Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Roaming in an Idealess Universe

Published in Nov-Dec 2021

In the rush to deliver, young creatives are forgetting the art and science of conceptualising big ideas, argues Asrar Alam.

What if whatever you are doing today could be replaced by AI tomorrow? You may consider this unlikely as you are a highly-skilled professional who probably works for a reputable digital ad agency. However, as history has proven, this has happened to the preceding generations who did not believe in change; yet, today, in almost every industry, thousands of people are replaced by machines. Doesn’t this send chills down your spine?

Let’s imagine a scene at a digital agency, just minutes before the pitch presentation. It’s D-day. Everyone is pumped and highly motivated by the prospect of a new business. You have acknowledged the superstars for their contribution to the deck; the creative director is ready to blow the client away with amazing work, and all the kinks in the designs have been ironed out. The team has not forgotten to show off their knowledge by making the social calendar and leveraging the important dates for digital posts; the animated gifs, which always work better than static ones, are ready. Okay, stop right there. Do you see a problem here? Sadly, I do.

The problem is the lack of ideation. Ironically, with more mediums to communicate within the infinite canvas of digital, we have fallen into the trap of presenting idealess executions. Rather than ideas, we discuss mediums, which stem more from data-led knowledge or skills and which can be replaced by AI.

I don’t want to mull over the past, but before the rise of digital, creative directors used to think of an idea first, and then look for the mediums. Today, we have so many mediums in front of us, we scarcely think of an idea in order to execute the campaign. Simply put, quantity has taken over the quality.

Speaking of which, let’s discuss design-based digital ads or social posts. Yes, they are cheap. Yes, they are measurable. Yet, we cannot deny the fact that creativity needs time. The time frame can be as short as a cigarette break and as long as a week. However, we have trained ourselves to design in a hurry. Yet, in the business of advertising, crafting a communication should be sacred for a copywriter, whether it is a caption for a digital post or a print ad. When you see a visual that speaks to you and read a line that makes you think about the brand and then makes you go… “Ah, I see, clever.” This is what is missing today (or at the very least, it is rare). In the age of multiple screens and visual clutter, being out there and going unnoticed is a waste of media and effort. Visit any brand’s social media page and you will feel the pain I am in right now.

If you work in advertising, you have probably had clients ask you to WhatsApp the design you want to pitch. No doubt, WhatsApp has brought ease of access, but it has also ruined the quality of ideas and designs. Every brand team has multiple agency-client groups, and the stream of messages is too fast for anyone to keep a tab on the nitty-gritty of the work in progress. There is a silent debate going on around this topic, as to whether to WhatsApp or email something. My take is that if the end consumer is going to experience the communication on a mobile screen, then WhatsApp is just fine. However, you cannot judge the quality of a jingle or approve a TV commercial using WhatsApp.

This is not a debate about whether older practices (like email) should be reintroduced or not, the purpose is to strike a balance. Nothing is more convenient than having things at the tip of your fingers. However, not at the cost of judging a big idea. As professionals, we should be able to operate in a digital world and still give due importance and respect to the basics. It is often said that we should not forget our roots; in this case, we should not forget where and how we started our advertising journey.

Continuing with the debate of AI versus the human mind, in my opinion, ideation is the beauty of what the human mind can do. Human insight and the small nuances that help audiences connect with a brand are the fundamentals of advertising and when done the correct way, an idea can go through not only the audiences’ ‘roof’, but the world’s as well. Advertising has changed drastically, and I could not be prouder of the way we have moved forward. However, to keep going forward, we should know how technological advancements can be used to our advantage, not only to make our work easier but to further raise the bar of our mental capacities to create and give life to big ideas.

Every great commercial or campaign will always come under the umbrella of a big idea; a static post or an optimised one will never have the same impact an idea will; an idea that clicks with audiences and imprints its identity on their minds.

Never be afraid of your ideas. They are proof of the fact that you are trying to crack a code that will take you to the heights of greatness. Think big. The new rising stars of the advertising industry are the future. They will, of course, learn from their own experience, but as mentors, it is our responsibility to make sure that the importance of conceptual thinking and ideation is passed on.  

Asrar Alam is Head of Ideation, Starcrest Communications.