Suckers suck.

11 Nov

Episode 1, mid 2009:

I find myself sitting at the office of a senior marketing officer at a giant telecom company. Their current advertising agency was one of the top 5 in India, they were looking for a ‘second agency’ to do their ‘below-the-line’ work. The marketing dude (complete with accent) showed me a 20×3 ad that their ‘main’ agency had just submitted, and which had just been approved. It was for their ultra-low night-time surfing rates and it featured a night shot of full moon and an owl perched on the shoulder of a man sitting on a balcony ledge with his laptop, surfing.
The SMO proceeded to tell me that he demanded and received creativity of a very high order, and was showing me the layout as incontrovertible proof that the highest level of creativity was demanded, and that it was met.
While there was nothing wrong with the ad, there was nothing so remarkable about it that it warranted being demonstrated as an example of extreme creativity. Yes, there was that terribly ‘creative’ touch of the owl perched on the model’s left shoulder. The owl, apparently, was a professional model and was looking straight into the camera.
It must have been terribly obvious that I was not besides myself with excitement.
The marketing dude hastened to cut off any possibility of a contrary opinion from me. “There is no such thing as too high a price for true creativity. I’ve paid top money for those images, they were purchased separately…”
Apparently the image of the owl alone was Rs.25,000 and the full moon was another astronomical figure, which I cannot now remember.
I think this recitation of prices paid was supposed to shock me into a reappraisal of the ad.
I asked to borrow his laptop. I typed ‘owl’ into the search box on Google Images. That very same owl, that very picture for which this fortune had been paid, showed up on the very first page. And it was a high-res, royalty-free image.
Feeling wicked, and I must honestly confess, with a mounting glee, I typed ‘full moon’ into the search box and again, the very image in the ad showed up on the first page. Again, royalty-free.
The marketing dude became very quiet. Very, very quiet.
“What is the monthly retainer you pay these people?,” I asked.
The answer was very sobering: It was ABOVE 15 lakhs.
I did not bother to corner him what he had paid for the ‘shoot’ : one pic of one guy sitting on a ledge. But I did find out later that it was over 2 lakhs.
On another floor of the same company, another divison asked us to design their website. Having a full capability inhouse, and the opportunity being so important, we delivered breath-taking work in record time.
They were elated. But they called us back, stupefied with our estimate for the project. “The lowest quote we have is 9 times higher than yours.”, they were whispering into the phone.
Yes, you read right, because we couldn’t believe we heard right. “Please revise you quote and make it at least 10 times larger so that our people will take it seriously.”
Our turn to be stupefied.
We did. We desperately wanted that business, you see.
That website was awarded to a ‘professional web company’ whose quote was 15, repeat 15, confirm 15 times higher than our quote. That site is live. It is nothing to be proud of.

I ask you, how much longer must this go on before a company tells its advertising agency: This is your monthly retainer, including EVERYTHING excluding taxes. Genuinely pre-agreed outsourced material to be billed to us directly.

Memo to the CEO: Make it a good retainer. Enough to warrant your agency’s highest work.

Oh no, companies still shovel bucketfuls of money to the big agencies, then haggle over every rupee they pay their ‘second agency’. They will examine the irrelevant estimates, the wrong way, and almost masturbate themselves silly cutting it down by 2%. Then they will delay payments for weeks.
I think this makes them feel that they are penny-wise.

All of it is not half as confounding as the client who thinks they’ve got the system cracked and will call up a dozen cronies who will give them two dozen opinions after which they call the agency and say: I want to shoot a TV commercial and I’ve got someone to do it for 5 lakhs.
Don’t laugh. It happened to me, back in 2004.
Which brings me to Episode 2:
The biggest Indian franchisee of a international sandwich brand called us and then told us: I am shooting one TV film ji, and I have a good producer who will do it, my wife knows his wife, and he has agreed.”
I happened to know the producer, who was NOT a small-time house. I asked him why on earth he would do a film for what virtually amounted to a small loss. He rolled his eyes and said: “Domestic harmony.” It transpired that the peer pressure of a kittyparty circle can be almost nuclear in its power.
Thankfully, the producer took the full and final payment in advance. And not just in advance, he told the client plainly that he would start planning the shoot AFTER the money was in his account. He also said he would not do the project at all if the advertising agency was not involved, which thankfully checkmated the client from refusing to pay the agency the supervision fee.
The client said he saw no reason why he should pay in advance. “Gioo me one fecking reson vai ai sood pay ewe in hadvance,” he said. The producer asked quietly: “Who do I follow up for my monies? My wife or your wife?” As we all laughed a little uncomfortably, the producer got up, said: “Sir, I have come this far. Now it is your turn. Please send the bank draft to my office, if you agree.” And he respectfully walked out.
He got his money. Oh did I mention? The final script was relayed to the producer the morning of the shoot. It had been ‘created’ by the phamily and phriends of the client.
Darned if I have to say it, he did a bloody nice job too. But he shot the film he thought should have been shot, not the script the client was trying to force him to shoot, which was garbage, of course.
When he presented the film to the client, the client was … was …. stunned.
He ran it, of course. Happily, it worked enough to show up in sales.

One more anecdote to round this round of storytelling off, this one less than 6 months old. Yes, it happened this year. 2011.
Episode 3.
A very large globally-renowned software MNC called us in and asked us to generate a ‘brand signature’.
It took some conversation to figure out what they wanted: it was an equivalent of Britannia’s now-famous mnemonic: ‘ting-ting-tidinggggg’.
They were excited to know it was technically called a mnemonic. But they did not just want the basic melody, they needed it fleshed out into longer swathes of music, one for employee ring tones, one for their EPABX hold tunes, one into a full-fledged company song, with lyrics.
With all that in mind, they clearly saw the importance of that basic notational melody.
How much would it cost, they wanted to know.
We told them we would have to talk to a handful of professional music guys. This is a global brand, worth hundreds of millions of DOLLARS, and this project is not to be taken lightly.
But they had a unique observation: “It’s just 5 or 6 music notes. You know, tingtingtingtingtingting. Then you add some music to that for the rest. Why do you want to talk to top musicians? Just find a boy with a keyboard on Hill Road in Bandra, there are so many of them, and just give him 10,000 rupees and tell him to do 10 or 20 tunes and the Board of Directors can choose.”

Of course, it all went nowhere.

This company pays a very large agency dozens of lakhs a month in retainer fees. They are, of course, very clear that they will not ask this large agency to do this important project because “they will start talking in crores.”
Has anyone in that fabulous glass and steel skyscraper, carpeted with designations that are too large for business cards, ever stopped to think that the proper alternative to “crores” is NOT “a boy with a keyboard walking down Hill Road in Bandra”?
You’d think someone, somewhere would sit back for a moment and say to themselves: “Wait a minute …………………”:

3 Responses to “Suckers suck.”

  1. Aarti Naidu November 11, 2011 at 5:04 PM #

    hahahhahahahahhahahahaha hilarious! end ai dhont haab to gioo ewe a resan whaai it is!!!

  2. Karthik November 12, 2011 at 12:30 AM #

    20000: the full moon’s full price the SMO happily paid.

  3. Arnab November 25, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

    Alvin, I suspect that every reader of your’s would love the fact that you have written about something so real and an integral to our life! Simbly aawsumb I says!

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