Published in Nov-Dec 2018
Who is guarding the guard is a recurring mystery. With the fourth industrial revolution knocking down our doors, guarding the guard has become even more essential. Is the current model of advertising agencies ready for the fourth industrial revolution in Pakistan? The answer is a big NO! Why am I writing this in caps you may ask, and I might answer, yet again in caps, that OUR EYES ARE CLOSED.
The caps here could mean either that I am emphasising a point or shouting with my hands flung up in the air and my head thrown back in anger. This illustrates the golden principle of the medium being the message. While you read the ink on these pages, the body language, tone of voice and voice variation are missing, and I rely on rudimentary typography to lend credibility to the seriousness of the situation.
While the mediums are evolving, the way the messaging is crafted is not evolving at an equal pace. Agencies are still digging for bigger spends, while the reality is something else; everyone wants things done cheaper and faster and agencies are losing their value. When you are not profitable you are not a business, and that is Business 101. Then what do you do? You get less people to do more work. By keeping employee costs down you stay afloat but the air in the life jacket is slowly escaping as more burnouts and frustration within the system are reported. Let’s look at this problem in the old-fashioned news writing manner of answering the four Ws and one H.
Cheaper and faster work; clients are simply not willing to pay for something they can have either free or dirt cheap. Shutterstock and Canva are the go-to places, originality is sacrificed at the altar of economy, which directly translates into more cookie-cutters and similar, easy-to-forget stuff.
Have a logo made for one dollar, shoot a video without a director (just a videographer), hire an in-house producer. Money is really making the advertising world go round in circles.
All around us, media companies are touting that TV is the biggest medium delivering the ROI. Phrases like: “Pakistan is very far behind the rest of the world,” are heard across boardrooms. My question is: for how long? The average housewife is keener to spend more time on Soul Sisters or YouTube rather than fight over the remote. Netflix, iflix and 479,000 subscribers for Bulbulay alone. No need to say more.
The year 2018 can be equated with 1859 when two brilliant minds put their thought into print. Charles Dickens in The Tale of Two Cities and Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species. In their words (shamelessly plagiarised as my own), I announce that these are the best of times and the worst of times, when only the fittest will survive.
Craftsmen are not affordable, creators are dispensable. I have heard of agencies that have no strategy or HR departments. Suits calling the creative shots. Clients going directly to production houses or well-known directors. Production houses moving accounts from one agency to another without pitches; that is how the business is being run.
So what are the ostriches to do? First of all, take that long neck out of the sand and face the dust storm travelling at a 100 km/min towards you.
(Disclaimer: I may be exaggerating some pain and discomfort here, but be assured none of these daggers are pointed at any single agency. They are generalisations and a bit of hyperbole by someone determined to survive the dinosaurs. Unlike them, I don’t want to see the advertising world becoming unhabitable).
Now, given that a problem is half-solved by the sheer fact of recognising it exists, let’s explore a few solutions.
1 The best and worst of times
The year 2018 can be equated with 1859 when two brilliant minds put their thought into print. Charles Dickens in The Tale of Two Cities and Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species. In their words (shamelessly plagiarised as my own), I announce that these are the best of times and the worst of times, when only the fittest will survive. The AI Creative Director already exists and last time I checked, they were doing very well. So what is a disgruntled human to do without a job? The answer: Evolve and become the fittest. Today, we all have the advantage of being new to the scene and saying “I don’t know how to do something” is not a crime yet. Don’t hate the machines; embrace them. The unknown is worrying indeed but then, out of the fear arises the hero.
2 Inspire rather than manage or scare
The carrot and the stick approach does not work anymore; in fact, it is the definition of a cliché. Work-life balance is not the whim of a Millennial; it is the need of the hour. The argument between the CEO and CFO on training staff goes something like this. CFO: What if we train our people and they leave?
CEO: What if we don’t and they stay?
We need analytical thinkers to beat machines; we don’t need humans to be treated like machines.
3 Create an environment conducive to failure
It is okay to fail provided we tried our best. Not trying is unacceptable. It’s a lazy manager who throws the team under the bus but in today’s world, word gets around quickly and that manager will have a shorter career span than the average housefly.
4 Guard the guard
There is a brilliant book by Dr Suess called Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Every day, I say a prayer for the self-proclaimed Doctor for spreading his wisdom among children and adults. Let me share a small passage from this book, which will show you why I scandalise my children by saying I want to marry him (please read this as a joke designed to make the eyes of my kids pop out. I am grateful to be blessed with my husband every day, thank you very much).
“Oh, the jobs people work at! Out west near Hawtch-Hawtch there’s a Hawtch-Hawtcher bee watcher, his job is to watch. Is to keep both his eyes on the lazy town bee, a bee that is watched will work harder you see. So he watched and he watched, but in spite of his watch, that bee didn’t work any harder not mawtch. So then somebody said, Our old bee-watching man just isn’t bee watching as hard as he can, he ought to be watched by another Hawtch-Hawtcher! The thing that we need is a bee-watcher-watcher! Well, the bee-watcher-watcher watched the bee watcher. He didn’t watch well so another Hawtch-Hawtcher had to come in as a watch-watcher-watcher! And now all the Hawtchers who live in Hawtch-Hawtch are watching on watch watcher watchering watch, watch watching the watcher who’s watching that bee. You’re not a Hawtch-Watcher you’re lucky you see!”
Oh Suess, my love! You have eloquently illustrated that Bee Watcher Watchers should only live in your fantastical world and not in the creative industry. Observe the agencies around you; you may find more bee watchers than the bees.
Atiya Zaidi is ECD (North), Synergy Dentsu.