Karthi Marshan
Jan 03, 2011

Karthi Marshan's Blog: First there was the speculative pitch

Karthi Marshan, head marketing, Kotak Mahindra Group, on speculative pitches and why crowdsourcing presents a huge opportunity for the advertising industry

Karthi Marshan's Blog: First there was the speculative pitch

Having been a reluctant participant on both sides of the table, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that this has to be one of the most wasteful activities in our industry.

Clients think they are getting fresh strategic thinking for free, whereas it’s really just the corporate equivalent of yesterday’s chicken tikka masquerading as today’s butterchicken. Agencies treat it like a winner-takes-all reality show contest, only to find out it’s practically a zero sum game. The prize still goes to the lowest bidder, creative and strategy be damned.

The thing that has always puzzled me about this swayamvar is that the same agencies that preach differentiation, focus and strategic sacrifice to their clients are willing to be treated like a commodity, ready to appear expert on all disciplines, all product categories and offer price as their sole discriminant. But that’s the subject of another blog (hopefully).

Once clients found out that they could get droves of people to give them ideas for free,and that there was not a lot to choose between stuff done by amateurs and pros, slogan contests stopped being promotional activities, and became crowdsourcing of creative.

Way back in 2007, Vanilla Ice launched and judged a Rap Song contest to help sell TurboTax, an Intuit product.*

The year after, ING Direct Canada ran a contest on Youtube. Their brand promise was centred around savings then. Ergo, their contest idea was to invite video entries for the superstar savers.*
Marketing gurus have variously labeled this idea as bottom-up marketing, user-generated creative, co-creation, et al, but at the heart of this was an idea whose time had come. If your brand idea has simplicity and clarity, almost anyone can write an ad for it.

Around that time, Mofilm also arrived on the scene. While it was conceived first as a platform for amateur filmmakers to produce and showcase video content for mobile screens, it is quickly evolving to become a powerful platform for emerging video talent to showcase broadcast quality brand work.

What I am really kicked about with platforms like Mofilm is that they will end up being win-win-win for all concerned eventually, even though they currently appear disruptive and threatening to at least some of the parties in the picture.

It’s a great way for amateur talent to get noticed. Brands get a lot of creative juices working on their behalf. And because they are not for free, clients will start working hard on the briefs.

Most importantly, unlike in the spec pitch process, which is done with very little information or time, the Mofilm equivalent process will place all brand assets (including strategy, positioning, et al) in the hands of creative, with plenty of time to interrogate the brief, giving superior creative solutions a better chance at seeing light of day.

Incumbent agencies that have taken their clients for granted will soon be asked to stand up and be counted. In the immediate term, it will be reality check time for large agencies, but that will pass, because if there is one thing we can say for our communications industry, it is that they learn to adapt fast.

The recent Old Spice campaign is a sterling example of an almost moribund brand and perhaps an equally mature agency dusting off their collective cobwebs to engage with the new digital native, to stunning effect.

At Kotak, we have been running our own UGC (user-generated content) projects for over two years now, with some sparkling results.

We have polled users of our website to understand how we could change / improve it for them. Based on their inputs, we have been able to double traffic, pageviews, time spent on the site and drop bounce rates to below half already.

For our 25 year campaign, we sourced creative lines from within our ranks (20,000 strong) and got over 800 snappy lines in 4 hours. The best few actually got made into ads which ran during the campaign.

In conclusion, be warned, Mofilm and its like are just the tip of the iceberg. As I have argued elsewhere, it is not just advertising agencies, but the whole communications ecosystem that is experiencing a samudra manthan of sorts right now particularly due to the rapid pace of evolution of amateur publishing technology.

I believe the next wave of marketing communication tasks will revolve around curating customer conversations rather than broadcasting canned messages.

2011 will be an exciting, if challenging time to be in the creative professions. Confucius’curse has come alive, and it truly is a blessing. May a thousand flowers bloom.

*Disclaimer: I am not suggesting these were the first of their kind, or even that thesedates were the first time these brands did something like this. I am only saying this iswhen I noticed this emerging trend first. Happy to hear of earlier / other examples.

Karthi Marshan is head marketing, Kotak Mahindra Group. 

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