I wonder why so many people are shocked at the recent Ford Figo ad controversy. The derision and dismay displayed by one and all is so unreal. It is not the first and neither is it going to be the last of the scams. JWT was unfortunate to be discovered (blame it on the internet); perhaps many others are fortunate to be undiscovered. There is a collective failure in the industry, I would say.
What ails us and why this malaise of scams in our industry?
I have been a proud member of this industry for over two decades now and even today I am convinced and believe that we are in the business of building brands, as custodians of our clients, and thereby help grow our country’s economy. Noble activity it is, for sure. But then, there are so many out there who directly or indirectly make it into a business of winning awards at all costs, and make the industry a laughing stock. It hurts one hell of a lot.
I can only attribute it to the obsessive need for public acclaim and accolades. Is this obsession only with some (or many) of our brethren? What about some (or many) from the client end who encourage or approve such ‘scam’ work to partake of the momentary glory and place under the sun that awards bring? Awards embellish CVs, the metals glow and you glow as an awardee, it gets one jobs. But should not the awards be for genuine and true work that helps build and sell brands? Is not the many clients’ reliance on the Gunn Report, to choose agencies and award their account on the basis of awards won, surreptitiously keeping alive this malaise?
How does one end it?
Will rigid processes and audit for filtering ads, as the AGC of AAAI - Ad Club Goafest Abby Partnership has been doing and fine tuning over the last few years, help? May be yes, may be no. It may act as a deterrent or a hurdle, but how does one stop circumvention?
Cannes talks about banning the executive involved in the scam, but not the agency. How fair is that? Is it not naïve to say that the executive is working independent of the agency? Perhaps, Cannes has its commercial considerations. One Show talks about banning the agency and the executive for five years.
Some talk about having a separate category for scams, say a la ‘Haute Couture’. But will this not bring into disrepute the entire awards show and question its integrity? It is like celebrating Ben Johnson (of the Olympics dope scandal fame) and Carl Lewis at the same forum.
Stripping such winners of awards, as was done a couple of years ago, by Cannes in the case of Kia Motors and by One Show in the case of a Tsunami ad apparently for World Wildlife Fund, are good measures as it was in the case of stripping Lance Armstrong.
What about the jury itself; as responsible people of the industry, don’t they have a role to play? They are competent to recognise scam ads and eject them; do they do it? Or are they restricted in disqualifying scam ads as they are supposedly backed by supporting documents?
Does it help staying away from participating in award shows? Or withdraw from it from time to time? If you are a responsible part of the industry and you recognise a malady, then will it not help participating and entering genuine work? What if you lose to scam ads? So be it. There is an immense pleasure in winning metals, albeit few, for genuine work that has helped the brand. And the pleasure is greater when a client stays with us for what we bring to the table rather than the metals that shine in our conference rooms. So, grand-standing by not participating or withdrawing - in my humble view - only sends out a wrong signal and raises questions and conjectures of the wrong kind.
And lastly and most importantly: is there a clearly articulated definition of scam? In spirit, anything that is NOT done to a brief and for the lasting benefit of the brand could be termed as scam. But, the prolific minds find ways out by saying an ad is genuine if it is released in print, even if it is only in one publication. Then the question is, which publication? Some obscure publication in some remote part of our huge country that no one has heard of? In the case of TVCs, is it on prime time or some late night show when the world is sleeping? Or is it some local cable channel in some remote area in Timbuktu? No easy answers; the fertile human mind will always find a way out, it seems. Therein is the problem.
The only remedy it to recognise that there is a fall in our values and we need to set it right by acting conscientiously in creating genuine work and entering only genuine work. We need to instill the right values in our people; recognize their understanding of the client’s brief and consumers and ability to create work that stands out from the clutter and does justice to the brand – and not by the number of awards that they have got.
Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing right things. So said a famous scientist and a famous management guru! Is it any wonder that they were very successful?
Let us walk the talk and live the talk.
(The author is chairman, India operations, Draftfcb Group. Views expressed are personal.)