Cover Story

Covid19 : Winds of Change

The advertising industry has changed with the times but the blow delivered by COVIS-19 is unlike any other. The single opportunity is in building India’s brand so as to cash in on China’s loss, and politicians would do well to listen COVER STORY / Perceptions / Gopinath Menon
VOL. 14 | ISSUE 1 | MARCH-APRIL 2020

ads-behind-covid-19DVERTISING : The name itself conjures up exciting images. Passion. Glamour. Celebrities. Parties. To name just a few. These signals are enough for any bright youngster to dream about the industry where he or she wants to make a career. As a result, it was a revered profession in the 1970s and the 1980s. From the late 1970s till the early 1990s, it was common for the top advertising agencies, to be present on the Day1–Session 2 at the top business schools of the country. Day 1–Session 1 was always taken up by the multinationals as they would pick the cream of toppers. However, they would be some crazy few who would not prefer the well-cushioned multinational job, but the fire in their bellies would tell them that they wanted to change the world. There were quite a few in the late 1970s and 1980s who did wonderful work and got the due deserved credit for their skills. I was also as excited, and charged up as I joined the advertising and media business in the mid 1980s.

1990’s: The Debacle Starts
The mid 1990s started to see a change in the environment, as there was a debate about splitting the advertising agency. The creative function was to be divorced from the media function, and this was being done in the name of creating specialists to service and give optimal value to the clients whose money was at stake.

This was the worst that could happen to the advertising business, as it started falling apart. However, the achievers held on either to the big banyan tree or left and set up creative shops and independent media outfits. The result was they charged a lesser fee and more senior resources serviced the same business which hitherto was serviced by a relatively junior person. Clients were satisfied with this attention, and this went on till the end of the millennium, i.e. 2000.

New-York-Advertising-Week-2017

In a few years we were to see the emergence of technology into the advertising business. The Internet came with the emails of the world and with it brought the digital technology that would eat up into the slender margin of the advertising business. Advertising guys are mavericks or at least they try to be, so there was an exodus of bright youngsters wanting to be in the “Business of the Future.” The Googles of the world catalyzed this change and it became a movement in the late 2000s and in the last decade, it has become a revolution with a rocket engine.

The advertising industry changed shape, character and the overall chemistry within it. Gone were the days when we used to get up in the morning and rush to work. The young “Mavericks” who ran the creative digital shops were a different breed and would prefer to work from home. The Apple Mac with all the “Creative Software packages” at home was the work station and nothing else mattered. So suddenly we realized that advertising was no longer only a team sport; it could be a one-man show as well. Hence the new lonely tribe and the new arrogant chieftains arrived.

pitch-medison-reportEarly 2020: All About Size and Growth
The advertising industry in spite of all its challenges was still a force to reckon with its sheer size and growth potential. Approximately around `70,000 crore of annual revenue could shake up the big guys as well. The television medium led the charge followed by the print medium. The digital business share was growing exponentially and was pegged at 28 per cent. The forecast for digital in early 2020 was above 30 per cent.

ENTERTAINMENT via cinema screens also was on a upswing as the business model of Bollywood had changed a decade ago and plenty of conventional cinema theatres had converted to multiple screens with lesser seats and ticket prices going up manifold. So it was an everyday celebration for the cinema owners as more and more families started going to the PVRs of the world as cinema was not just about just watching a movie, it was about the entire experience, the plush seats, the wonderful sound systems, the crunchy masala popcorn and eating out at the Thai restaurant in the same shopping mall. It was a marketers’ dream and consumerism was here to stay.

Then, arrived the “Godzilla” called “Corona”
All this festivity at the market place was shortlived. There was a silent fear lurking in the subcontinent since February 2020, but like all normal human beings, our impulsive reaction was “cannot happen to us… They (the Chinese) eat live animals so we are safe.” No one was safe as it was extremely contagious. It slowly engulfed the world and spread like wildfire. So now we are in a world where all humans are caged and all the animals and birds are free. This is nature’s diktat and we do not have a choice.

So coming back to advertising. The advertising business makes money out of the big bucks that the marketer or client spends to promote its products or services. When the marketer has closed shop four weeks ago and has a wage bill that can give him nightmares, where does that leave the advertising business. India’s GDP in March 2020 was estimated to be around USD 3 trillion. This means close to USD 250 billion a month. All political leaders have echoed this number. Along with it, we heard a USD 5 trillion dream by 2024. Sane and conscious advertising and media pundits will tell you that in these Corona times, we might have gone back at least five years. Five years ago, the GDP was about USD 2 trillion.

SO what does the loss of a “trillion” mean? How long will it take for all our agriculture and other industries to recover? India as an economy is currently in a “drugged state” and the actual loss has still to be estimated. The big media houses and the leading advertising agencies have pressed the “Panic Button”. There are stories of leading media houses retrenching senior staff in hundreds. This is a cause for great concern, and needs to be attended to immediately by the government. Media reporters and support staff have been declared as “Corona War-riors” and them losing their jobs is not a good signal in building “morale.”

The big manufacturers, the farmers, the marketers and the advertising pundits will all have to seriously ponder about the actual loss, the lost glory and pick up their new lives right from scratch. Seems pessimistic? In such a situation, it is always best to predict the worse; the actual reality will only be better. That’s what the passion and belief the advertising industry in India currently needs. As far as the political leadership is concerned, it needs to consider this challenge as another huge opportunity. China which is close to three times our economy is in a bigger problem. There might be a shift of the manufacturing base from China to elsewhere. India needs to position itself as the only viable option. “Positioning” is an ability that only the advertising pundits can give India. The political leadership has a strong belief in advertising; there are no prizes for guessing as to which is the biggest political brand created in the last 5-6 years.

Advertising in the coming months is looking down the barrel of a gun; and, the gun does not have a safety latch. So the advertising industry could be in an “ICU” with no ventilator in sight. Hence, the political leadership will have to stop preaching dreams and for a change. It needs to develop a significant trait “Listen”. Listen to experts who have been achievers with their skill sets. It’s now or never as “Life” never gives you a second chance.
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The writer has worked in some of the leading advertising companies as an “advertising strategist” and a “content writer” for the last three decades

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