Is true talent shying away from advertising?

It’s episode one of the cult classic Mad Men series and ad-man Don Draper in the climax reveals the campaign idea for Lucky Strike cigarettes ” It’s toasted “. A scene that captured attention and sparked the show’s runaway success. It’s toasted was also a real tagline for Lucky Strike cigarettes, adopted by the brand way back in 1917.

Those were the heady days of advertising– an eclectic mix of craziness, Machiavellian egos, cult personalities, big ideas, mind numbing creative campaigns, wild parties, rock and roll, high profit margins(15% commission days)….it goes on. Little wonder it was the industry that a lot of talent aspired to get into. Made for good conversation piece.

The times they have a changed. Advertising as an industry is no longer the flavour of the season when it comes to attracting top talent. This inspite of being a 560Billion US$ industry worldwide in 2019 and growing over 4% compared to the previous year with N America and Asia Pacific reflecting the maximum growth.

What could have happened especially over the last decade and a half? Let’s examine a few factors:

  • the risk appetite for taking up and executing ‘ big ideas ‘ within the agency set up seems to be on the wane. The increasing role of the CFO in marketing and advertising decisions and thereby ROI first always could be a strong influencing factor..
  • the big shift has happened from ‘ gut instinct ‘ to ‘ data precinct ‘ when it comes to execution of campaigns. Freewheeling thinking seem to have taken a backseat
  • young talent do not get a ‘ sense of self ‘- seniority still upends merit when it comes to prized, exciting projects- if you don’t want us, we don’t want you seems to be the thinking
  • with profit margins in the advertising industry shrinking, remuneration and salaries have taken a beating. Talent is seeking alternate, better paying professions
  • the average tenure of the CMO & Brand Manager has come down drastically. Why stick your neck out when going through the motions will do nicely. The Domino effect is reflected in the freedom(or the lack of it) given to the agency- legacy thinking dominates, not exactly a motivation for talent craving to find their own expression
  • start ups with sizeable venture capital funding have mushroomed all over. They are dabbling in hitherto unexplored territories and using cutting edge technology to harness market potential and become game changers. The natural tendency for talent is to move to areas that are changing, future ready and dynamic
  • alternate,fast growing and better paying professions like entertainment, stand up, v logging, blogging, music etc seems to have taken the sheen away from advertising for the wannabes
  • Digital proliferation and the quest for entrepreneurship are driving many to find their feet and make their own dents in the universe
  • The Big 5 of Consulting are not thinking like the Big 6 of Advertising while clearly trespassing into the domain. New entrants are bringing in new thinking, new possibilities- talent will have to realign

Clearly the advertising industry of the future(if it remains to be called that) and the talent that moves there will certainly not be a thing of the past. When change is the only constant, an industry remaining constant without change is not an attraction. As an US$560billion industry, it has enough muscle to bounce back(as long it does not rely on muscle memory). All the die harders(Bruce included) are willing and waiting!

ENDS

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The ‘ Expertise Burden ‘

The X Factor might make you an ‘ ex not to be factored ‘.

Contradicting yes. Certainly so. How can expertise ever be a burden? It is what gets normally equated with leadership abilities and high performance. But when we look around, you will find instances where expertise comes across as unwanted baggage, thereby halting progress, impeding momentum.

Look around and you will scores of cases where expertise has been a trap for many an organisation and individuals alike. Kodak was at the frontier of imaging technology and photography and remained glued to the thought that things would remain the same.

” You press the button. We do the rest “, quoted George Eastman. Steve Sasson was the engineer at Kodak who invented the digital camera in 1975. US$ 10 billion in sales way back in 1981. However, Kodak failed to recognise the rise of digital photography, decline in analog camera sales and the rise in digital camera sales. Eventually, the brand filed for bankruptcy in 1992. The ‘ expertise trap ‘ played its part. The hunter became the hunted.

Let’s move onto Microsoft for a bit. When Apple introduced the iPhone(without the conventional Qwerty keypad), then CEO Steve Ballmer(steeped deep in PC and connected computing business), never gave it a chance. The legacy of expertise has played its part and things didn’t look too ‘ smart’ for Microsoft as iPhone made history. Windows had shut the door on a big opportunity as the Explorer stopped exploring.

