Thursday, April 09, 2009

The End is Near

I survived the land of 'sun, sand, sea and scams!'. (Did I leave out 'scorching heat'? Darn! Too fried to remember adding that.)

I've attended The Chillies (Sri Lanka's Annual Advertising Awards) twice in the past. And I was part of the organizing team of the first edition of International Advertising Association's 'Creative Mantra'. So, I'm anything but an 'awards show virgin'. But a Goafest virgin? Yes I was! And here's my account of 'losing it'.

For starters, I must be thankful to my employer for sending me (along with the team) to the event. It was a gutsy move when a number of competitors preferred not to send delegates, in view of the current state of the economy and reduced marketing spends by Clients. There were, however, from these agencies, a number of junior executives who shelled out the dough themselves to attend Goafest 09 (and I wonder how they feel about the experience).

On the outset, Goafest 09 seemed to be a collective excuse for the industry to get together and just have a good time (in many cases, at the employers' expense). The arrangements were great and indeed tempting for the ones who were there for a 'paid holiday'. The food was fabulous, the booze was in abundance, the shuttle service was a boon for many and there was non-stop action on the dance floor.

But there was more to the event and I'm not talking about the Awards yet.

The chief highlight of the event was the 'Knowledge and Learning' sessions that drew names like Jean Marie Dru (of TBWA fame), Sir John Hegarty and Dan Wieden. To be an audience to Advertising Greats such as them, should be looked upon as a privilege. But, the dominant mood among the revellers was of apathy towards the sessions. There were agencies and individuals that had their own agendas instead of being an audience to the legends. While some agencies decided to discus their 'annual plan' at alternate venues during these sessions, a number of individuals were more kicked about getting 'illegally high' (sic).

What can I even say about the award show entries? 4500 entries this year and a majority of them SCAM without doubt! (Read Sreekant Khandekar's article on afaqs about scams at Goafest 2008. It really sums up what most of us feel about the issue.)

I've despised scam from the day I was initiated into the industry, three years ago.

In past jobs, I've been in situations where I was forced by the Management to be a part of scam shoots. From donning the role of a photographer to playing a 'model' , I've even had to tweak copy for scam ads. And fortunately (in my defence), the half-hearted effort from my end showed through and none of those entries won and deservingly didn't!

How do you explain something like this coming from an Agency Head 2 weeks before the deadline for entries: "Take this ad for brand X that the client didn't buy. Now that we have Brand Y, let's tweak the earlier ad and enter it".?

These are the same guys who shun scam in interviews and encourage the 'necessary evil' (industry parlance) in their respective agencies. These are the same guys who ignore the non-advertising departments through the year and then run to them in December to request assistance in executing an Ambient/ Activation/ Media idea.

I am fine with scam as long as the name of the event itself is SCAM FEST. And I don't think any "published work" should be entered here by any agency. And no, they don't have to come up with the idea first and then find the Client. Instead, the Organizers can invite one sponsor to field a brief for each of the categories. For e.g.: XYZ Bank for Financial Services, ABC Motors for Automotive etc. All participating agencies can be given 3 months to work on the briefs and they can be judged
on the merit of the idea alone, with complete disregard to the size of the agency or their previous year's ranking.

I'm sure a lot of people will agree with me that a better way to reward fresh thinking in our industry is by making Effies THE Awards show to shine at. The Industry leaders should just ensure that 'effective ideas' are given prominence over 'effectiveness', i.e. 'idea + results' > results. And probably 'factor in' consumer response in some way? If consumers are willing to spend money on voting for singers they don't know personally or to send smses to vote for the movie stars of the year, why can't we get them excited about choosing their favorite ads?

Well before I joined the industry, I voraciously devoured all that the Ad Men of yore had to say of their experience in the business. And somehow all the work showcased in those books always had an underlying promise of 'effective creativity'.

I love the Effies because it reassures me that the Ad Legends were right. I'm a believer. I've always championed and toiled for good work. It's my dream to help an Agency win an Effie and a Cannes Lion for the same campaign some day.

I agree that times have changed and that Clients are difficult to please/ partner with these days. For every creative who wants to up the bar, there is a Client who is hell bent upon doing formulaic (read effective but no refreshingly creative) communication. But, that does not give the industry leaders and the "creatives" the right to make a mockery out of this business. What kind of a precedent is the industry setting for the juniors/ freshers in the business?

I've always wanted to be a part of the Advertising/ Marketing communication industry. I've switched career tracks to chase what I'm passionate about. I'm in this business by choice and I've been trying to give it my best shot. But with each passing day, I'm becoming increasingly disenchanted with what was once a 'magical world of limitless possibilities' to me.

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