Friday, April 26, 2013

Its scam time folks!

Is India the ‘scam capital’ of the world? It’s a fair possibility given the variety, size and frequency of scams that keep hitting our country! The ingenuity of our scam czars over the years make me wonder if a special award could be instituted like the “king of good scams”. Scams that come readily to mind include Nagarwalla of SBI fame, Harshad Mehta, the big bull who sent stock prices and investors into a tizzy and several interesting projects that bred and nurtured scams like Satyam computers, 2G, the commonwealth games and the most recent chopper scandal. The advertising industry has its own share of scams even if these scams don’t run into billions of dollars or consume reams of space in newspapers and magazines. These scams that sadly occur all too often in the industry serve as hot topics for debate in agency smoking rooms (that have more people in them than they should) and in the pubs that agency people love to frequent, suffering as they do from the misconception that creative output is directly proportionate to alcohol intake. However, the advertising industry in India recently experienced the “mother of all scams”.  The  scam ads created for Ford Figo by JWT India had the industry agog as the agency’s Chief Creative officer Bobby Pawar and several others lost their jobs overnight and everybody in advertising had a point of view on what should be done or what was wrong with them. So here is the view of someone who has spent a small matter of 30 years with this frustrating and yet rewarding business of advertising.

Scam ads, awards and all that jazz
Let me give you a sneak peek into the creative person’s psyche. Awards are the adrenalin that keep them pumped till the next round of awards. They literally live for awards because it is a demonstration to the whole fraternity that industry stalwarts who judged the work rated it as the best. People get promoted on the basis of awards won and get offers the moment they win awards. Awards are simultaneously the agencies’ greatest source of pride and Achilles’ heel. But the bane of the advertising industry has been this age old practice of creating scam ads that are not seen, approved or paid for by clients. So agencies themselves create fictitious ads for the brands that they work for and release these ads at their own cost in marginal publications like the ‘Free Press journal’ to make them eligible for awards. The whole world and its brother- in-law can recognize a scam ad a mile away. These ads are whacky, hilarious, and weird, however you may wish to brand them as they don’t have to sell the client’s product and it certainly is a lot easier to be creative when the only thing you are selling is your own creativity and not the client’s product, warts and all.
Here comes the Ford Figo

JWT Delhi created a series of scam ads which showed former Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi triumphantly driving a Ford with three scantily clad women gagged in the rear. Nor was that all. Paris Hilton kidnapped the Kardashian sisters in another while Michael Schumacher abducted three of his rivals in another. The idea was to demonstrate the space and the storage capability of the car. Clearly the campaign was created for the purpose of winning awards as clearly a global brand would not, in its wildest fantasies, think of caricaturing global leaders, film stars and celebrities in its regular advertising campaign. In the old world, it would have raised a few titters from the fraternity and the judges and the agency would have walked away with an award as well andeveryone would have partied till the cows came home. However, there was an unpleasant and gory twist in this case which caused heads to roll. The controversial ads were posted in “Ads of the World” arguably the most visited industry trade site and the shit hit the fan. Ford bristled, JWT responded quickly and furiously to stem the damage and hold on to its largest account. People were sacked including Bobby Pawar who was recruited to help the agency win more awards and the agency had to move heaven and earth to hang on to its key, global client.

Will the advertising industry never learn?
Some time ago, McCann had to lose the Hanes account for a similar transgression. It is one more indication of the fact that agencies don’t understand the power of the net and how insensitivity in creative treatment can spark a veritable storm. Nothing that anyone does remains local the moment it gets posted on the net. And agencies, though they keep cribbing about it all the time, do not seem to realize that the client is the very source of all benefits, gains, recognition and ulcers! Multinational clients tend to be starchier and a lot more careful than Indian clients. Surely JWT could have done this for an Indian client, who might have been a lot more understanding? The advertising industry has its own share of problems like lack of recognition for its true contribution, poor fee structure and inability to get top flight talent. It certainly does not need scams to add to its cup of woes.

I hope the advertising industry grows up, for its own sake and realizes that awards can’t exist without clients.

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