has written a satirical piece oozing with irony at the state of creative review commenter’s. Made me smile.
Next time someone wants to sell you on a strategy, tell them to show you exactly how they plan to implement it says the author talking about social media. Also true in other aspects of the business.
This is a must-read for anyone from any kind of agency (traditional or digital or whatever) and clients. Inspiring.
This is a simple and practical piece for designers by a designer.
The author, a technologist with deep connection to human behaviour, is pained at the way internet and other gizmos have made us less caring for each other. Extremely insightful.
Today, if an enterprise wants to have access to talent, they have to change. That is because of a whole new generation that the author calls GenerationM (born post 1982) entering it.

(Image courtesy: e_walk)