We chatted up with Kaushik Mitra, Senior Creative Director at Bates 141, on the recession and advertising creative…
As a Creative, what does recession mean to you?
I think the first thing it means to all of us is, ‘no raise’. It also means less spend on proactive initiatives which are done keeping an eye on the award festivals. But I’m hoping it will mean more time to mself.
Do you think the recession will force clients to think more innovative? (can you give examples?)
To be able to understand what clients might do in recessionary times, you have to first understand the recession itself.
Look, from whatever I have gathered from the media, this recession is serious. Much more serious than any of the slow downs we have experienced in our professional lives atleast.
In the west, it started off with too much credit being given to too many people. As a result many Americans have had to return their new flats, cars, and other expensive purchases. But this recession doesn’t just hurt the techie or the banker. It hurts the banks, many of whom have already gone in the red. It hurts the industry. Imagine, car makers trying to sell in conditions where car owners are actually returning their luxury cars or SUVs. It’s tough. Very, very tough, specially when you consider a huge number of families in India who are dependent on their children now settled in the US and UK.
Therefore, old people will suffer. They may still have enough to pay their essential medical bills, but they will not have money left over for a foreign holiday. Or a new car with driver to run errands for them.
I think the other set of people in India likely to be affected is the huge (some say, 300 million strong) middle-class. A lot of the young ones have made their bucks from the IT, tourism or the service sector revolution, which as industries are interconnected to the global economy. This set of new-age worker is unlikely to be buying premium cars and fancy HD televisions immediately. In fact, a few of them might even default on their home loans or car loans. Reports of farmer suicides are already getting overtaken by reports of techie suicides.
So in conditions like this, I see the car industry launching fewer cars, though there will be some desperate attempts to clear inventories. Tourism is already affected, and things may not improve. Definitely sectors like household electronics or anything else that’s remotely conspicuous will be affected first, as people generally try to postpone their high ticket purchases.
So how does all this affect the practicing advertising creative?
First of all, there will be a spurt in discount ads. Whichever category of products you handle. Our ads will now have to ‘work harder’, though I have no idea why an ad must be ugly to work hard!! But that’s another conversation.
Secondly, this phase might see a lot of internal communication. There will be bad news from time to time, and in times like this, companies might want a smaller but happier workforce. So there will be workshops and dealer meets and similar such bonding exercises that will also require communication help from us.
My feeling is, this will also be the time when clients would like to say a lot more in a given piece of communication. Media continues to be relatively expensive, and traditional clients will try to pack in a more persuasive argument into the fewer releases. For one, it may mean be the end of the ‘what is the one thing that needs to be communicated’. Atleast visually. This period might therefore mark the return of the long copy. Not in the traditional sense we have read it in the award books, but more conversational, more real. Let’s not forget this is the generation conditioned by Shah Rukh and Dhoni, so some spontaneity will always help.
To answer your question, I think the innovation will have to emerge more from the agencies who profess to partner their clients. This is the time when we will really have to walk the talk and understand real client needs quicker and better. And then, lead the initiatives with ideas, because finally that’s all we have. But ideas that work harder and more effectively.
If so, the recession is good for creative?
You see, slow downs always result in ads that need to ‘work harder’. While one way of looking at it is more 50% SALE ads, the other way of seeing it is, you still need to avoid sameness. And there will be a lot of sameness.
As good creative professionals, I feel our job is to create difference and stand out in a cluttered environment and luckily there will be enough opportunities to do that. I think there is another one thing. You see, if we stop aping what’s there in the award books and look at life itself, we will see a diverse set of problems. Each one unique from the other. As good creatives, if we let the solutions emerge from these problems, I think we would have had a very rich, mixed bag of ideas as disparate as the problem itself. And that’s really good for creative.
Creatives need to explore and observe for growth and fresh fodder for thinking. I understand fewer Creatives may be sent for Ad Festivals in India and abroad. Will that affect the idea process?
I have been to Cannes and I know there’s no substitute for the experience. But I think in this day of information, youngsters generally know what’s winning where. If they are inquisitive they will also find out, why. Also I think as a country we have been incredibly lucky because our stuff has been winning for some years now. A lot of our senior creative directors have therefore served in the jury of prestigious festivals and carry with them a wealth of knowledge. So I don’t feel the recession (even if it lasts 2-3 years) can affect the idea process. Even when we started winning as a country in the early 2000s, I don’t think a lot of young creatives were travelling to the ad festivals.
Can you give an example of lowest cost advertising that worked big time?
Look, don’t get it wrong. The recession is not about lowest cost. It’s about a larger return on investment, though I understand the investment can’t be infinite any more. However if the ideas we deliver work big, it can make the investments appear relatively small and that’s what has happened with every big idea. Consider for a moment the idea Droga5 did for NY-based urban clothier Mark Ecko in 2006. It involved hiring a plane, dressing it up like Air Force One in the Andrews Air Force base and then tagging it with the words “Still Free”. It wasn’t cheap as an exercise. But it did become a conversation point with hundreds of blogs starting off and the Pentagon denying that the US President’s plane has actually been tagged. Of course, it was video that Droga5 shot and circulated as a viral. But it resulted in millions of dollars worth of unpaid publicity for Mark Ecko. The idea also went on to win a Grand Prix in Cannes in 2007. Similarly with the ‘Tap Water Project’ in NY, which doubtless required much less funds, and is possibly the answer to your question about low cost ideas. Similarly with ‘Earth Hour’ in Sydney which was done for WWF by Leo Burnett. These are all ideas that have emerged from a problem, and go on to achieve a lot for the cause and the client.
Do you think a lot of ad agencies will close down in the next 2 years and creative professional will lose their jobs?
Well, as a keen student of Economics I understand the recession could be serious, even for us in India and China. Probably because some of our industries are not very well integrated with the global economy and that’s why the effect on those industries will be less. But yeah, it will be tough for most of our clients, and therefore it will be tough for us as well. Consequently, a period of consolidation might take over, with possible mergers within the big agency networks. That might also lead to some shedding of weight at the top as well as other levels. But i think this is also the time when smaller thoughtshops will emerge that cater to a various clientele, who can’t engage the services of the traditional agency. So true, some job loses might occur, and that might happen more in client servicing than in creative. But I don’t think the creative fraternity as a whole will be deprived of opportunities. In fact, i see the creative community doing much better than many other professionals, and perhaps even getting entrepreneurial with many of them starting their own humble, art-copy shops. And I think that’s good because they will be the master of their own time and good creative ideas always emerge out of spare time.