Skip to main content

How 'integrated' is advertising in India?

Recently, an academic researcher asked me a few questions about the challenges and problems faced by agencies while working on Integrated marketing campaigns.

Well, my reply was a rather long and unstructured list of complaints. So here's the disclaimer, I am not a pessimist. :) But i am good at comprehensive exploration of shit gone wrong. These lists are useful in making things better.
I am sharing my reply here because it might be a good starting point to complete the picture. My reply choses the negatives - someone can add positive anecdotes, someone can add experiences from other geographies. I have largely written from experiences I have heard from fellow planners I know and my own experiences, which is not a good research design. :P
So in a way.. here's the hypothesis and I am asking any planner out there to validate, improve upon or point out the bullshit.

Title in bold were questions asked by the researcher. Text in italics are my hypothesis' which are largely anecdotal.. so go ahead and please tell me of better experiences.


Challenges faced while working on Integrated communication campaigns in India
what does integrated mean?
In my understanding, a branding effort is integrated if the objective and communication (idea/ execution) is shared across mediums and geographies - that the various efforts complement and enhance the impact of the communication effort.
At the heart of it is clarity of objective shared through open communication lines between agency-client relationship, between agencies & between individuals involved. It seems ironic but a communications agency in India often would not spend much thought in ensuring clear communication lines between the various people involved.
In the current scenario, typically a major brand will have many different agencies working for them - a PR agency, a digital agency, an advertising agency, CRM, DM.. and so on. and there is absolutely no information being shared across these agencies.. one agency does not know what is being decided & executed on either side. There are efforts, but those are few clients and the effort is often wasted since the incentives are not aligned.
One agency might be trying to increase its scope of work with the client - a mainline agency might want to get the digital business too.. hence the various agencies are intrinsically competitors and not collaborators.

Another issue, often the client hold the cards very close to themselves. Clients often do not disclose their intent - the complete picture with the agencies. We often have to second guess what they might need/ want. More often than not, the brand manager does not have a sound brand/ marketing understanding - no clear understanding of the brand, of objective, of long term view... they are often managers of executions. The decision makers from the client side do not spend as much time with the agencies as they should.
So the result is a confused set of agencies who try to win client business with the best guess and ideas.
These days, new business pitches happen far too often. this way the client gets to sample ideas and strategy from various agencies for free, while not disclosing their intent.
Absence of trust and clear communication between client and agency ensures there is no 'integrated' and 'long term' brand effort. Of course there are exceptions, but these are only a few MNCs.

In the rare case where the entire marketing communications is handled by a single agency (I guess, some of the smaller brands with Mudra/ JWT might do this) the integration is easier.
However, here too it may happen only if,

1. objectives are clearly arrived at jointly by the client and the agency planner
2. the TG is clearly understood - who are we talking to, for what purpose, in what context, in what tone, how does the TG benefit?...
2. keeping long term view of the brand in mind
3. with clear KPIs for the branding effort defined.
4. and if dedicated resources (planners/ senior servicing/ creative) work for more than 20% - 40% of their time on the brand
5. regular interactions happen between client- agency
This is a tall order in most cases.
The most important factor here is incentive: If an agency earns a majority of its revenues through TVCs alone, why would it try to spend efforts on lower margin aspects of communication such as activations/ DM and so on. That is why a typical agency needs to alter its business model substantially to become truly integrated. Companies are doing this by -
1. either by opening separate departments with KPIs defined by mediums.
2. or by brand teams that work on every medium related to that one brand.
3. Or by separating execution and consultation - A consultancy approach will specify in a detailed manner as to what is to be done, how, where, when. and smaller execution agencies take it up from there.

Challenges while developing ideas
1. Clarity of objective - I can't stress this enough. A lot of bad marketing/ branding happens because it starts devoid of a clear objective. We often work without briefs from clients. Strategy planner like me, then step in and try to bring some clarity to communication efforts, by studying the market and suggesting a possible strategy/ priority/ objective. A few clients share data for us to confidently suggest strategy. Often, we have to tread on sketchy incomplete data sourced from secondary sources.
2. Once we have an objective in place- it's important that clients and agency partners agree on what is expected, what is possible, the time lines.
Often, clients do not manage time well - lack of long term view, often necessitates bouts of panic induced 'yesterday' deadlines. in which case, the overworked agency creatives create the best they can.
3. which also has affected the agency culture, where some do not take deadlines seriously (If all deadlines are 'due yesterday', which one's really the urgent one?), or some only start work when it is really urgent.. which results in late nights, bad work-life balance, bad work habits. The victims of this culture is often the art department and studio people who execute the idea (which means, they have to WAIT until the planner briefs and creative directors crack the idea) - late nights and long days is the norm for this department especially.

4. too many clients - because of pressures on margins, a typical resource now works on more clients than before (my guess).
5. which means, we are always busy with one project after another. which means, getting the right people together and excited is a tough job.
6. excitement towards work is very important in advertising. you can create good work only if you are excited about it.
What saps excitement is things like remuneration, work-life balance, the way client treats you. (are you 'partners in growth' or are you a vendor?) These are all major points that a good agency leadership tries to work on and make it work.

