Beyond the blame game between marketing & advertising
As marketing and advertising trade punches, the answer to their woes lies elsewhere.
Advertising as an industry has come to be everyone’s favorite punching bag. The criticism may have hit a crescendo in the last few weeks, but the advertising model has been getting flak for a while now. A lot of the hatred unfortunately is coming from its primary partner – marketing folk. And of course, insiders eager to disparage the business, many of whom, ironically enough, built their reputations and their fortune in this very business.
I am not here to say that all is well with advertising. But I do think that by trying to find a scapegoat, we are merely avoiding the key issue. The truth is, it’s not advertising which is responsible for marketing’s loss of knuckles. The marketing cheese indeed has been moved but by an uprising called innovation. There was a time when the biggest ideas in the world of business were from marketing. Nike, Dove, Levis, Chivas Regal and many others were built through classical advertising-led marketing initiatives. Not anymore. In the last few decades, the biggest ideas aren’t a product of the marketing-advertising nexus; they’ve come from disruptive innovation. Google, WhatsApp, Uber and Amazon haven’t been built in the marketing department. They’ve been built in the innovation department.
Unfortunately, the issue that plagues advertising is the same if not a more acute version of that which affects marketing. They have both been robbed off their role and mojo by the silent spring of innovation. The best talent on leaving college, aren’t going to advertising but they aren’t going to marketing either: they are going to the world of innovation – to the world of technology and start-ups. To that extent, advertising and marketing are on the same side of the fight. There are many companies where marketing has been reduced to an internal service provider with internal stakeholders as clients. This is where the gap is. Unless marketing negotiates its influential seat at the innovation table, unless marketing is embedded in product innovation, we will see a diminishing role for the function and further devaluation of its partners (or vendors) such as advertising.
And as its true partner, advertising needs to gear up to be the innovation-wind beneath the marketing wings. We of course have to be more digital, more integrated and more diverse, but that isn’t the solution. The real solution lies in reinventing the fundamental marketing-advertising model. From one which starts with a marketing objective, mates it with a consumer insight and churns out advertising campaigns, we need to shift to a model which is problem-solution based, not campaign based.
This model starts with identifying the big problem or opportunity that a brand could solve or leverage, mates it with a cultural inflexion point and outputs a solution that could be a product idea, a digital platform, a new distribution model or an allied service. And why are advertising and marketing best suited to play this upstream innovation game? That’s because within these disciplines lie the amazing abilities to rivet the key problem and identify the big cultural shifts that can help solve it – abilities critical to any meaningful innovation.
Of course, this isn’t an epiphany that can be ascribed to this article. Clients and agencies have gotten together to build many such successes that are grounded in upstream innovation. For instance, Bajaj V (a two-wheeler that embodies national pride, made from the metal of heroic warship Vikrant), Saregama Carvaan (a digital radio that plays nostalgia – retro songs), Kaan Khajura Station (a missed-call based radio-on-mobile service). And there are examples from the global arena – Brewtroleum (bio-fuel which is a byproduct of the beer making process), The Swedish Number (a tourism advisory service that connects you to a local resident). There are two aspects critical to all the above examples – one, radical collaboration between the client and the agency and two, using newer materials to solve the problems.
How do we then build partnerships that help us do this more often? How do we upgrade our talent to foster this culture of innovation? These are the only questions we should be losing sleep over. Anything else is a deflection.
This article first appeared in Economic Times.