10 lessons each that marketers, agencies & consumers did not learn in 2012
2013 is almost here. The world survived albeit with a few cuts and bruises. Now is the time to look back at the year that was. 2012. Reminisce, ponder and discuss the big trends.
We asked a small army of marketers, advertising and media professionals to look back at 2012 and tell us what they didn't understand, the classes they skipped, the notes and lessons lost. After all, some mistakes are meant to be repeated. How else will one learn? BE presents the lessons marketers, agencies and consumers did not learn in 2012:
WHAT Marketers Didn't Learn
LESSON MARKETERS DIDN’T LEARN
1. Digital strategy does not equal 'Like' strategy
If we had a rupee for every time a marketer answered a question about his or her brand's digital strategy with "We have over a hundred-something likes…" or "over a million views…" we would be lakhpatis. Sure, these numbers — friends, fans, followers, hits, clicks, views — matter. Particularly when casestudies are prepared for award shows. However, those committed to digital for life, and not merely as the second last slide in a Power-Point presentation know that just a large or small fan community or a 'like' is not enough. This isn't a rare coin collection.
A large collection of fans on Facebook is just that, and it does not guarantee engagement. Neither does the number of "likes" equal brand loyalists. What might help to drive the point home is an example from our history textbooks. Marketers today would do well to remember the great television rush of the 80s when HUL and P&G, early adopters back then, took full advantage of the idiot box. So for starters figure out what you need, it is a big spread and there's no room for ambiguity. Now comes the hard part — a handsome allocation of precious marketing money to build digital capabilities and expertise because even the finest engine will fail with an ape at its wheel. Finally, we can bet our bottom dollar this lesson will not be going anywhere anytime soon.
2. No longer is it safe to play safe
It might have worked for the old shoemaker who had elves to finish his homework while he snoozed. But in the real world, decisions don't make themselves. And playing it safe will not help you make them. According to our expert panel, often marketers are scared to come across as tough within their own organisations and as a result nobody makes the hard decisions to change the game. Furthermore, most of the world's greatest campaigns exist because of brave clients who believed in their gut, say our experts. So this Christmas some agency folks asked Santa for clients of that sort. Marketers who do not entirely depend on research results that quite often murder good ideas. Also a risk or two is just what the doctor ordered. Now the doc's prescription does not exactly imply you jump down to earth from a pod in outer space. That would be foolish, no?
3. Be prepared, gas-mask and all
The past few years are littered with some great examples of brand related catastrophes of Mayan proportions. Some marketers have been exploring their adventurous side by experimenting with social media. That's good. However, it's only natural therefore for the campaign disaster rate to go northward. Especially with untrained company employees and agency folk commenting on channels like Twitter, accidental or not, posting videos, et cetera. All it takes is a stray tweet with questionable content, an incriminating video, a hateful comment on a blog, a campaign gone wild, a rogue employee in self-destruct mode; every word is on you, be it offline or online. And it will spread like wildfire. Anything can happen, so hire a good defence marketer…or lawyer.
4. Think Avengers, not Superman
Sure, the man from Krypton is quite capable; he'll save our world from extinction, strike a pose, help the chicken cross the road…all in a day's work, really. But you aren't Superman, or Wonder Woman are you? The power of collaboration is limitless. However, it seems there aren't any takers. Clients, creatives, media, digital, suit, no suit, art, copy, hammer or bow, to work in silos has not been an option for a while. Yet the one thing our experts agree on is the lack of collaboration. Marketers must get agencies to partner with them across the spectrum instead of creating numerous verticals. As digital and social media communications evolve, there will be several million ideas floating like debris in outer-space. But they need to come together to be more powerful. Our experts tell us one of the lessons communication groups need to learn is how to communicate, with each other for starters. At a pitch one talks about the wonders of this and that but when it comes to day-to-day operations the house falls apart.
5. “Old” people exist
Brands aren't saying it. But years of deeply engaging conversations with the youth of our great nation often makes it seem like one fine day the ground under our feet split open and swallowed whole all the unfortunate souls on the wrong side of 35. So yes, it’s critical to appeal to the youthful segment. After all it is a growing target group, a well-informed bunch, discerning and worldly and most of them still have their mummies and daddies running their finances. But once in a while spare a thought for the average 35 or 65 year old. And remember not every brand must be youthful.
