The second edition of the IAA Debates, presented by the Dainik Bhaskar Group, took place at Zuri White Sands in Goa on 5 April 2013.
The topic for the event was ‘Growing media fragmentation has made the role of the creative agencies more important in brand communication.’ Post an intense and engaging debate that lasted an hour, the audience voted against the motion, delivering the verdict that media fragmentation has not made the role of creative agencies more important.
Defending the motion by speaking ‘For’ it were Partha Sinha, managing partner, BBH India, and Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and chief executive officer, McCann Worldgroup, India, and president, South Asia.
Opposing the motion by speaking ‘Against’ were Vikram Sakhuja, global CEO, Maxus, and Anupriya Acharya, leader, client leadership, South Asia, Mindshare Fulcrum. The session was moderated by Monica Tata, honorary secretary, IAA. At the start of the debate, Tata asked members of the audience to take a side for the motion or against.
‘It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong’
Sinha opened the debate by pointing out that media fragmentation should not lead to brand fragmentation. He spoke about the need for a central idea to keep the brand together - which is created by the creative agency.
Sinha compared the obsession with data to what he called the ‘Sridevi syndrome’. He explained, “(With due respect to Sridevi) When Sridevi acts, she believes that she’s taken full money, so she gives full performance with her acting - she goes over the top. This is what happens most of the time with the whole desperation for RoI.”
He went on to quote John Maynard Keynes who said: ‘It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong’. He explained, “We measure likes, hashtags and followers, which are actually created by Russian Robots. People have stopped using their gut feelings,” said Sinha.
Referring to the ‘long tail’ effect of fragmentation, Sinha mused, “Should the dog wag the tail or should the tail wag the dog?”
In the discussion that ensued after panellists made their remarks, Sinha referred to the case of Google Chrome to make his point on the need for the idea even in the age of data. Despite all the data and targeting capabilities that Google had at its disposal, he underlined how it took a creative agency to increase the adoption of Google Chrome (Tanjore).
‘Don’t underestimate data’
Following Sinha’s argument ‘For’ the topic was Acharya, who spoke ‘Against’ it. She referred to the poll on the IAA Debate topic on the Campaign India website, where 80 per cent votes are ‘For’ the topic. Has the same question been about the role of media agencies, Acharya reflected that perhaps 80 per cent would have still voted ‘For’ the motion.
She said that the marketers were facing some tough challenges as the audience was moving from ‘mass’ to masses of audiences. She referred to the drop in TV ratings from yesteryears. “Now, even the most popular top rated shows get a maximum rating of 4.5.” She underlined the need for agencies to build relationships with content owners like publishers and broadcasters, who understand consumers well being in the business of catering to the masses of audience. This was an area creative agencies fell short in, she reasoned.
“Audience attention is getting more and more fragmented. It’s an attention deficit society and that’s why it’s more important to move from passive to active communication and hence the role of experiential marketing is only getting more important,” said Acharya.
She responded to Sinha’s point on the excessive focus on data: “The fact is that the ability to generate insights from this data is immense; and sharper, better targeting comes about. Television channels support singers who get greater call backs (votes) as they are the ones who get them the viewership. So data can’t be underestimated.”
Underlining the role of the media agency, she cited two recent campaigns for Hindustan Unilever Brands Axe and Kissan, which have many accolades (including a Gold each at Goafest). They were created with no role of a creative agency, surmised Acharya.
‘It’s still about the creative idea’
The next speaker at the session was Joshi, who spoke ‘For’ the topic. Joshi underlined the importance of the creative idea and engaging content, irrespective of where it comes from. The allusion was that the creative agency remains the primary source of creative ideas, and that creative ideas are as important as before, if not more important.
He took the audience back to an era before the advent of creative agencies. Referring to Urdu poet Nazeer Akbarabadi and how he thought he was the first ‘copywriter’ ever, Joshi said, “He wrote songs for the hawkers selling vegetables and peanuts. Every hawker went to him and asked him to create songs for them. If you read them, you won’t call them jingles. The guy who sung those songs, sold more vegetables compared to the other hawkers. This showed that he was a copywriter but there is no way for us to see if a creative agency or a media agency hired him, but the content was created. This shows that content is obviously required. How it’s created comes later.”
Responding to the deluge of comments on the demise of the TV commercial Joshi said, “I’ve heard a lot of clients talking about the 30-second commercial being dead. We have heard clients talking about the Doordarshan days and how they were fantastic. But, don’t forget, those days were abnormal. Content was so poor then and so boring, that ads were interesting. In a normal society, content will be more interesting than advertising and one has to find ways to entice the consumer. So let’s not compare those DD days to the current days and say that earlier people watched commercials and now they don’t.”
Taking a dig at the opponent team in the ensuing discussion, Joshi underlined that the creative remains the creative irrespective of where it is housed, and said, “Lata Mangeshkar Sakhuja ke ghar pe rahegi, tab bhi Lata Mangeshkar hi rahegi na?” (Even if Lata Mangeshkar stays in Vikram Sakhuja’s house, she will still remain Lata Mangeshkar?)
‘10 out of 10 clients ask us to navigate the digital domain’
Next up was Vikram Sakhuja. He began by comparing creative agencies to Lindsay Lohan. “Lindsay Lohan is driving under the influence of alcohol while creative agencies are driving under the influence of delusions of a commercial,” he said.
Sakhuja placed his discussion around a pivot, and that pivot was the brand or the client who both media agencies and creative agencies work for.
He said, “What marketers want is agencies building their business and not creating art for art’s sake. It’s about getting more people to consume more of their brand than any other competitor. The advertising idea is one of the things to do that. Twenty years ago when I was at P&G, the creative idea was wholly and solely the domain of creative agencies.” He explained that this was no longer the case, with examples of several campaigns driven directly by media agencies.
He added, “Today 10 out of 10 clients ask us to navigate the digital domain. This is nobody’s turf, but people are looking at specialist agencies or media agencies but not to creative agencies for this. If we are going into fragmentation, it is possible to target a billion people one at a time. We will have cookie-enabled data that shows different ads to different people.”
Moderator Tata asked the crowd to take a stand based on the heated debate witnessed over 60 minutes.
With a majority staying on the side ‘Against’ the motion and several moving to it, the verdict was delivered: ‘Growing media fragmentation has NOT made the role of creative agencies more important’.
Editor’ note: Read a detailed report on the IAA Debate Goa in the issue of Campaign India dated 19 April 2013. Videos will be available shortly on www.campaignindia.in)