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Commentary: Goafest, Abbys, scam ads, plagiarism, medals withdrawn... Who will sort out the mess?

Never before has Indian advertising come under such scrutiny in the national and international media. It is time that the likes of Piyush Pandey, R Balki and Prasoon Joshi stepped in to take leadership of the Abbys and help Indian advertising win back its credibility


Kalyan Kar

April 12, 2013

Frankly speaking, it couldn’t be better for the media if one were to go by the developments in Indian advertising the past couple of weeks. On March 25, BestMediaInfo.com first put out the news about the JWT scam ads for Ford Figo, and we quickly followed that up by breaking the news, along with The Economic Times, of JWT’s Chief Creative Officer Bobby Pawar getting an unceremonious sack. Then came the celebrations – Goafest – India’s premiere festival for the ad frat. Three thousand five hundred delegates came and celebrated, the young adlanders did their rain dance through the afternoons, and there were the usual clapping and the cheers on the two Abby nights. And even before the participants had unpacked their bags on their return came another body blow: Leo Burnett withdrawing its winning entries for the Tata Salt Lite radio spots. The latest controversy is the spat between Ogilvy and BBDO over the award winning DHL ad leading to BBDO losing its two golds and one silver Abby for its DHL campaign.

The selfish journalistic interests aside, the trade media is very much a part and parcel of the industry. We are also saddened by the unsavoury revelations of scam ads. Something is seriously wrong.

I still remember last Saturday evening when the Creative Abbys were being announced. I was standing right at the back of the packed Zuri White Sands awards arena with Shashi Sinha, The Ad Club President who also heads the Awards Governing Council (AGC), watching the awards function. Shashi has over the last two years done all that can be possibly done to set up the right processes for the Abbys judging. That evening, I could sense a tinge of helplessness on his face. I was convinced when a particular radio campaign was called up for an award – I do not quite remember which campaign – Shashi seethed and muttered: “Who the hell does not know that this is a scam ad created for the award!”

So why did the jury let it pass, I asked. Shashi replied: “We have set up all the processes, the checks and balances. But if somebody wants to beat the system, what do you do? If the entry is accompanied by a client letter, how do you stop it?”

I realized that it all boiled to one simple thing: following the jury process in letter is one thing, following it in spirit is altogether different. Therein lay the problem.

Surely there has to be a way. I asked around. Satbir Singh, Managing Partner & Chief Creative Officer, Havas Worldwide, said: “Impossible! It’s like removing corruption. Can be reduced but not eradicated.”

Most people who matter in the ad industry seemed to be of the opinion that stopping scam ads is easier said than done. Well then, if the Abbys are about celebrating and recognizing creativity, some suggested why not why not remove the rider of paid-for ads? Ajay Kakar, of the Aditya Birla Group who will most likely take over from Shashi Sinha as The Ad Club President in August this year, does not quite agree. He said: “But we are judging and honouring creativity for advertising, not just creativity. So it has to be a published ad, otherwise it is not an advertisement.”

Back to square one. If the overriding urge to win a metal is so great for some agencies, they will always find ways to beat the system is what most industry seniors said. There are enough small, unknown publications in the far-flung districts in this country where one can get an ad published to meet the technical parameter for an entry. And it is not difficult to convince the client to sign on the entry form.

Step in Piyush, Balki, Prasoon…  

For years now, Lowe Lintas and R Balki have stayed away from the Abbys and Goafest. This year, Ogilvy and Piyush Pandey decided to stay away, ostensibly because of internal reasons and that fact that the Abbys don’t excite and energise the Ogilvy team any more. They had topped the Abbys last year.  McCann and Prasoon Pandey haven’t pulled the plug yet. And McCann ultimately topped the creative rankings on the strength of its seven golds and a Grand Prix. Prasoon personally went up with this team to collect the Grand prix trophy – great gesture.

All three of you are considered to be at the top of what Indian advertising creativity has to offer. Piyush is the guru of contemporary Indian advertising – Bobby Pawar said as much in his interview to ET Now last evening (damn, the ET Now guys made a mess of the show timing announcement).

Your industry, to which you guys have given your entire professional lifetime, is in serious mess. The muck is flying all over – even the international media is hammering the JWT-Ford and Leo Burnett-Tata Salt Lite incidents.

It’s time you guys forgot the past or immediate reasons, and stood up to put the house in order. Stature and absolute respect matter in these situations – and the three of you have a voice far louder than the current lot. There are whispers one heard at the Goafest this time that the management of the Abbys and Goafest is being monopolized by a handful, a kind of a caucus. We do not know if that is so.

Take leadership of the Abbys, make your voice heard, bring back the sanctity of following entry rules in spirit, and help your industry and the Abbys get back their credibility. Take along sincere colleagues like Shashi Sinha, Agnello Dias and a few others. Do remember that when muck flies, it tends to sully even the clean ones. It is not difficult. Just do it.

Goafest 2013, other than the scams

The scam ads controversies apart, this year’s Goafest took off on a great note with the Ad Conclave. Finally, we got to hear the perception from the other side of the table – the clients themselves. HUL’s Managing Director and CEO, Nitin Paranjpe, delivered a visionary speech on how “trust” in business is at an all-time low globally, how this affects brands. “In this age of social media, if longstanding regimes in Tunisia and Egypt can be brought down, what hope do brands and corporates have unless we ensure the consumer is with us? We need to start reinventing the model of building brands.”

RS Sodhi, Managing Director of GCCMF (Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation) that owns brand Amul, held up the mirror to the high and mighty of the ad fraternity on trust and relationship between a client and its ad agency. “It is like a marriage, the intention should never be to divorce.” Sodhi’s most telling remark was: “Advertising should look to sell the product and not the creator of the campaign.”

And then there was the fascinating lecture by Swami Sukhabodhananda on “uncertainty” in life and how to deal with it. He even coined a new definition of the word ‘fear’ – fantasised experiences appearing real! “Uncertainty in its purity is not experience; we never factually experience uncertainty in life. The translator translates it based on the programming of the past. The experiencer pollutes the experience.”

He had more gems of wisdom for the spellbound audience. The brain has four parts, he said – their functions being intelligence, planning, kinesthetics and intuition, and to solve uncertainty one needs to use all four parts. The best was: “When a stupid person learns logic, logic becomes stupid!”

True to its theme this year – ‘Just what you Un-expected’ – Goafest and Abbys delivered on its promise!

Also read:

Ford and JWT eat humble pie with misguided creative

JWT gives marching orders to Bobby Pawar over Ford Figo ads

Commentary: Scam ads, Ford, JWT, Bobby Pawar, Colvyn Harris, Kardashians…


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