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Time For A New Advertising Vocabulary

Volumes after volumes have been written about the end of advertising as we know it. The coming together of Internet and telephony —a phenomenon the advertising industry acknowledged long ago, but didn’t adopt ways to adapt to the new scenario — has been blamed for the disruption in the second oldest profession in the world

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The industry was caught rather unaware and it took us a bit of time to react to the tsunami of the Internet and telephony coming together. But to our credit, we have taken some significant strides lately. Large holding companies radically restructured themselves and prepared themselves to be counted as key advisors by the clients once again. At least, we weren’t going to make the same mistake the music industry did in the last decade — ignore the change.

Having said that, we are still committing some basic mistakes, more out of habit than by design. The temptation to slip back into the old ways (selling long-format television commercials as branded content for example) is quite understandable, but will be counter-productive to say the least. We need to bring about some elementary changes alongside the major changes that have been put in motion. To begin with, we need a significant shift in vocabulary, if we want the change to be truly internalised.

It’s time to revisit some of the terms and change them to reflect the change we are trying to embrace.

1. Agency: If we truly want to be advisors to business owners, we have to bury the term ‘agency’ forever. We are nobody’s agents, and that has been the case for decades, but we never bothered to drop it. Imagine a healthcare professional (doctor) being called a ‘medical agent’.

2. Media Plan: In an era where we are seeing more and more consumers switching off and playing hard to get, we need a new term for the plan that connects consumers to brands. Media plan by definition means we need a medium between consumers and brands.

3. Client Service: Long before the ‘digital’ disruption, this term was outdated. In the new reality, there is no client to be serviced but brands to be nurtured. The business representatives of creative solutions companies need to be the master of ceremonies than being just client representatives.

4. Display Advertisement: Every opportunity that we get with consumers, is an opportunity to truly connect and build a deeper relationship. In this scenario, a mere display is an opportunity wasted. Display doesn’t deliver anything, except it burns cash faster.

5. Full Service Agency: If you cannot play the role of a master curator for a brand today, you are already high up on the redundancy chart. There are no half-service options anymore. You are either all in or you can just choose to stay out.

6. Target Audience: Sounds like a bunch of helpless ducks waiting for the hunter to take his pick. Nothing can be further from the truth today. The consumer is a highly-empowered species that has left the hunters clueless and got them simply shooting in the dark. The fundamental shift here is about relationship building, and not transactional in nature, unless you like shooting in the dark.

7. Proposition: The term assumes the meaning that the power lies in the hands of the proposer. It doesn’t matter if the proposition is unique or not, no consumer likes to be sold to. They prefer to have a relationship with a purposive brand than a propositioning brand.

8. ATL/BTL: As creatures of habit, these abbreviations tend to slip into our conversations even in a new age e-commerce brand marketing plans. The line has long disappeared, but the shadow still remains in the mind.

9. Ad Test: The fine art of covering one’s back by conducting a consumer ‘test’ of a TVC and declaring its worthiness to internal stake holders is more ancient than pyramids themselves. We live in a world where actual market feedback of the campaign is faster than a post-test report by a research agency.

10. Advertising: The fundamental issue with this term is that it stops short of what today’s businesses expect from marketing — a sustainable relationship with a (large) set of people who will not dump you at the first given opportunity for some other offering. Advertising at its core is all about telling/ informing people about something. We are not in the information era, we are in the connection era and there is no place for advertising here.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but a mere indicator of the kind of fundamental shift in thinking that we need to bring to be truly relevant in this ever-changing world. Replacing one jargon with another, without embracing the change, is just like calling a spade a shovel, without knowing the difference.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Anil S. Nair

The author is CEO & Managing Partner, Law & Kenneth Saatchi & Saatchi

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