6. IPL & Bebo. There are other properties worth your marketing money
There's football, badminton, hockey, maybe kabaddi? And a new breed of celebrity brand endorsers to pick from, for instance, dirty picture stars, our panel tells us. Is it right then to let the Indian Premier League decide your marketing calendar for the year? More and more marketers have started to re-arrange their annual campaign plans around the league. That's great for the sport. However, is it good for the brand?
7. ‘The Innovation’ ceases to exist the second time around
A newspaper jacket is not media innovation. Launching a TVC on YouTube is not media innovation. Setting up a Facebook page and Twitter account for your brand is not media innovation. Now write that down, one hundred times.
8. Willing yourself into a slowdown is a bad idea
Run back to the trenches. Retreat! Retreat! According to the experts we spoke to, most marketers quite simply willed themselves into a slowdown. And it makes one do crazy things. A whole bunch of marketers went low on launches and invested in schemes and incentives to the point where the consumer is now deeply suspicious of offers. And as if that wasn't enough, many marketers gave adwallahs innumerable sleepless nights and very little vacation time. Some say clients and marketers didn't learn that advertising and media solutions don't come from squeezing the agency on its income, but supporting them to get the best talent into the business. Paying a fair price will also help.
9. The consumer is smarter than you. You are the idiot if you think otherwise
10. Learn from others' mistakes. And yours
WHAT Consumers Didn't Learn
1. With great power comes great responsibility
Sure the tables have turned. But our experts wonder if consumers really understand and appreciate the influence, power and control they possess? Perhaps not yet. Having just come into their own, consumers still haven't quite learnt that there is huge opportunity to extract value and to act as strong consumers and not a horde of ranting and angry barbarians.
2. Sometimes it pays not to be cheap
There is a big difference, our expert panel points out, between getting something cheap and getting value for money. "You pay peanuts, you'll get peanuts."
3. Not everything can be said in 140 characters or less
So take your time, if you happen to be particularly disturbed by certain events or brand antics go to the consumer courts to make a formal complaint. Or write to one of the many industry bodies. And wait by your computer or mobile phone for that automated reply to arrive. Have faith. It will come. If all else fails put your message in a bottle. You know what to do next.
WHAT Agencies Didn't Learn
1. Big ideas are greater than a big execution
"We have the ideas," ad folk used to say, "all we need is budgets." Several multicrore ads later, it would appear the reverse holds true as well. Many epic productions were bankrolled by generous marketers who hoped for not just a clutter buster on TV but the next 'viral' hit. Some agencies got the cash to match their wildest fantasies and rejoiced. And yet, after a few disappointments and damp squibs, it seems the problem was not just with the money but with ideas. Consumers proved that they cared more for a compelling, intriguing concept than for production values that would put Peter Jackson to shame.
For instance a three minute long commercial featuring Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor and a 100 Nissan Micras has chalked up 1.5 lakh views since its release nine months ago. Just three months later Laina (username wzr0713 on YouTube) performed an off-key rap about an obsessive girlfriend using just a webcam and her meagre musical skills. It has been seen 14,125,679 times. To say nothing of Korean pop sensation Psy, whose song Gangnam Style is the most watched video on the site, clocking in 989,008,627 views at the time of going to print.
In 2013, ad agencies need to learn to come up with ideas that do justice to the budget. As many auto-tune wizards and webcam heroes have proved, you don't need a million bucks to get several million views.
2. Rampant poaching will lead to extinction
The industry played its own variant of musical chairs through 2012, leaving some agencies headless and suitless for long stretches. A bad track record did not get in the way of some creative heads landing plum assignments at other agencies. On the management side, doughty veteran Ranjan Kapur, country head of WPP, got back to running an agency, briefly taking charge of bates. Punitha Arumugam from Madison Media and Kamal Basu of Saatchi & Saatchi opted out of the communications business for assignments at Google and Skoda.
Thus proving advertising's reputation as a great exporter of talent, a dubious distinction if there ever was one. And with the notable exception of Madison (which roped in its new CEO Gautam Kiyawat from Research In Motion), little was done to bring in talent from other industries. Instead there were noises made about how the business was no longer sexy enough to be a draw. Or how it simply couldn't afford to pay as much as its rivals.
