Monday, February 22, 2016

So, what’s the objective?

“When there is no port of call, no wind is the right wind“ - Seneca

I am sure some of you have experienced this in group discussions. When the discussion is going nowhere some smart person earns brownie points by saying, “Can we please get back to the topic at hand? What’s the objective?” I have seen this happen at the work place too as it helps to get back to basics. Extending the thought to my own industry the lack of clear articulation of objectives of any communication exercise will always leave clients and agencies with a sense of regret and eventually heartburn. The agency feels that the campaign is working or is delivering whilst the client does not seem to agree. Clients seem very keen to throw this funny line at advertising agencies often enough, “50 per cent of my advertising budget is wasted, trouble is I don’t know which 50 per cent”. While it is a great throwaway line and sure to raise laughter in cocktail parties the reality is slightly different. Let me explain.

How sharply outlined are your objectives?
Often marketing objectives and communication objectives are used interchangeably by people in positions of authority and who are we to question them? They seem to forget that there are several stages before a purchase decision is made. To expect communication to deliver sales is a bit rich to put it mildly. Communication can at best create or increase awareness for a brand and perhaps move it into the “consideration set”. But it cannot make one buy a product. Let me tell you a real life story about the last car I bought. I had done my homework, looked at product reviews, spoken to my friends and decided on a brand of car to buy. I liked the advertising too which delivered me and my wife to the showroom. I was selling more than the salesman to my wife who sadly didn’t seem too impressed. At the moment of truth she said, “if you buy this car, I will never sit in it”. Now what should any self-respecting husband have done? He should have bought the car, but I came away dutifully with my wife to buy another car of her choice that I was paying for! Was the advertising to blame? Hardly! It had delivered me and my wife to the dealer outlet. The advertising objective has to be a quantifiable number of test drives because of the campaign rather than sales. Now while discerning marketers do know the difference there are others who have unreasonable expectations from the agency and its efforts. It is the role of communication professionals to educate our clients and for us to educate we must first know. Time to introspect?

What about Public Relations?
I had an interesting experience with our Public Relations practice. There is an expensive chain of dental clinics in Bengaluru which has its headquarters in San Francisco. Conservatively the price is five times the price of good local dental clinics. We presented to them and they kept bargaining on the retainer fees and were clear that they wanted to link public relations deliverables to sales. Clearly there are limitations to what PR can do. It can create awareness, build image and even deliver prospects to the clinic, if working in synergy with social media. But how can it convert particularly when the pricing is so high and customer experience is still unproven? I declined the business and now sleep in peace.

Are we order takers or consultants?
Many of our calling cards proudly proclaim that we are consultants whatever the discipline, advertising, Public Relations or Social Media. Yet how many of us have the capability to advise our clients correctly and stand up for our rights? The best relations between client and agency are those that are built on mutual respect. What is the essential quality of a consultant? Or why do you seek out a consultant? You seek her out because she “knows” and is a subject matter expert. Respect sadly is earned not demanded and that is the challenge that many of us face in today‘s world. You can shout from the roof tops that you are not getting respected or bash your clients till the cows come home but the problem may lie within and that is something that many of us do not wish to accept. Do some intensive soul searching. Build a reputation, write a blog and maybe lose some hair, slowly but surely things will change.

Today there is a lot of talk of the “new order” and the fact that we are living in a knowledge economy. While there are enormous opportunities as well, the reality is that if you are not prepared for it you may be left behind. The choice is yours. Do you wish to be a whiner and a client basher or an educator of clients?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Cause marketing need not be a thorn in your side

It can, when targeted right, put your brand on a bed of roses

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Sadly, this happy event which has youth celebrating ecstatically seems to be mired in controversy in India at least. One of the realities of today’s world seems to be the polarization of views and the fact that people are taking extreme views on subjects and holding on to them for dear life. A small section of India which is quite vocal has maintained that Valentine’s Day is against Indian culture though many of us are gloriously vague as to what actually constitutes Indian culture. But then that is another story. Let’s talk about the immediate present and what happened at Delhi a few days ago. The commuters of Delhi Metro were accosted by posters targeted at young people asking them not to celebrate Valentine’s Day. There were different posters, one showing young children worshipping their parents and another of teenagers holding each other’s ears in front of policemen. The messaging was simple, direct  and crude even saying that the festival on February 14th is against Indian culture and children should use it to venerate their parents by celebrating ‘Matri Pitri Pujan  Diwas’ on the same day. Let’s talk about this campaign in specific and cause marketing in general using the occasion of this campaign.


Source credibility is key
Cause marketing is a good means of getting your brand visible as what you are essentially doing is taking a higher platform rather than a mere brand marketing message. But currently the person behind this campaign is rape-accused Asaram Bapu who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. So the reaction might well be “first get your house in order before telling me what needs to be done”. So perhaps the same campaign from someone else who is probably not tainted might not have elicited the same violent response in social media which today is an extremely potent weapon to attack people whose credentials are suspect or anyone whom you don’t like. In  marketing and in life, clearly timing is everything and while the beleaguered leader might have thought it was an appropriate moment to build some equity with the public at large the social media has not let that happen and I don’t blame social media this time around.

 Creativity is the name of the game
The reality is that most people are apathetic and don’t give a damn about social causes. So if you want to change their attitude or behaviour the communication must be striking, noticeable and cause people to stop, think and act. Does this Valentine’s Day communication have that quality? Sadly it does not. A basic principle of advertising is “you can’t bore someone into buying your product or idea” and if this communication is targeted at youth which it ostensibly is, then sadly I find it wanting. Of course I am sure older people might silently agree with the campaign theme as they might privately believe that they are not getting the respect or attention they deserve! But having said that we must remember that success or otherwise of campaigns like these rests squarely on the creative and that is my grouse with the Valentine’s Day campaign.
Creativity can shock you into action
When I think of advertising for social causes, my mind goes back to several years ago. It was done by Saatchi and Saatchi and the ad literally made waves catapulting the agency to international fame and recognition as a creative powerhouse. Let me define the situation by asking you the question. Who gets pregnant, the man or the woman? Of course it is the woman and the problem is that often it is unplanned because the man is dumb and refuses or forgets to use protection. The communication showing a pregnant man was outstanding in its noticeability and nudged an apathetic male population to sit up and take notice and hopefully use protection.

Sum and substance 
Cause marketing that is strategically sound and exceptionally different can work but it has to be promoted by someone who has an image and has no axe to grind, not like the attempt in Delhi. Changing attitudes and behaviour is not easy as people basically tend to be apathetic to causes. You need to nudge them and on occasion shock them. But communication that is not subtle or smart may not work. The timing of this communication too is very critical. What is the mood of the target audience is something that communicators need to worry about. People too can quickly realise whether it is part of an organisation’s area of interest or are they merely trying to capitalise on some current issue. This is the biggest problem with the current campaign. Asaram Bapu seems to be merely trying to use the occasion for his own personal good using the garb of the collective good of society and that as someone might say is just not cricket.
So don’t reject cause marketing because of this, just use it more sensibly.