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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Where first mover advantage counts

The big bad world of advertising is a cutthroat business at the best of times. To differentiate between the ad campaigms coming out of the various stables is easy, if creative juices have been in overdrive. No one can mistake an Airtel ad for Idea's, both being classy campaigns selling airtime (and handsets) to cellphone users.

The key is differentiation. How does one product stand out in a crowd of many identical or similar brands? Now some successful ad campaigns all seem to be making the same noises.

National Creative Director, Ambience Publicis, Pushpinder Singh agrees, "Yes. I guess what happens is whenever a particular campaign is successful and is successful for a certain kind of look, or a certain kind of feel to it, there is huge comfort that sets in, both at the agency's and at the client's end. I mean, if this is succeeded because it looked and felt this way, then it can work for my product too."

CEO of Paradigm Shift, Geeta Rao says, "I think we really got to step back and look at the fact that business will always respond to external trends. So it's a bit like the fashion industry, everyone will have a certain look and feel because currently that's fashionable. So some of the feel and look is actually coming out of the fact that this is the trend. Once black and white was a trend, the retro look was a trend."

"So people will use that but that doesn't necessarily mean that the ideas are also similar. So if execution is beckoning to be the idea, then yes, some of the executions have started to look very-very similar. External trends are one thing. The other thing that you have, is iconing brands which actually set up category norms."

"For example, skincare will have certain telegraphic norms that are the same and everyone uses them. Fair & Lovely has that six face visual and everyone else uses similar visuals just to communicate very quickly."

With execution looking similar, the only thing that makes a difference is the main idea or does it? Singh said, "It's the execution (which matters) of the idea, like you take Close-up for example, there it was that retro look that we gave it, which was the idea. We wanted to breakdown people's rational barrier to toothpastes' claims, and we set it in the Archie/Barbie doll kind of world. It worked and using that execution as an idea, a lot of advertisers followed suit. So I think increasingly, when the execution is the idea, we are seeing a lot of clones springing up."

These changes are the result of both advertisers getting slack and creatives getting lazy. Singh stresses, "I think it's a bit of both. Like I said, there is comfort, of precedence at the advertiser's end, there is also the lazy creative department." Rao adds, "I think some of it is laziness and some of it is a client's pressure. I see it happening all the time, where a client says that 'I need that kind of ad'. You know you define the kind of ad that you want. In the past, about five-years ago, everyone would say, give me an ad like MTV. Now that's not an idea. So I think pressures are coming from various places in terms of what you want your ad to look like."

This herd mentality is a product of the times, where success breeds clones, in the hope that some of that good luck will rub off on the other campaigns as well. Singh elaborates, "It's a little bit like bravery. Everyone appreciates bravery from a distance. When your called upon to be brave, you say 'hey that's foolhardiness'. So while a lot of people may be aware of the fact that their communication needs to cut clutter, when it comes to taking tough decisions for their own brands, a little bit of the comfort zone comes into the thinking."

"When we don't have creative directors who will stand up and say, I want to be counted on this one, a junior is much likely to come up and say okay I want to do an Amaron kind of ad, that was good. So, it's really creative leadership which counts, which says should we or should we not?"

Clones of well received advertisements are like a back-handed compliment. You have to admit that you have been bettered and you want some of that action as well. Singh said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so yes, one does feel very flattered. But the more important point here is, the person or the advertiser who really reaps the benefit is the one, who has the first mover advantage. The one who was bold enough to experiment with something different in the first place."

Singh adds, "Personally I believe that if you try and replicate anything just because it was successful in the past, you are probably taking a bigger risk. The job of the creative person is to discover new ideas, new styles, new executions and one should keep doing that, and trying to fall back upon the old and the time-tested is really a recipe for the disaster."

With budgets and purse strings being in the hands of corporate marketing bigshots, there is always going to be pressure to do advertisments that were successful in the past and hope it gels with the audience, albeit in a slightly tweaked format. Says Rao, "There has been some kind of movement towards that (doing the same thing) but I think, everyone is trying to do their own bit, I think the whole industry is pulling in that (own bit) direction."

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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