Advertising and the 50% responsibility factor

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I remember the late Indian advertising legend, Mr. Ravi Gupta say that 50% of the credit for good advertising should go to the client. This was at a time when the agency he founded used to produce some of the finest, effective and awarded work in the country for a diverse set of brands ranging from Mauritius Tourism to Ceasefire to Thums Up. He also implied that if the work on a brand is mediocre or simply atrocious the client should take half the responsibility. The latter part of the statement is often lost on clients. We regularly find agencies being panned for poor work or being sacked after a review. We hear about agency review and shift of account, every two years on some brands. Of course, the agency is to be blamed if they produce sub-standard work even after being given a great brief, freedom to create what they believe is the right work for the brand – business, strategy & creative talent working together matters a lot. But the thought behind the shared responsibility is a profound and sensible one.

I was reminded of this and more when I read Ken Segall’s views on the Apple-ad agency email exchanges. Ken rightly points out creating preference for a brand or imbuing it with cool quotient starts with the product. It is even said great advertising for a poor product will only hasten the demise of the product. Very often, ad agencies struggle to anchor on a meaningful differentiation in a brand and end up with advertising having to create that differentiation – a bloody tough ask. Ken’s views were vastly different from mine with respect to those specific emails and I realise my follies.

Another aspect of advertising which forgets this shared responsibility is critique. Advertising is one profession where everyone is a critic. It is easy to rubbish other people’s work, especially if you have a blog going. I too was guilty as charged as I used to say negative things about a campaign. Over time I realised that I was being unfair as I too was part of many a mediocre or dud advertising campaigns in my career (mostly duds). As an insider one knows the constraints with which ad agencies work – confusing or no briefs, briefs which change direction mid-way through campaign development, an indecisive client, senior management which is unable to push good work, impossible deadlines, countless iterations…there are so many issues that come in the way of good, sensible advertising. So I largely share what I think is good work and keep it positive. There are enough people and platforms available to critic an ad campaign. Yet, the issue of shared responsibility is missing in the debate.

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