7. Often at the initial 'big ideas' phase - only the mainline agency is involved. The digital, outdoor, DM agencies perhaps are brought into picture only later when the idea is 'cracked'. This again is  a big issue, these idea crackers are often the old school 'copy' writers who are trained to think in terms of TVC scripts or Print adverts.
But this approach, should involve the people who are going to think outdoor/ activation/ digital too.. as these mediums are becoming more and more important.
This is where the term 'media agnostic' has gained currency - meaning the 'big idea' is not partial to any media- that it is a human idea and can work across mediums. But this often translates to force fit communications - where a digital banner would be an 'adaptation' of the print campaign.

8. quality of advertising professionals - the best brains are not as excited about advertising as  they perhaps were earlier - an ad exec typically earns much less than his client counterpart in India, than in many other fields (finance, software) and it doesn't have the creative energy that you might find in a startup.. As such, there are less and less people who are passionate about the field and enter it with the long term view. result - quality of manpower is uncertain.
9. lack of training - majority of agencies in India have no/ little training focus - some blame it on attrition rates, some on myopic leaderships while some on the hectic schedules. But the industry that is supposed to be the vanguard of ideas, doesn't keep itself abreast of 'the new' and 'the important' as it should.

Challeneges for executing ideas
1. Short timelines, shorter budgets (Especially if the culture is to start from budget, instead of from an objective)
2. Uncertainty - some projects never get completed, some get shelved, some go through a long slow process of change due to many people being involved which results in a khichadi of an idea.. You never know what might end up happening when you take up a project.
3. Changing briefs - it might sound ridiculous but it's not rare to see client's changing their brief (if there was a written brief at all to begin with.)
4. Useless feedback - Lack of objective feedback from client about what they need/ want from a creative
5. Attrition rate - the team is ever new, so the learning cycle of the team is never complete - what works/ what doesnt/ what saves time...
Challenges for communicating the same
1. lack of objective feedback
2. criticality of business means that agencies do what will help retain the business rather than always giving the right solution.
agencies often give 'options' of creatives to the client.. and the client would chose basis what he/she 'likes'. not on the basis of what works/ doesnt work. Agency tries to gauge how much a client is willing to listen, to reason, to apply science... that means, for some clients, agencies do what is right, for some clients, agencies do what the brand manager wants.
3. the three depts - planning, servicing and creative need to be truly together. that is also an 'ideal' situation. there are often communication gaps that can't be solved through processes/ systems. It needs relationship building where executives are secure enough to share information/ ideas freely.
4. Short timelines and volume of work, sometime leads to short circuiting of feedback loop - at times, leadership / planners get to see final creatives along with the clients - which might be to the brief, might not be to the brief. The meeting then becomes a farce where one improvises to support what is being presented.


Popular posts from this blog

I am a salmon

I am a salmon. It's been a decade away from my hometown, and yet my dreams refuse to relocate along with me. When sleep hasn't claimed me yet, but neither am I awake, you may find me in Nasik.
My senses fall back into their default states of Nasik when in-between. The space is of my home in Nasik, the sight is of the things around it. I might be hungry and thinking of eating a laddoo and my hands reach out for the steel dabba stacked on an elevated wooden cupboard stuck on the left wall of kitchen. In my mind's eye, I grope for the dabba momentarily as the search yields nothing - poof. the image disintegrates. I am snapped back to reality with a mild jolt. My mind reminds me of the layout in my own kitchen. There is no airborne shelf, there is no steel container, there is no laddoo. It says, go back to sleep. and I do.


I shifted 3.5k km for a less polluted and less dangerous city a year ago.
And all was good. I get to walk and how I love to walk. I am truly happi…

Exercises for a smarter nation

We, the people, are gullible idiots. C'mon, admit it. We have all been bullied into bad deals by powerful charlatans at some point or another. Governments are no different. The current one is getting away with our personal data and going about distributing our public resources and monies to its favourite cronies.This is no exceptional government. This happens all the time, in all the countries - to varying degrees. The varying part is important. I would much rather be in Norway where the leeway for such giveaways against the interest of public is small, compared to Angola and Nigeria where the oil bonanza instead has become oil curse.

One of the important ways for moving towards Norway and away from Nigeria is for the public to become aware and educated about power. Education is a bad word now - what India creates in not educated people, it creates literate minions. By educated, i mean people who can reason, who can think critically, who can see the world from different perspecti…

Withdrawal symptoms

Scroll Scroll Scoll..
Catch yourself slipping away.

Deep  breath. 

Close the browser. silence the mobile and turn it away.

Open an offline-real-paper diary. Stop your thighs from lolling impatiently. Stay still. 

Pick up a pen awkwardly. ahh, the fingers are stiff. It will take a  while for them to get used to holding a pen. Quick finger exercise - open the palm, stretch finger outwards, close into a fist, dig the fingers in. Repeat.
Ok now.. about to pick up the pen again, but eyes dart towards the screen. Tempted to check email.

Shut up. The last consequential email came two months ago. Nothing of consequence is online.

Pick up the pen. Don't fetishize the object now. Get on with it. Put it on paper, write a word and start it already. If I get to a sentence, perhaps I will get into a flow and won't have to look up from the paper at all. 

One sentence later.

Ahh. That was good. I am feeling good about myself. The sentence makes sense. …