Wednesday, 30 December 2009

New Year, New Blog

Hello, all.

To begin with, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read my blog. What Is An Insight has been my canvas to talk about advertising – as an insider – and I hope you’ve found it interesting.

I find myself confused about this blog, however. I’m not sure what content to put up on it – which would explain the often lengthy intervals between posts. I haven’t yet figured out a consistent writing style. These are things I know I should have done right in the beginning, but this blog just happened.

So now I’m struggling.

In the New Year, I will revamp What Is An Insight. New look. New focus (still as an insider). And a new writing style.

Hopefully, you will still find it interesting.

In the meanwhile, have a happy and safe New Year. And here’s a useful link to get you through 1st January 2010.


Monday, 28 December 2009

How To Beat A Resource Crunch In Times Of Recruitment Freezes

Pick a project with serious senior management involvement.

Write a draft of copy - for the website, hypothetically.

Present this draft to the aforementioned senior management.

They will immediately want to make changes. Rewrite the whole thing, actually.

So, email them the file with a sweet note reading, “Please make your changes. I will polish it up when you’re done.”


You’ve just upward-delegated your copywriting job to the CEO.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Old Man And The Agarbattis (Part 2)

The wife and I, accompanied by Dr. DJ (he of the surgical misadventures) and his wife, The Nag, returned to Badshah Kulfi the other night.

And the Old Man was there as well.

That night, for the first time, I saw him accepting charity, but I couldn’t bring myself to give him money for no reason. There is something called dignity, after all.

When he came around to sell me some agarbattis, I finally asked him what he was doing selling agarbattis so late at night, at his age.

It turns out he’s had an accident, and needs surgery to fix his damaged back and knee. He lives near Metro Adlabs, and spends his time trying to accumulate the cash for the operation.

He didn’t specify how much cash he needed. But Dr. DJ says that surgery and post-operative care will add up to at least Rs. 1 lakh.

So now, the mission is clear: to find a charitable trust who is willing to pay for this guy’s surgery. Any help would be more than welcome.

In the meanwhile, I’m also trying something with one of our biggest clients. I will keep you posted on that if and when it develops.

Meanwhile, there’s an Old Man out there, hobbling around on a cane, selling agarbattis to end his pain.

Let’s help.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Friendly Neighbourhood Resource Poacher

A quick word of warning to Creative Directors everywhere.

You don’t need to worry about other agencies poaching your people.

(Well, you do, but there’s a bigger threat on the horizon.)

You see, LooksGayButClaimsHeIsn’t and I are swamped with work, and need some help.

So we’re going to be going from cubicle to cubicle, from person to person, requesting them (unofficially) to spend their spare time helping us.

Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised to find your art director ignoring a print ad layout in favour of a website design. Or your copywriter suggesting you don’t do a poster, but a Facebook app instead. Digital is like that only – far more fun.

Of course, this is all part of my top-secret, highly-classified, under-the-table, ultra-stealth master plan to transform every mainline creative person a digital creative person. Without slipping strange chemicals into their drinking water, that is.

Already two people have volunteered their spare time, and we will brief them today.

And for all those creative folk who are happy writing product tags and the odd poster, I paraphrase what the Creative Director in the Ramgarh office said to his people: “Beta, kaam kar, nahin toh digital-waale aa jaayenge.”

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Old Man And The Agarbattis

I think that, at some point, advertising professionals grow tired of earning megabucks for their clients.

It’s not always a conscious thing, I feel. But at some point, we’d like to hear our clients say, “Okay, we’ve earned so many trillion bucks this year selling soap. Now let’s give something back.”

And then we try to do something about it.

Some shining examples. Lowe Lintas is unofficially known as the ‘social cause’ agency. We have three brands (at last count) that champion social issues. I have had the good fortune, for the last three years, to work on Tata Tea, which has made awakening people its mission. It’s a matter of pride to know that you helped give India 600,000-plus new voters.

Indra Sinha, one of advertising’s legendary copywriters, who emerged during a golden age period in the 80s and 90s. A Colaba boy, like me, based in the UK and France, Sinha was voted one of the top 10 British copywriters of all time. But what sets him apart from the pack is that, during his career, he did some stunning recruitment and fundraising work campaigns for the London Police and Amnesty International. His raving, ranting ad blaming British citizens for the Kurdish genocide shocks readers even today – it shocked me when I read it in The Copy Book. It also helped garner record funding for Amnesty. Sinha then quit advertising to become an author and activist, advocating full-time the issues he’d become involved with during his career.