And so goes the case with stalwart retail brands who stuck to the coat tails of merchandise, brick and mortar, store design and alterations to the marketing mix- erstwhile pillars of retail success till such time Amazon came in and broke the mould completely.

While expertise has several ticks in the box, it can also lead to individual thinking that is narrow( Why upset the applecart, we have always done it that way), resting on past laurels, ignoring the dynamics of the market place, the emergence of new thinking and technology( AI, the power of algorithms that replace rote tasks very easily) and behaviours that leave a gaping distance between colleagues and business partners, causing loss of confidence and trust. Over time the very expertise that led to our success can leave us feeling unhappy, unsatisfied, and stuck.

Some examples that might trigger counter intuitive thinking is when ‘ experts ‘ realise the need of the hour and wake up to smell the coffee. Who would have thought that automobile technology, ones exemplified by brands like Mercedes, BMW and their ilk would ever get upended. And how. Till such time Tesla disrupted the space with a vengeance and driverless, autonomous technology hit the road and put them in a MUSK DO situation. Real soon, the established brands were investing their billions into the new self driving technology to keep up, send out a signal and get ready for their future. They didn’t hang on to the ‘ expert ‘ in the field narrative. They let the new rubber hit the road. Good for them.

Some warning signs that you may have fallen prey to the expertise trap:

Have you fallen into a creative rut?

Do you feel “old” and out of touch in your job?

Do others seem uncomfortable challenging your assumptions and ideas?

Are market developments beginning to take you by surprise?

These are just a few of the warning signs.

All hope is not lost. Rediscover the path to new thinking, new learning and growth. Embark on a new journey and as the Buddhists call it ‘ embrace a beginner’s mind ‘.

That’s why we are happy with our ethos at ISD Global where I work. Be hungry, be foolish. The more you know, the more you realise how much more there is to know. Changing for the better and bettering the change go hand in hand. And all the ‘ trappings ‘ be blown!

ENDS

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Is business ‘ jargon ‘ jarring? Language Tom..Language!

We are guilty of it. And fall prey to it as well. And in our perennial desire to conform, comply, adhere, fit in and all of that, ensure that we use the same lexicon that have become common place.

You don’t need to be talking about a mega merger or acquisition to throw the word ‘ synergy ‘ about loosely, only to be caught by an unsuspecting tribe of colleagues and business partners. Way back in the 1600’s when the word synergy first came to prominence, the meaning it meant to echo was ‘ human will meets divine grace ‘- that was an understandable intersection. Over time(and this is what happens to a lot of the ‘ jargon ‘ where the meaning gets changed or diluted), synergy seems to be a completely different animal. Leaving you wondering if you are in sync at all!

Lets perch tent on another jargon speak: ‘ Touch Base ‘. I am not sure if it is very evident that the coinage emanated from American Baseball, but that is the fact of the matter.In baseball, players must touch each of four bases in order to score a run. The prevailing hypothesis is that the phrase “touch base” is a reference to this sport. Touch base means to make contact with someone. Though the sport is nowhere close to being played outside the Americas, the jargon has transcended boundaries. And if you were to read between the lines, the phrase ‘ touch base ‘ would unravel suspicious interpretations. After all, we are at the height of the #MeToo movement. Now we will touch base on another phrase.

Out of the box ‘. The game where connecting the nine dots using no more than 4 straight lines was the origin of this. And to do that you had to go out of the box, extend the line beyond the grid to make sure the connection happens. You couldn’t achieve it by being inside the box. It’s altogether another matter that the phrase itself has become so common place that routine and the mundane have also been crowned as ‘ out of the box ‘ and people are comfortably getting away with it. Another example of a jargon losing meaning or getting diluted in value over time.

Perhaps the flexibility and the fluidity of the English language inspires such lexicon. And over time(through imperialism and colonisation), English is the most used business language ( bidding au revoir to Latin and French).

And charity begins at home. In our meetings at ISD Global its very common to hear words like ‘ recalibrate ‘ ( yours truly is the guilty party here) and we are no way close to discussing anything about a vernier calliper or the way it measures.

There are other ‘ low hanging fruit ‘(yes that’s another one) in the basket among several others and we can leave it to the power of euphemisms and metaphors to play its part to get to be ‘ on the same page ‘ and then ‘ sing from the same hymn sheet ‘.

The linguist will never languish!

ENDS

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A case for brands and business to be more ‘visible’?

