Saturday, May 23

Sludge Factory

I am not an expert.

This post is not another bullshit (heaven help us) 'Open Letter'.

It certainly doesn't take an infuriating 'So-n-so is wrong/right. Here's why' stance just to create controversy and get read.

It is simply my feelings on a certain matter. Without any (and I mean ANY) concern for someone else's opinion on the matter.

The above statement was a polite way of saying 'Keep your fucking comments to yourselves'.

Are you in college? Just out of college? In a boring job? Jobless? Dreaming about a better profession?

Don't join the Indian advertising industry.

Advertising attracted the slovenly. The edgy. The bat-shit insane. The dreamers. The hopers. The witty. The artistic. The dynamic. The intelligent. The strategic. The TALENTED.

Back in the days when there was just one channel, fewer choices of products and people actually read newspapers, these people had a good time, nay, a great time. They came together and made some lovely commercials that people still get misty-eyed over. They wrote bold, stand-out stunning stuff that leaves today's bunch wide-eyed with admiration and more than a dash of envy.

On a regular basis (compared to today), a body of work was created that people liked and disliked in equal measure. That got the man on the street, if not talking, but pausing, pondering and then walking. That was remembered. How did they do it?

Allegedly, in the golden age of advertising, people walked into office late, drank at their desks, puffed on tobacco and more with impunity, worked even later into the night and went out to drink and party some more. And out of this came the genuinely great stuff. Did it sell a lot of products? Who knows? But it certainly gave the product an edge over the competition. 

Somewhere along the line though, agencies and the people running them began to suck client dick. A lot of it. Now, anyone who is getting fellated on a regular basis isn't going to object. In fact, they're likely to get a swelled head (pun intended) and get fanciful notions about their criticality to the process of creating a great advertisement. Like a creeper takes over a tree, they began to voice their 'opinions' hesitantly and furtively at first, and finding no objection, did so with increasing vehemence. They always knew their product. They knew their target audience. However, they began to imagine that they also knew how to get the attention of their potential customers, creatively. Rather than focus on communicating the details of the product to the agency, they began dictating what details the advertisement should communicate.

The very same advertising geniuses who had fingers on the pulse of the common man paused in their dick-sucking, considered for a minute and figured it's better to let the village idiot voice his opinion every now and then. Because, you know, how much harm can he do?

A lot, apparently.

What is the scenario today?

1. There are 1-2 agencies 'known' for their creative work. This is largely because the geniuses running the place are shrewd politicians. The rest of the agencies are holding on by their fingernails, doing work that no one notices, and hoping no one notices. All of them are sucking a lot of dick.

2. There are a handful of great creative people leading agencies. But they've done their time, had their fun, worked their magic when the world believed in it and are now warming chairs, wondering why their juniors are so hopeless.

3. The common man doesn't give a flying fuck about advertisements.  Especially because they are more boring than a block of paneer.

4. The brightest minds are joining advertising, coming up against multiple walls of internal agency dumbfuckery and external client bollocks. And choosing to bail out of advertising, leaving only the also-rans and those who do not have the luxury to change boats mid-stream.

5. A lot of stakeholders (clients, agencies, etc.) think a 'Like' is as good as a conversation about the ad and are pouring their money into the blackhole that is digital marketing.

6. Twitter, that gutter of outrage, trolling and barely-baked logic, is alive and well, giving the heebie-jeebies to clients. (Seriously, who the fuck will not buy a mattress because the print ad used Malala to illustrate a point? The fact that it got noticed, ironically, did not get noticed.)

7. Clients want to pander to 100% of their customer base, forgetting that people are not Daleks and have varying likes and dislikes. That is, the phrase "One man's meat is another man's poison" has been well and truly forgotten.

8. Hardly anyone remembers the Zero Sum Game. And Bernbach forbid, wants to tell the client about it.

9. Wit, negativity, irony, sarcasm and anything else with an iota of danger or joy in it has been buried. To be replaced by heavy doses of drama/emotion, pointless wackiness and, my personal favourite, the 'A for Apple' style.

10. Every award will be earned by politics, canvassing and mutual back-scratching. Your talent and/or a great piece of work will not be enough. 

And what else? On average the pay is poor, the respect negligent, the hours, long and the stress, stratospheric. In the race to fellate as many dicks as possible, as many people as possible are getting shafted. Your colleagues exhibit various degrees of cynicism, depression and misery. Forget happiness, even a smidgeon of steady satisfaction is rare.

Sure, you'll hear the occasional "All the frustration, stress and tripe was worth it because a great ad was made" but no one believes that is sustainable. Like lemmings, people will come and go, their places taken by others, and the morons at the top will tell each other that all is well. And continue sucking each other off. 

Don't join Indian advertising. Unless you hate yourself.

Song for the moment: Angry Chair - Alice in Chains

6 comments:

Gaurav said...

Point well made Girish.. yes what you said perfectly makes sense! Lately I have stated feeling same with other fields as well. Those people whom I used to adore as a shrewd businessmen with sound knowledge of consumer minds, business acumen and bla bla, are nothing but GOOD POLITICIANS in the end!! With money and political games you get your business to highs (in terms of money i mean) and you actually create innovative product or not. well who cares about that anyway? Are you actually satisfied with your own standards (no time to think about it!).

G said...

Advertising in India is quite conservative. Though the trend is changing, companies are becoming too wary of 'backlash', negative comments, etc. which forces ads to become bland. If all ads look the same, no one will notice the product. Of course, most ad agendas are now being driven by amateur marketing/brand managers who know only their product and live in a bubble. That interferes with messaging.

Anonymous said...

If you play a game that involves pleasing others, more likely than not, you are going to be playing for the losing side. While that is true for life in general, Advertising (and the service industry, at large) are surefire ways to pit your self satisfaction against transactional, unartistic bargains. The reason it rings overwhelmingly true with Advertising is because it somehow attracts the more creative types with a lure of an outlet that seemingly exists only in concept.

You have romanticized the industry of the past, but even back then, the creative types were always grappling with the balancing act of being their selves and the soulless business angle of their trade. And it will remain that way. It would serve your personal interests better if you can either sell out or ship out. Any space in between is going to feel like asphyxiation.

G said...

There's a difference between the advertising we do and effective advertising. In that, I feel we play safe and slide quietly under the radar. The expertise associated with advertising is being eroded by clients and brand managers, who look at it purely from a marketing angle, whereas advertising is supposed to pique interest and maybe lead to enquiry. I've actually said 'allegedly' when mentioning advertising in the past, knowing full well that day-to-day challenges may not have changed much.
"Sell out or ship out" are absolutes. For the sake of my BP, you may be right. But I'm more of a "Raging against the dying of the light" person. Yes, things won't change, but if I'm going down, I'll do it with a fight, rather than with a whimper. So, we'll see how long I can tolerate this state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

More power to you man. It always fascinates me how most artists are cynics and how the energetic and unflappable spirit types are more to be found doing advertising or marketing, even when they are doing art! Maybe it is a rite of passage of some kind. You know, where the final breaking of the spirit is accompanied with the possibility of breaking new ground...a more fertile, personally-rewarding ground. You may find out for yourself in due course, perhaps!

G said...

Clearly, you've met more energetic people in advertising than me. I seem to have collared a lot of the cynics. Of course, we'd all certainly love a fertile, personally-rewarding period where we become Midas as regards work.