Three years of working on Tata Tea have, I think, turned me into a more socially responsible citizen. At home I try to waste less. I try to get my brands to take up larger causes. I get excited when an energy brand says it wants to talk about the good it is doing for people and the environment. I give more to charity than I used to. I’m more aware of peoples’ plights. Watching the show The West Wing has helped immensely too.

Where is all this going?

If you ever visit Badshah Kulfi at Crawford Market late at night, you will see an old, frail, emaciated man, shabbily dressed, tottering around the place, a heavy plastic bag slung over his shoulder.

He doesn’t beg. No. Instead he moves slowly from car to car, shuffling his feet in little steps, trying to get Badshah’s patrons to buy agarbattis from him at twelve bucks a packet.

When he does find a buyer, his face creases with concentration as he tries to sort out his packets. It’s difficult for him to do even this simple task – his hands and fingers tremble, making it difficult to grasp a packet of agarbattis.

It’s wrong. It’s just so wrong that a man who’s at least 70 has to walk the streets at night trying to make some money to live off.

What is commendable is that he isn’t begging – he’s selling agarbattis. I tend to overpay him a bit – but he at least keeps his dignity.

My wife and I wonder why he’s out on the streets. Have his kids kicked him out (and he seems like he’s carrying that sadness with him)? Has he lost his family? Does he have no home? Is he being exploited? What is his story?

And, most, importantly, how can we get him off the streets?

The next time we go to Badshah’s, we will talk to him. We’ll try and learn his story. And then we’ll see if there’s something we can do about it. Even if it’s just about buying him a warm jacket to help tide over this winter.

In the meanwhile, we’re going to figure if we can donate some money to old-age homes. Through the Lowe Lintas Give India programme, and otherwise too. For all those old folks we haven’t seen at Badshah’s.

If you have any other ideas, or would like to help, do let me know. It’s a cause worth fighting for.

Please share this post with others you know. Spread the word. Click the ReTweet button. Share it on Facebook. On Digg. On Reddit. Over email. Over the phone.

Because y0u sure as hell wouldn’t want to see anyone you loved in that old man’s shoes.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

How To Compensate The Ad Industry Better

See, I think we in the ad industry can sell everything – everything in this world – except ourselves.

Detergents. Condoms. Soaps. Shampoos. Medical services. Furniture. Cars. Bikes. Clothes. Jewellery. Art. Banking. Toilet cleaners even. We can get consumers to see value in any one of these categories.

But we can’t get our clients to see the value and worth of our ideas.

So, we slaves have to continue slogging away, underpaid and overworked. Because until clients begin to fork out more dough, the agency bosses won’t.

So I came up with an idea.

I shall turn to the government, for a bailout package a la Obama.

I will approach the Minister for Small and Medium Industries – with our profit margins, you can’t classify advertising as a large-scale industry – and make the following proposal to him.

There are hundreds and thousands of young, talented advertising professionals around; young, talented professionals who are highly underpaid and cannot, even after working 7 years, afford a house in a metro.

So, to avoid some disgruntled adman (or adwoman, to be politically correct) filing a case requesting that advertising folks be classified alongside SCs, STs and OBCs, I recommend this:

Just as the government has provided Railway Officials’ Quarters, Army Quarters, Navy Quarters, etc., they should set up Advertising Executives’ Quarters.

These will be flats in the poshest areas of town – Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Malabar Hill, etc.

To avoid public envy, the buildings will be painted to appear dilapidated, just like any other government housing.

(Of course, from inside it will look like the Seventh Wonder of the World.)

How does one allot flats? According to ad agency size, of course. The biggest agencies get the most (and biggest) flats. That would give Lowe Lintas a fair chunk of the pie, and large slices too.

Within the agency, flats would be allocated to those who have just reached the stage when they would have been able to afford them had they worked in another industry.

There are some problems to be faced with this model, though.

Firstly, some agencies might begin to cook their books to appear larger than others. Careful auditing might take care of this.

And second, some agencies may demand that awards be the sole criteria for allocation. Then there would be a counter-demand that only Effies be counted, etc. This would revive the age-old scam-ad debate. But some firm Minister-speak would solve this issue.

While this idea may be scoffed at, I believe it is absolutely vital for the survival of an industry that helps con the gullible public into buying into anything, from prostitutes to politicians.

And, after all, payouts come only once in a lifetime.