Friday evening could go down as a watershed moment in the history of Indian advertising – if the advertising business took notes, and importantly, acts upon it.
In an address to a packed gathering that included the who’s who of the advertising world, both legends from the past and current leaders, Roda Mehta, the first lady to be conferred the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award, after 24 men received it in the previous three decades, took the message straight to the heart of the business.
Talking about serving the industry and looking beyond self-interests, Mehta said, “Across the spectrum of advertisers agencies, researchers and all arms of the media this industry will be preserved only through the masterpieces of women and men who through their organisations served the interests of all, who through their associations seek the betterment of all, and who through their action deliver what is best for all.”
Critical of the media business towards taking up strong measurement techniques, Mehta said, she came into this industry because of media measurement. “To think that in our country, conflict of interest has led to two national readership surveys, at very high costs and with conflicting outcomes, outdoor measurement is non-existent, radio measurement is meagre and that Internet measurement has not even begun, begs some questions”, she said, and added, that one among these questions was the viability of the current media remuneration system that would enable the media to invest time and resources for sound media measurement studies.
Taking the example of the outdoor medium, Mehta said that in those days, after Ogilvy, Benson and Mather had crossed Rs 100 crore in billings, the board was asked how they could take it further. “After evaluating our spend across media, we realised that we were not delivering on 16 per cent of client spends as we did not have any experience on outdoor as a medium. It formed a part of regional sales budgets and was entirely at discretion of the client,” she recalled.
However, she came down heavily on the outdoor media owners. “One attempt to professionalise this medium through the Indian outdoor survey in 2009 was not subscribed to by a single outdoor media owner, I am told. By now, it should have been a strong medium contending for the ad rupee on a scientific platform and supported by the advertising industry in the face of regulatory enforcements. Instead, it has remained an uncoordinated band of owners intent on navel gazing,” said Mehta.
Data, even if it offers challenges, also provides opportunities to adapt, modify and grow, she added.
Speaking about her partnership with the creative head at OBM, Suresh Mullick, she said that the partnership raised media’s delivery to newer heights. “The fact is that advertising space will always be there if the medium or vehicle exists. But is the role of the media to merely choose which vehicle and at the lowest price?,” she wondered aloud.
“At a very early stage, I came to realise that unless media recommends the medium, creative does not develop the experience and skill sets for it,” she said and pointed to the example of TVCs in the early days. “At best, creative would offer film slides with radio jingles. When radio was not recommended for quite some years, because of the rush to television, creative forgot how to create advertising for radio. When we began outdoor, print ads was what we got. Rural advertising was another matter altogether,” she said.
"If a brand message is better communicated via certain media on a certain length, media has to adapt and tweak its plans for its full expression. It’s completely beyond me how creative and media can be dissociated," she said to a roaring applause from the audience.
(Mehta worked in the media department of OBM from 1975 to 1992 when media and creative departments were a part of the same agency.)