Visible not in the conventional sense of the term. Visible here means the value that can be derived by keeping your processes and efforts(emotional labour included) being made clear and visible to your customer universe. Seeing is believing the saying goes.

Imagine you are at your favourite restaurant. And ordered their to die for stake. 30 minutes (with nothing at stake and meaningless multiple up and down scrolling on the smartphone later), you see the restaurant attendant bring your order swinging in through the kitchen doors and sashaying to your table and placing it on your table. Voila! You are a sizzling hot stakeholder now.

Now, lets visit the same situation wherein once you have placed your order for your favourite stake, you get to see what is happening in the kitchen and the team of chefs and kitchen staff doing what they need to get your stake ready. You see the intensity, the passion, the precision, the effort and the collaborative energy that is being invested to get your order to the table. You recognise the emotional labour that has gone into the making and delivering of your order.

So what is the prognosis from the above two scenarios. In situation one, you the customer has no idea of what is happening behind the scenes. Your order comes in and there is almost a sense of deja vu- ” I expected this “. You are not according any additional value to the experience. On the contrary, the opaqueness of the experience, takes away the true potential value proposition.

What happens in situation two? As you see what is happening behind the scenes, the labour , the effort, the commitment that is going into your order being processed, subliminally you begin to value the experience far better. Respect for the brand grows. Not just that. In the context of the team that put the order together, they begin to take greater pride in what they are doing as their effort is being showcased to the end user and the chain reaction of getting better continues.

When CEO Teruo Yabe came aboard Tessei( the Facilities Management company that cleans Japan’s Bullet Trains), the perception of the company was at an all time low. The work was considered 3D: dirty, difficult, dangerous. Yabe wanted to change this into the 3K : it stands for “kansha,” “kangeki” and “kando” (gratitude, drama and strong impressions). How did he do it? Read on..

Firstly, he changed the colours of the workers uniforms from a pale blue to flaming red. Attract attention, yes! On any day, in Tokyo Central Station, a work unit clad in the red uniforms of Tessei Co line up with military precision. A bullet train on the Tohoku shinkansen pulls in, and the workers, at the given signal, step aboard and hastily go about their work. They have a total of 12 minutes(gap between train pulling in and departing) of which 5 minutes must be set aside for passengers disembarking. So, effectively time available to them is just 7 minutes to complete their tasks.

Normally (to quote the  Shukan Post), two to three workers are assigned to a first-class car, as opposed to one to clean up a regular car. In addition to checking for items left behind on the overhead racks and seats, they must flip the 100 seat backs in each car to make them face the front of the train, and while doing this, they scan the aisles and floor for any refuse, a task generally performed in roughly one minute, 30 seconds.

They then proceed to wipe off the table tops in front of each seat and adjust the window blinds. If any of the white covers on seat backs appear begrimed, these are exchanged for clean ones.

At the two-minute warning, they turn their attention to emptying the waste receptacles between cars. They also team up with other staff, whose task is to tend to the lavatories and washrooms. After a final check of all assigned jobs on their list, they assemble outside on the platform and bow in unison toward the passengers awaiting boarding.

1000 seat train, 22 team members, 7 minutes turnaround. Visible : Very. The CNN Crew called it the ‘ 7 Minute Miracle ‘. Their efforts have even inspired a bestselling book, “Shinkansen osoji no tenshi-tachi” (Shinkansen’s cleanup angels) by Isao Endo (published by Asa Shuppan).

Now, lets move onto another brand that hopped onto the visibility bandwagaon. Domino’s Pizza. About 10 or so years ago, Domino’s decided that they will throw open to their customers an interface(Dominos Tracker) wherein they are able to track what is happening to their order right from order received, dough prepared, toppings gathered, gone inside the oven, packed and on the way to delivered. The image quotient for the brand skyrocketed. Not surprising that this has become case studies in many business schools.

As I write this, I am tempted to share what we should have done when at ISD Global(the Dubai based branding agency where I work) delivered the ExceLENS Awards for Photography( sponsored by Toshiba) a couple of weeks ago. Over 10 weeks, a talented, passionate, committed ISD Global team of more than 10 members(apart from a number of equally committed external partners) clocked really long hours to make the event a resounding success. Am trying to make a case for visibility which helps improve and transform experiences, outcomes and business objectives for all stakeholders.

Till the next, VISIBLY Yours!

ENDS

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