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The Silent Betrayal - How Advertising let down the faithful. Chapter 4.

The thrill of the chase - The fourth chapter of the ‘episodic narrative’ by Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory

Shivaji Dasgupta

Rediffusion of 2004 was inspired by the spirit of Marshall Josef Broz Tito — the Yugoslav leader who wrangled enviable autonomy within the strangling empire of Moscow. A defiant proximity to WPP was thus the unstated stock-in-trade — driven by the dilettante worldview of founder Diwan Arun Nanda. From the university-like dominion of JWT I was shunted overnight, albeit voluntarily, to the high street — where entrepreneurship and not entitlement defined your worth.

Our signature client was Eveready, an endearing relationship forged by two intense mavericks — Deepak Khaitan and Nanda. It was remarkably separate from the corporatised alignment of ITC and JWT, which one was mightier is honestly up for conversation. But it did compel every significant rank and file to forge sincere personal bonds — every minute sub-equation bolstering the might of the original alliance. Jayashree Mohanka, the scholarly perfectionist, was head of marketing and conduit-in-chief — enforcing the parental equilibrium between affection and performance. Most fanboyish were the cherished encounters with Amitabh Bachchan, brand guardian angel, coaxing millions to adore the battery and celebrate the torch. Rainey Park, the headquarters, was a charming remnant of fraying corporate values — sublime graces manoeuvring the resolute rapier.

The art and science of business acquisition were imbibed caringly for a lifetime by my boss Amitava Sinha, the finest gentleman maestro of this aggressive craft. In JWT a pitch, hot or cold, was approached as an ICSE examination, the papers to be sincerely submitted and the results patiently awaited. While the truth lay dramatically elsewhere, chemistry and passion carrying greater weightage than the advertising sample. This was initially disconcerting to Brahmanical me, surely our education and pedigree taught us a differing truth. Amitava, in his genial authoritative wisdom, reassured that this was indeed a virtue in the current world — people gave businesses to people and not necessarily to ideas. As a newer cultural reality was rapidly emerging — companies were seeking managerial and not institutional accountability for advertising — inter personal trust and belief overriding copybook meritocracy.

Another simplistic but damning truth started dawning around this time — as an industry we were too frightened to ask for a fair price, be it old business or new business. This partially emerged from a defensive but honest self-assessment — in the offering sans media, an immensely talented boutique shop could outdo us — unless overwhelming operational scale came to the rescue. In the requirement to score, we were wary of being even fairly demanding, undercutting indulged even within the WPP family let alone the free world. Clients took due advantage, securing best-in-class services at breathtaking price points offered by market leaders, this inverse relationship leading to perpetual disarray. Preet Bedi in his infinite wisdom told me once that that the maximum comeback a client will have for asking a large sum is to say no — that self-confidence was surely not activated by industry at large.

Around this time also, we were gradually losing focus on the purpose of our professional being — the delightful and successful advertising campaign. A common refrain doing the mediocre rounds was ‘Know your client’s business better than he does’ — in this imbecilic quest, we ignored the evolution of our own business. Much to blame were folks like me — the suit cum strategy brigade grappling for seemingly higher-order client partnerships — which oftentimes was nothing more than authoring, sans financial or emotional credit, annual marketing presentations. Advertising in India was built by some formidable intellectual minds, who never lost focus on the key business deliverable, the flesh-and-blood creativity. New-age successors of this pioneering brigade were misled to seek solace in tertiary outcomes — further diminishing the worth of the primary deliverable. Some of this disarray can also be attributed to the ‘partnership’ model — leadership seemingly split between business and creative leading to a breakdown in the core process— but lot more on that in a later chapter.

During the latter part of this stint, I was interestingly part of a mammoth integration experiment conceived by the lovably-ambitious Mahesh Chauhan — the first ever of this scale in Advertising India and arguably way ahead of its time. Finest folks that money could buy from the domains of PR, Media, Events, Strategy and Creativity were summoned to build a brand new Rediffusion — gunning for an encore of the glorious 1970s in pioneering panache. The momentum was heady and the intellect sound — the marketplace receptivity unfortunately not quite at par with the product. One reason could well be the readiness of client organisations — old world generalist structures not conducive for the specialisation model. Another undeniable factor was the lack of packaged gestalt — glorious individuals whose sum never exceeded the whole of the parts. Yet again, the industry lost an opportunity to upgrade and most glaringly, not many were willing to pay the due premium.

In 2009 it was time for me to move back to Mumbai and resume a mainstream new-age existence. After parleys with McCann Erickson, Bates and Grey I eventually settled for Contract — lured by a romantic timelessness that was pure-play classical. Which promised to be a bit of the world I was leaving behind and a lot of the world I wished to embrace.

Read all the chapters here:

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 2

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 3

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 4

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 5

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 6

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 7

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 8

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 9

The Silent Betrayal – How Advertising let down the faithful, Chapter 10

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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