ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 9, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 41
Financial Times  

A perspective on the local advertising industry

By Aneek Salih

Of late, advertising has been dissected and defaced within the industry and by the media. Some of the people have the authority to walk the talk whilst others comment without a clue. Having observed these issues which seem to be getting hotter and nastier each year, I would like to make the following observations.

Firstly, we seem to have forgotten what advertising is all about. Is it money, awards, ideas, brands, clients or people? Along the way, the industry seems to have embraced money and awards above all else forsaking the most important facet- building the brand for the client which should include all of the above. True it is a business but the most important criteria in this whole process are the professional talent and the ability to handle it. Unfortunately, we seem to have lost our way and more so, the industry cannot seem to attract good new talent and end up mostly with those who think advertising is just song and a dance. This is the first symptom of something going wrong as the signals going out are negative and not at all promising. Sadly, advertising is no longer seen as a career choice.

Secondly, it is the responsibility of the older generation within the industry to nurture and ensure the continuity of it. I can think of two reasons for this not happening. Insecurity amongst the ‘has been’ generation to pass down their knowledge for fear of being replaced and the lack of formal training for those in the industry.

It was David Ogilvy who said that “if you are to be successful as an agency, recruit people who are better than you in what they do.” As I said, his words of wisdom seem to have gotten lost in this fight for supremacy. As a result, we are losing the few remaining good people to other industries because of the lack of growth and challenge. Strangely nothing is being done about this, because most agencies who should be leading this initiative are too taken up with petty politics to see the erosion of the very thing that sustains them- People.

Thirdly, and most controversial is the issue of plagiarism although it doesn’t get the same flak as ‘scam’ does. In fact, I believe that plagiarism has to be dealt with in the same fervour and critique as ‘scam’ ads are talked about. But why isn’t this happening? It is also because lack of talent causes lack of ideas and the easiest way out of this is to ‘borrow’ ideas from other markets. This is wrong and unethical. But then again exposure is something our market lacks so most of these ‘ideas’ go unnoticed.

A word about the raging controversy caused by scam ads. In my opinion, comparatively this is not as bad as my third point but the issue has been a moot point after the Chillies awards held recently. Understandably, ‘scam’ in its definition (i.e. work done purely for award purposes) should not be encouraged but the emphasis on awards is so high that the temptation is higher. Also as one of the senior judges said, if usual work done is up to standard why the need for scam in the first place? Does that mean in our paid for work we don’t or can’t do award winning work? On the flipside if scam means ideas and work proactively done for a client (which may also serve for award purposes) then that should be encouraged as through this we encourage clients to be involved in the creative process, something which is badly needed in this market. (Also as a possible solution to weeding out scam)

Finally, I think advertising is all about people. People, who come up with ideas, people who implement them and people who inspire these ideas. As a result the entire process is emotionally charged and unfortunately this emotion takes a personal turn at the expense of professional judgement.

This is one critical change factor needed. And since 2008 is named as a ‘Year of Change’ maybe it is time we all started taking cognizance some of the more important issues rather than dabbling in petty preschool type games. We haven’t changed very much over the last 10 years – from a mindset point of view. There are a few who are trying to make a change – there are times when you do see a truly brilliant piece of work. But if we don’t recognize the need to create the next great Executive Creative Director or Client Servicing Director we are going to end up like the Sri Lankan Cricket team, having ‘highly celebrated’ personalities with no performance.

The writer has over 10 years experience in the advertising industry having handled brand strategy and creative direction and headed the media departments of two MNC agencies


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