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BW Businessworld

End Of The Campaign

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The End' means different things to different people. For those who believe in what the Mayans predicted, it is happening as you read this — the end of the world in 2012. For fans of Jim Morrison and The Doors, it is the culmination of a beautiful relationship captured through the words, "this is the end, beautiful friend, of our elaborate plans, the end, of everything that stands, the end, no safety or surprise, the end…." For others who are more optimistic, and who prefer more recent music, there is The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies) by American hip-hop group, The Black Eyed Peas. If one asks advertising executives to pick their version, many will choose the one by The Black Eyed Peas.

This reference to music is not because advertising as a business is facing the music — though it is a different matter that it is. But the business is seeing familiar concepts disappear as many senior executives, both from advertising agencies and the clients' side, have openly started talking about the move away from advertising campaigns. "From a creative standpoint a lot of people have started talking about the death of a campaign," agrees Sam Balsara, chairperson, Madison World. He finds support from Hemant Bakshi, executive director, home and personal care, Hindustan Unilever, who says: "Do we see the end of the campaign, as we knew it? I would agree."

Before getting into why the campaign is nearing its end, let us first understand what it originally meant. Executive director and CEO of Draftfcb+Ulka, Ambi M.G. Parameswaran, says, "The original idea of a campaign was meant to be like a war campaign, or an election campaign. It has an objective, it has a deadline and it has a budget." That definition still stands. But what has changed is the time frame.

Previously brands ran campaigns around major events (like a sports tournament) or during peak sales seasons in a given year. Now the twin factors of unprecedented choice being offered in the marketplace and the emergence of digital media have changed the rules of the game for marketers. For instance, with consumers getting inundated with more and more choice — in 2011, the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector alone had more than 120,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units) — there are more brands directing their sales pitch at the same set of consumers. For brands, this has become something like striking a conversation inside a jam-packed cricket stadium.

That has taken a heavy toll on time-tested formulas like the 30-second television commercial. "The days of a campaign primarily as a 30-seconder are dead, finished and gone," says Bakshi. However, it is not to say that the television commercial will not exist in the future. But it will be only one of the several components that go into the making of a larger marketing plan of a brand, he adds. "We may have audio-visual advertising, but it may never appear on television, and may be delivered to consumers through hand-held devices," says Parameswaran.

Today, brands have to be present and salient to consumers across a longer period of time than in the past. Jon Cook, CEO and president, VML, a global digital marketing agency, says it implies that brands are moving from responding to bursts of activity a couple of times in a year to being "always on for 365 days".

Rohit Ohri, executive chairman, Dentsu India, agrees. "Being current and salient is so important today. The shelf life of ideas and excitement is so small that you need to have small packets of it throughout the year. So, one cannot aim for one large burst of a campaign. That era is over," he says. To be sure, this is not just a phase. This is the new reality. "If anyone thinks that they can wait for the chaos to subside and then they can navigate this world will be completely wrong. Because this will only get worse," Ohri adds.

What advertisers and marketers have to do is navigate brands through the chaos. "Agencies and marketers understand that the rules that made us successful in the past will not make us successful in the future. It is true for all of us," says Bakshi.

The New Way Of Life
The first of the new rules: "From a ready-aim-fire world it has become a ready-fire-aim world," says Nakul Chopra, CEO, South Asia, at advertising agency Publicis. What exactly does he mean by that? In aiming, people have as much of a role to play as the brand does, explains Chopra. Increasingly, consumers opt to go and stand in place of the target audience, while earlier the target was defined.

It is a much more democratic world of brands. The manufacturer or the agency no longer has the unilateral right to say that the brand can only move in a particular direction. "People have as much of a say in deciding which way the brand is going to go. As long as we recognise the fact, we are okay. Else we will have to suffer the consequences," says Chopra.

Is advertising suffering as a consequence? Maybe not, as the ability of the advertising business to take its ideas to people, too, has increased manifold.

Agencies like Dentsu are of the view that the answer lies in being current. "Currency is the only currency," says Ohri. If brands cannot be connected, current and relevant now, they won't be around two years later. "The only way you can navigate is to try and make your brand exciting every day," adds Ohri. That is where the marriage of technology and ideas take brand engagement with consumers to another level. Technology gives brands a chance to stay connected, quickly alter, change, and be current every day. In comparison, if a brand relied only on that large-budget television commercial, it is there as long as it is on air. Then, the brand is not going to be making another film for six months unless it wants to bust the bank.

That means brands need to take a leap towards what Cook advocates: "We have never put enough of a premium on listening and responding. In an always-on environment we need to be constantly listening, and optimise our message accordingly." He cites the instance of beverage major PepsiCo's sports drink brand Gatorade that has adopted an always-on approach in its marketing efforts. The brand set up a team tasked with tracking brand conversations happening across the world on social media through an effort called "mission control". This was primarily to stem the sliding sales of the sports beverage.

By listening to online conversations that consumers were having about the brand, the team was able to figure out that consumers were moving away from some variants of Gatorade because of the calorie content. One insight was that the red colour of the beverage made consumers perceive it to be heavier. Using that insight, Gatorade launched a clear variant. In an always-on scenario, you need to focus on not just the communication insights, but also keep a lookout for the strategic insights, says Cook.

Others like Coca-Cola say that the current environment means that brands need a "tent pole idea". For instance, in the case of telecom major Airtel, "friends and connections" is the central thought, like "open happiness" is to Coke. Airtel can stretch the central idea through the year in various formats and for different products such as Airtel Money or Airtel Music. "Clients, the owners of the core idea, now have to deal with multiple partners who have to express that idea in a particular way," says R. Balki, chairman, Lowe Lintas and Partners.

The TV commercial might disappear as the primary means of communicating with consumers, but video might not. Says Bakshi, "The thought that went into the making of a fantastic television advertisement will remain unchanged. A great television advertisement is single-minded; it is focused on one message that engages the consumer; it is entertaining and yet branded; those principles will not change. But your campaign will now go through multiple touch points. That will change."

Stretch The Buck
If the touch points are going to be multiple, and if the conversations are going to be ongoing, then media spending patterns will have to be revisited. In some ways they already are. For instance, the spends on digital have gone up three-fold in the past five years. "Spending patterns will definitely change. The stage will come where brands will seed a campaign and then it will expose itself through various media over time," says Shashi Sinha, CEO of media services agency, Lodestar Universal. He adds that this means that brands will need a stronger and broader core thought, which cannot be just a television script. "The connection of freshness, friends or love cannot go away with any single brand story. It has to be enduring," he says.

Balsara agrees that it is time everyone starts thinking actively on how to stretch the media rupee. "From a media point of view, not enough attention is being given to the weeks on air. Given the relative low scale of most brands, it is a fallacy to focus so much more on reach and so much less on frequency. Maximising weeks on air must be important," he says.

That also means that the amount of work has also multiplied, compared to the past, in both traditional and non-traditional media for advertising agencies. Bakshi clearly feels that both clients and agencies should take a look at how consumers at the top end are consuming content, because that's pretty much the way the rest of the market might move. "We need to be a part of that. I personally think that many of us have not completely understood the change that's coming our way," he says.

The advertising industry has certainly evolved from time to time. There was a time when even print advertising was an alien concept, as was radio and then, television. Advertising executives say that this ideas-without-borders is the new way and that somebody needs to step forward and write the new way in which advertising will communicate.

No wonder people like Balki of Lowe Lintas and Partners say that one is seeing the beginning of the campaign as we knew it. "An idea has become more sacrosanct today and the medium is an expression of the idea. The age-old theory of the idea being at the centre of communication is truer than ever before".


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 06-08-2012)