Madhukar Sabnavis
Aug 03, 2011

Opinion: Advertising needs to do a little more advertising

Madhukar Sabnavis is country head, discovery and planning, and regional director, thought leadership, O&M India

Opinion: Advertising needs to do a little more advertising

Even today, multinational marketing and consultancies do pre-placement talks at leading insititutes where they believe they can source talent for their industry. Similarly, much of their work is still documented in both media and books giving their industry stature. Their leaders appear in conversation on the business pages of daily newspapers or OpEd pages of business newspapers. They are present at industry forums talking about their successful pasts, the issues of the present and the possibilities for the future.

In contrast, the advertising industry is absent at many of these platforms. While the salience of advertising and advertising agencies has gone up since the 90s, the value of the work done by advertising is still very superficial in the minds of both employee prospects and among client prospects who don’t regularly deal with advertising agencies. It’s seen as a creative field but not seen as a world of great thinking and talent. Often, when I meet first-time clients, the business seems to be viewed as low skill – anyone can write a line or craft an advertisement for TV! The one event that often gets much coverage in the media – award shows – is often marred by controversies on judging principles and agency boycotts that just re-inforces the view the industry is chaotic and disorganised.

The fault – as Shakespeare would say – lies not in the stars but in ourselves as we don’t give ourselves importance. Advertising is one industry that has the perfect balance of logic and magic; art and science coming together constantly to develop work. The industry makes a real difference to clients and brands. Unfortunately, very little of this is formally showcased by the industry. Industry events tend to cater to people within the industry and those closely associated with it. And while the work is the best showcase, what goes on behind the work rarely comes out into the open for the larger world to understand and appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that go into their creation. The demeanours of advertising professionals, the casual confidence with which they walk and talk, again reinforce views that it’s a ‘hit and miss’ profession. Interestingly, there is little thought leadership work formally driven and blessed by the industry. How consumers consume advertising or how they react to content, is often left to allied field research – to explore and the investment for such work often happens from the advertiser. It is one industry that has done little to consciously develop any models or hypothesis on how its product works – except for using the standard ‘intuition’ and ‘gut feel’ logic. In a world where clients are spending large sums on advertising, more rational models tend to get a buy-in more easily and the ‘intuitive’ argument (maybe right) are seen as defense mechanisms of creative minds!

So the case for advertising needing advertising to make its stakeholders- current and prospects – realise the value of the work done. The benefits are endless – more attractive talent, ability to command higher fees and compensation, being seen as a leader in terms of trend-spotters and consumer forecasters and being respected as an industry. There is a need for the industry to look at its events – and there are quite a few – to be targeted at audiences beyond itself and make it both attractive and convenient for them to take part. While creativity is what drives the industry, it’s important to showcase what goes on behind the work and what happens after it and the difference it has made to the larger world so that the industry is seen as one making a significant contribution to the process of marketing. Finally, the industry needs to take leadership initiatives to establish to the world that it is closer to end-consumers and how they think, feel and behave than any other industry. The industry needs to make a conscious attempt to do this, else it will remain associated only with the ads that people see around them.

Someone early in my advertising life told me that everyone is an expert in two fields: the one he specialises in and in advertising. It is true even today. It is up to us to make people see and believe we are specialists – as much as an engineer or doctor or architect.

Views expressed are personal. Contact at

Campaign India