Almost every agency head and a good proportion of the rank and file realise the ad biz needs to get less incestuous. That constantly throwing more money at a shrinking talent pool is self defeating. That the industry requires people with fresh ideas and a healthy disregard for advertising's more outmoded traditions. They also know that such talent can be found in non traditional hunting grounds. It was a lesson often articulated but very infrequently learnt or practiced in 2012.
Every discipline from digital to media to events claimed that for certain marketers or projects, they and not plain vanilla advertising (identified as either TV or print) ought to take the lead. And many marketers too agreed with this. The great stumbling block: the lack of insights. No marketer we have spoken to gives ad agencies a 100% rating on planning.
But the role of the discipline is accepted and all large agencies - and even some of the small ones - boast a planning division. Insight based planning is gradually becoming a fixture in media agencies too.
But in specialist agencies, planning is a luxury. Marketers expect someone who will link a strategy to the consumer. What they get is shops that want to be judged on implementation and execution. We suspect this will result in an open season on planners through 2013, as digital, activation and rural agencies try to woo them to join.
4. You can (and should) cheat on your TV
No, this is not about the TV ratings imbroglio; the lesson there would be you can't or shouldn't try to cheat on ratings. It's more about the need to think beyond television. A bit of an ask considering TV remains the most cash rich of all media in the country accounting for 42% to 44% of media spends, according to industry estimates.
Many of the best minds in advertising still measure themselves by the number and quality of commercials they've created in a particular year. Which is becoming a bit of a problem. Marketers often require the best minds to work on brochures, events and interactive programmes. They feel the talent on these relatively unglamorous parts of the business is frequently not up to scratch.
For all the creative agency's protestations of media neutrality, a campaign that's not led by TV or its new avatar, an online film, is more exception than rule. Even creatives that claim to be tailored for digital often turned out to be regular TV commercials, just longer. The intent is still to hammer a few points home rather than to start a conversation.
5. You need to jailbreak a mobile for it to be useful
If we'd held our breath waiting for a breakthrough campaign in the mobile space in India through 2012, we'd probably be long dead by now. Yet at the beginning of 2012 (and it must be said 2011 and perhaps even 2010) it seemed imminent.
How could a great mobile campaign not happen given the number of subscribers, operators and the stated interest of marketers and agencies in this field? It didn't, as marketers and their agency partners displayed a strange reluctance to go boldly forth where few have gone before. Instead they opted for the infamous wait and watch approach. While consumers have eagerly embraced mobile technology, agencies are yet to come up with compelling reasons to adopt the medium or great ideas.
6. You are no Chaplin
There are several reasons why humorous ads are so popular. They tend to be more memorable, working both with a multicultural country and a multinational award jury. A funny ad is likely to sail through testing better and be an easier sell with marketers. However in 2012, the jokes seem to be wearing thin. A lot of the humour is built around surreal non sequiturs or is suffused with a distinct mean streak. One of our respondents took umbrage with a Nokia commercial in which a youth scares away his mother's rotund friend with a reckless display of driving skills on his phone.
There are other shades of emotion; ones that have built some of India's biggest brands and created some of its most memorable advertising with nary a joke or pratfall in sight — the work on Cadbury's Dairy Milk and Tanishq come to mind. So leave the weirder, more off-colour humour for your night time career as stand up comic and dig a little deeper for other more rarefied emotions when you create ads.
7. New agencies do not mean new business
Pretty much like members of rock groups dreaming of hit solo careers, the success of some independent agencies have inspired many an ad person to think of turning entrepreneur. Except, creating an agency does not guarantee new business. Work usually comes in the form of projects won after a lot of painful wheedling and persuasion. Irrespective of how well the agency delivers, this may or may not lead to more business.
New agencies are also partly to blame for a more fragmented industry. Marketers have been known to pick and choose between various options, sometimes calling for pitches on each campaign just to keep partners old and new on tenterhooks. New agencies also don't mean new talent — just an avenue for old talent to finally prove its mettle with no organisational protocol to hide behind. These are lessons to contemplate on for all those intending to take the plunge in 2013 (and we have it on good word that there's quite a few).
8. The consumer is smarter than you. You are the idiot if you think otherwise
9. Learn from others' mistakes. And yours
10. April is a bad time to be in Goa
Despite the seemingly endless supply of beer and sea, it is in fact terribly hot and humid in paradise. Not exactly ideal conditions for creative minds to function at their optimum level, now is it?