At dinner, when I was growing up (in the ‘60s – am I sharing my age?), the radio was always on. The conversation at the table would be disrupted by radio jingles. I still remember most of them. Sometimes the conversation was about those ads.
Then came television (in the ‘70s) and ads, first in black and white and then in colour. The early ones were extension of the radio jingles. Then came scaled up production, shot at locations all over the world. It was like a travelogue. We watched some of those ads, with marvel, recalling not the ones which played more often, but those which left a lasting impression. The conversation at dinner continued to be disrupted by the ads, given we did not dare speak during the program.
Now in the ‘15s (2015) an array of gadgets are parked atop the dinner table, exchanging silent comments, called likes, fans, tweets, emails, vines, tubes. Television, unless the news is really breaking, is on record mode. Yes ads continue to be noticed, but now there are so many to speak about. It’s boggling the mind and recall is a challenge. Or is it that I am growing older.
So somewhere in these years, advertising left such a lasting impression for me to consider a career in it, thrice. Mid ‘80s JWT Mumbai; early ‘90s JWT Taipei and 2014/15 GREY (at present). What got me to this great joy ride was the allure of another conversation. One which Chairmen, CEOs and Marketing Directors of companies had with their brand partners (aka agencies), to whom they had entrusted the nurturing of their brand or brands. The idea of being a brand partner was awesome. It certainly was the best learning experience one could have. Discussing strategies, ideas, undertaking market visits, conducting consumer studies, sneaking into competitors’ plans, presenting to Chairmen. A complete roller coaster thriller ride, which then met with fragmentation and the segregation of services. Profit centres began threatening custodianship. Domain overgrew integration. Fees (or lack of them) replaced commission.
Enter the Procurement Department!
(The empty space signifies a moment of silence)
The conversation is now about a hashtag; a 180-second spot on a digital platform and with a TV commercial producer on the next 10 second. It’s about the discount offer, which has to be approved by ‘the Centre’ in a country far away and it has to be made at a discount, says Procurement. And there are about 10 people in the room, representing myriad sources of marketing services, whose collective fee is now pure nostalgia.
While this may be exaggerated, it is illustrative of the situation. While there has been rampant brand proliferation, the marketing discussion with brand owners, has moved downstream in the organisation. Supply-chain, governance, acquisitions and globalisation have gradually replaced the brand conversation. Enter a new stream of specialists!
So how do we get our conversation back on the High Table?
Bring back the ‘integrated service view’ to create the new conversation, totally peppered with all the new ways of talking to the gadgets. Data is becoming more important, but cannot replace insight. Just start on the canvas afresh. Bring the consumer into the centre and replace the traditional vectors with contemporary ones. It’s not always the same idea going through; often new modes require different ideas but engage the consumer with the same promise. Integration is not bringing it together. But it is taking the consumer promise, into all the far lands. Communication has been extended into conversation and we need to be prepared to take in into content.
Creativity now has a bigger canvas to paint.
I am personally delighted to be in this era, as we are in a unique position to bring it all together and stimulate a new conversation. Not at the dinner table, maybe, but at the High Table. It’s about the 21st Century Canvas Conversation. Paint it big, hued with colour and textured with engagement. A canvas which can lead to a resurgent prosperity for the marketing services business because it takes ownership of the very premise – but differently, the consumer canvas. Now hashtag it, like it, follow it , fable it – make it your one big compelling vision. Hail the new consumer canvas – resolution to a conversation at the High Table.
So what’s for dinner tonight?
Sunil Lulla is Chairman and Managing Director at GREY group India
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