This article is dedicated to the many senior exponents of advertising who routinely bemoan the demise of craft. They are most certainly right, for the evidence is demoralising but one must understand the rationale behind this decay. For, it is not a matter of attitude as commonly blamed but a subject of priority as is often underestimated.
For starters, we must segregate craft as accuracy, creativity and originality. Originality as in an expression that has not been done before and, thus, worthy of accolades. Creativity is a leap that unifies the right brain with the left as a compelling alliance. While accuracy is really about the semantics, the ability to be obsessed with grammar and in love with tradition as we know it. I must submit that the first two have thrived sufficiently while the third suffers from a deficit in attention, which must be hastily corrected.
On accuracy, the timing is fertile to refer to the skills of Pran-da, the erudite proof reader at the Bondel Road outpost of HTA. A marquee account was ITC Corporate and the leading evidence was the quarterly results advertisement, where he was my scathing mentor. Every punctuation deserved a Gestapo glare while the choice of expression was not spared the unending scrutiny. I learnt most decisively in the ample winter of 1998 that an advertisement was not just a page in a newspaper, it was indeed an expression of the sincerest soul. Which deserved a commitment beyond the transactional as if it was a legacy most cherished, however short term it may be.
So when I now read Horlicks being spelt as Horlick’s in a valuable paragraph, blessed by none other than FCB Ulka, the senses do deserve to squirm. Or when a message for toothpaste, none less than Colgate, talks of bad hair days and not of the bad breath moments, an error most diabolical. It does suggest a disdain for genuineness as we know it and authenticity as we believe it, the fault deservingly attributed to the writers in the agency. When the problem is far more fundamental as the degradation in the marketing cadre is way more dangerous than the agency talent drain and unhappily, folks of dubious substance occupy once-hallowed ranks. The death of accuracy is thus a systemic malaise driven by the priorities of the times and this must be examined at length.
On creativity and originality, advertising is alive and well as we are constantly being inspired by the content evolution to up the ante in scripting and narratives, however challenging be the task. I remember deeply an encounter with a deeply successful creative fellow in Mumbai 2001 when he blatantly accepted that accuracy, or in other words grammar, was an irrelevant and anachronistic skill as nobody frankly cared. In tune with a larger disdain for discernment in society at large, as evidenced in culinary, literary, editorial and exploratory creations. What mattered more was the sharpness of ideation and the celebration of the scriptwriter coincided with the ignominy of the writer, as the latter insisted on accuracy while the former thrived on creativity.
As a gregarious student of advertising, I deeply mourn the debilitation of accuracy in daily advertising and sincerely wish for an unlikely resurrection. For what accuracy does most plainly is restore the affection for craft, as errors serve to reduce its efficacy and genius in equal measure. The passionate proof reader is a breed fast diminishing and in his wake lies a mellow tale left poignantly untold, as a marker of a shallow era. Where all is well when nothing goes wrong and the respect for authenticity is receding at a rapid velocity. TV anchors do not verify information and the consummate blogger is more obsessed with projection than substantiation, this era of optimality we know so well. So do not blame Advertising in isolation, for its genesis resides in a larger truth of the world at large.
I must end this piece with a deserving tribute to M Raghunath, Director at Enterprise Nexus Advertising in 1997, and my most compelling mentor. To him, the detail was not just everything but indeed the only thing and he must be appalled in his heavenly armchair. Upon observing the casualness that reigns in a universe that used to be relentless in sincerity, as meaning and not just words.
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