The full circle: agency reunification
Our guest author believes that marcom’s best years, are still ahead of us.
The yesteryears (pre-1990s)
I often think of two brilliant English writers that I had the good fortune of working with in ‘the good old days’ - Manoj Shetty (Ogilvy) and Shashank Karmarker (Triton Communications). Both wordsmiths, spinning their magic in the wonder years of marcom in the 1990s and beyond.
Shashank went on to play the role of a servicing executive in the superb show, ‘Thinkistan’, which was based on advertising in the period. It brought to life our exciting industry, with all its fun, rivalry, banter, fashion and promiscuity that the industry in India was known for, at the time. But, more importantly, the show brought to life one of the two tectonic shifts that took place back then, at the turn of the century.
The first shift from an ‘English’ dominated industry to the more regional language-focused one that was encapsulated in Piyush Pandey’s comment at the AD Works in 1999 - 'The days of Alyque Padamsee are dead'. (Padamsee being the Lintas English speaking-writing Guru of the yesteryears.)
The second big shift arguably came at Sir Martin Sorrell’s behest, the breakup of the full-service integrated agency. One which had all disciplines under one roof. The three agencies I worked for in the 1990s - Triton BDDP, Mudra DDB and Ogilvy - were known for their full service and well-rounded campaigns.
I remember quite fondly the creative and media teams work in tandem to balance impact, reach and OTS to delight clients like Pidilite, Hindustan Lever, and the likes. We were known and respected for our thought-through brand consultancy approach that looked at all aspects of the campaigns we proposed to our clients.
The turn of the century: beyond 2000
The 20-some years that followed, saw an explosion of media, with the onset of the Internet and mobile. It saw a fragmentation in expertise that begged for a restructuring to help focus and maximise the marcom business. The result was a spin-off into multiple highly efficient, specialised and profitable firms based on various existing and new disciplines.
Hats off to the business acumen and the admen/women who took advantage of the new structures, and greedily adopted the mightily profitable communication silos that were formed to replace the 360-degree agencies of the past. Campaigns such as Asian Paints’ ‘Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai’ and Fevicol’s stupendous films over those explosive years, proved that the need to break up the integrated agency model was perfectly justified.
However, quite a few admen did believe that the industry had lost in a few critical respects. We lost a sense of the ‘whole’. We lost our power to consult effectively (optimally). We went on to become supremely talented, but limited, agents.
Half-baked new entrants (like myself) to advertising, started to feel that we might have entered the industry a tad bit too late. We started to miss the macro perspective, the debates and the passion for the craft. Advertising, while growing in volume, lost some of its command, power and the respect that it once enjoyed.
The now, the future: 2020 and beyond
The plates have started to shift yet again in the marcom world. Digital has started to become a worry. The COVID pandemic has turned that worry into panic, making digital marcom a must-know skill.
The ad spend shift has been dramatic - with the print and outdoor mediums affected the most - coming to an almost grinding halt. Suddenly, all marketers who relied on the good ol’ tried and tested formula, have been forced to relearn.
The industry seems to be reunifying once again. The change is quite profound. The brand creates its own media, and its consumers are also part of that media ecosystem. Quite a difficult trick to learn for the old dog. (It is truly unfortunate that the new dog is still learning old tricks at school and workplace!)
Practitioners have a lot to unlearn before they start to relearn. And, relearn they must - after getting rid of their truly inflated sense of knowledge.
Gone are the days of the USP/ESP/SMP focused on a singular target audience. Campaigns now talk about multiple personas, across multiple platforms, with an architecture of messages delivered at the right time, date, frequency and sentiment of the customer’s choosing.
The need of the day is to understand all aspects of the game. The interconnectivity of the medium and the fact that the customer is now an inextricable part of the brand-building process, makes it an imperative.
Agencies are finally in charge, both responsible and accountable for the work that they develop. At the core, we still produce content for brands, but we need to understand that the report card is generated in real-time and might need changes on the fly.
We also know that the new media has prompted a reengineering of the creative product itself. The skippable ads and the reimagining of the film is a simple, but perfectly relevant example.
The marcom game is rapidly morphing into a 24x7 science of discoverability, key words, influence, reputation management, optimisation on the fly, augmented (and virtual) reality, and media AI. The super smart Sir Sorrell has stated that his new firm has all aspects of the marketing universe unified. He believes that successful marcom firms of the future, will be that ones that value speed, accuracy, analytics and costs.
Seems like a bit of a U-turn back to the yesteryears! The only difference being we now know exactly how, where and why our advertising works.
I will go out on a limb and state that the creative genius of the future will be the one that has the unique ability to understand and respond to the freely available and ever-changing number.
And, yes, I am happy to confirm that marcom is alive and kicking. We are only growing from strength to strength, with this much-needed reunification of our craft. In my humble opinion, marcom’s best years are still ahead of us.But, we have work to do.