Columns, Media International

Media industry needs to learn that frivolity negates respect

The Indian advertising industry is abuzz. Allegations about agencies voting for themselves are flying thick and fast and the media is having a lot of fun.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. For the last few years, the results of India’s annual advertising festival, Goafest, have been regularly leaked by some high-placed insider to a leading business daily, causing much merriment in some quarters and hand-wringing in others. In fact, advertising gets press largely when it does something silly, which is fairly often.

For newspaper readers this is good fun, for in between headlines like ‘Derivatives firm on institutional support’, one gets to read about the B-grade antics of people supposedly running important businesses. Every solemn court needs its jester, and advertising is jest perfect for this role (apologies).

It is staggering that the industry’s obsession with awarding itself continues to overlook one small detail— nobody else cares. And why should they?

Firstly, the awards are decided by a small closed group of people who are themselves in the running and then, as it turns out, a lot of the awards are given to work nobody (often including the agency heads themselves) has seen before or will see again. Add to it the thick cloud of petty acrimony that hangs over these events and the picture that emerges is hardly pretty.

For the 21 years that I was in advertising, the one subject we never tired of discussing was the lack of respect the industry received, in spite of investing so much passion and belief in our clients and brands. From the slightly detached vantage point I have today, it is easy to see why. Advertising does not take itself seriously, so how can it expect others to do the same? If you decide to hold your annual festival in Goa, and then treat it like a paid booze-up, give most serious discussions and workshops a miss, and fight like cats and dogs about some truly insignificant things, how on Earth do you expect to be taken seriously?

There are bigger issues at stake. For instance, in India, where consumption is driving the economic growth story, the role of advertising in building markets and categories is absolutely pivotal. But instead, the industry is caught up in itself and its ridiculously petty concerns. It is fun reading about it, though.