Debate: The epitaph of classical advertising already written?

Roshan Abbas and Swapan Seth debated on the topic in the second edition of The Advertising Club's 'vice and versa' series

Jul 06, 2020 05:20:00 AM | Article | Campaign India Team

The second edition of The Advertising Club’s ‘vice and versa’ featured Swapan Seth, CEO, This Content, and Roshan Abbas, MD, Geometry Encompass and birth mother, Kommune. The duo debated about whether ‘the epitaph of classical advertising has already been written’.
Abbas who was for the motion, went first.
He stated that while advertising hasn’t really died, some mediums like radio, television, outdoor and print have. Projecting these mediums to be what the audio cassettes are now during the era of streaming, he said, “The smart phone has created interactivity and changed everything. Unlike the mad men area of advertising when there was only television, radio and print, now there are infinite choices. Each platform has different audience and different behavior. Classical advertising was persuasive and needed time to attract eyeballs. No one has that time anymore. Now within a nano-second you get five different options when you search for a particular brand on the internet. The hyper link has changed everything. You don’t know where you’ll go next. Then there’s the democratisation of content where everyone is a producer. The power of digital has given the voice to the user and pushes experiences.”
He then spoke about how the pandemic has changed consumer habits and also strengthened ‘influencer marketing’. 
“No agency or advertiser can match up to this trend of influencer marketing. They have unique ways of selling. Six months ago we were finding a home on mars. But that’s changed with the pandemic. There’s a demand of authenticity. There’s a demand for creative first platforms. There are 20+ apps with 200 million users each. Brands want it and the power has shifted to the content creator. People are willing to accept flaws as long as the brands are authentic. There’s also a demand for agility and utility. People have moved products from carts because it’s not available at that time and bought something else,” said Abbas.
He ended his talk by taking a dig at traditional advertising agencies. 
“We are getting subscription models to get rid of advertising. The epitaph of advertising has been written. People say that story telling remains the same, classics are classics, but we’re just fulfilling our mad men fantasies through this. It’s about what one likes doing rather than what needs to be done. Classics are too fragile to face the ever evolving world.”
Going against the motion, Seth began his talk by coming back to the principles of communication.
“The basic task of advertising is about inventing desire. The pattern has changed a bit. That has made a cry about the irrelevance of advertising. I fail to understand how storytelling is irrelevant. Yes, the means of communications and the screens have changed. That’s the basic process of evolution,” he said. 
Referring to recent ads from Google, Nescafe and Bournvita, he further added that the elements of advertising will never change and the ability to read from insights will remain. 



He then quoted what Kantar’s former CEO, Eric Salama wrote to his colleagues before exiting the agency: ‘The questions the clients have asked for us haven’t changed, but the way we have answer them has.’
He added. “Machines will not replace humans and empathy will always be there. I’m going to quote two marketers who I will never get to work with. Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar said he’s moved over to experiential advertising and doesn’t believe conventional is there. But, during the pandemic he went back to TV. Where can experiential marketing be in this era of social-distancing and eras of masks? Keith Weed left Unilever and conducted a research and it proved that advertising was a very good thing. While he was at Unilever he felt it wasn’t. Accenture bought Droga5 because of the emphasis on creativity and bought a vanilla advertising agency. There’s complete confusion and we’re caught in this whirlpool where it’s fashionable to state that advertising is dead. Half of the advertising spends are still on vanilla advertising, so it’s important.” 
He ended his talk by quoting Rishad Tobaccowala of Publicis Groupe.
“We agencies aren’t dinosaurs, we are cockroaches – people don’t like us but we have been through everything.”
The rebuttal began with Abbas stating that the classic ads Seth referred to should be placed in museums to inspire creative but it’s time to move to new places. 
Then he specifically responded to the Accenture-Droga5 deal.
He said, “It was doing cutting edge creative work because it had teams of technologists sitting together. They used to hire the best team for the job because they rejected the classic. They came out with cutting edge creativity because of this. When you look at Cannes (Lions) there are new categories every year because new means of communication is coming. An automobile manufacturer needs more than just 30 seconds commercials. The next test drive could be a placement in a digital game. Imagine a car to measure its speed in PubG or an ad in the Uber app to say EMI would be lesser than the price of Ubers.”
Seth’s rebuttal began by agreeing with Abbas about the irrelevance of some mediums and that there was no dispute about the media landscape changing.
He added, “The classical agency needs to evolve and that revolution will require new skills. I’m sure that they are looking at it and getting it in place. Yes, a message has a different role, but creating that message is still critical and I don’t think anything will replace that. I think increasingly in this world there will be certain things like curiosity. They might subside in value but I don’t think it’s fair or conclusive that the epitaph of advertising has been written.” 
The talk ended by Seth responding to a question about whether classical advertising agency leaders are living in an age of denial. 
“Yes and no. I do believe that they live in la-la land. They are still observed with pencils, sharpeners etc. I’ve stayed away from that and in the real world of marketing – you have to get involved with distribution, pricing etc. No one really has a conclusive answer as to what to include and exclude from marketing budgets. This will pan out in a couple of years when we have greater clarity on how millennials will work. Persuasion will be important and you’ll need a language. Whether you need 30 seconds or 300 seconds, we’ll have to see. There’s a great mediocrity that is there in our business and the blame goes to the people who are running this agency.”