Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Coffee with JWT Associate Planning Director, Prabs

D: Is a regional APG the result of good planning or is good planning a result of an APG ? Is Dubai ready for one?

P: I think it works both ways, they are not mutually exclusive. But that is possible only if a Planning culture exists in its true form even to a lesser extent, currently it doesn’t. So to answer your second question, Dubai is not quite there yet I feel. But that shouldn’t stop us from making an attempt to create the APG Middle East. It just requires getting some of the Planning minds together and starting a dialogue in conjunction with APG UK.

D: Any great campaigns from the region you could site with planning written all over them?

P: NONE :(

D: As a planning director I'm sure you've accumulated an insight or two on spotting talent, could you share any with us? What is it you look for in a young planner?

P: Planners in general need to be driven by and equipped to contribute to outstanding and effective advertising. Obviously, they need to be skilled in some fundamental pre-requisites. What follows is by no means an exhaustive checklist, but works as a good benchmark –
a. Passion for advertising as a business. They need to be infectiously passionate about advertising because that is what we do. If we are not driven by contributing at every step of the advertising development to encourage great advertising (that works), then Account Planning is not the best option. They should have a sensibility about advertising because at the end of the day, a Planner needs to know how to use information to craft advertising.
b. They need to have an intuitive ability to see beyond the façade of a consumer, which is where insights lie. To this effect they need to have a unique understanding of human behavior and advertising’s ability to influence it.
c. Having child-like curiosity, ask probing questions, be deeply curious about why people do what they do. Being both ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ thinkers helps - simultaneously creative, innovative, and instinctual, while also being disciplined and logical thinkers.
d. They need to be sensitive to cultural context, pop culture and trends. They must understand the cultural context the brand and consumer live in. They need to have an insatiable appetite for reading, learning and applying their knowledge to brands and communication.
e. While this comes with practice, they must be able to synthesize vast amounts of data and bring it down to a single point of view. This might apply to a seasoned Planner, but part of the art and science of being a Planner is the kind of magic that occurs when they use their intelligence, instinct, judgement, and intuition to integrate information and identify a key compelling insight that becomes the platform for strategic development – not dwell in intellectual reinterpretations of a business problem that lead nowhere.
f. Existence of conceptual skills and imagination, 'inspiration' being the operative word here. Someone who does things in an inspiring manner - who can craft a thought in the most inspiring manner. Again, this will come only from practice, but taking consumer knowledge and packaging it in a palatable and motivating form for creatives. To me it is the ability to understand your intuition – people who trust their instincts to recognize truths. Not simply report back what consumers say, but uncover the meaning behind what is said and why. g. Above all, common sense !
To sum this up, I feel the value of planning is rooted in the unique understanding of human behavior and our ability to influence it. Junior or senior Planners, both need to believe and live by this, only then will they make a meaningful contribution to the creation of advertising and building brands.

D: What do you think is the toughest challenge planners tend to face in their everyday jobs?

P: Juggling the role of a brand strategist and a ‘creative’ planner – time spent on the latter is limited due to many internal and external factors. A struggle to agree on an insight with clients as well as creatives - each person in the business seems to have his or her own definition. Trying to make people in the agency understand that an idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it. Point being, an inspiring brief will result in breakthrough work only if it is given to a bunch of talented people. Insights and creative ideas suggested by Planners being snubbed, either because of lack of understanding or due to insecurities. Either ways, it is frustrating. Constantly educating clients that the memorable never emerged from a formula, and that principles endure, formulas don’t. Most multi national clients love to indulge in over analysis not realizing that logic and over analysis can immobilise and sterilize an idea. Like love – the more you analyse it, the faster it disappears.

D: As planners we are always in search of an idea, the commonly held notion is that ideas come from anywhere. Where is your anywhere?

P: My ‘anywhere’ list is endless - By being eclectic, reading popular magazines, newspapers, poetry, art, literature, going to the cinema and theater, watching TV (occasionally watch ones i don’t want to watch), listening to music, watching music videos, stand up comedy shows, watch ads from around the world, browse the net, talking to people, spending time with people smarter than me, reading books of all kind - creative awards annuals, popular psychology, human behavior, marketing, advertising, case studies of brands from the multitude of sources to cross fertilise, inhabit the real world, not ivory towers, ad land. Just plain watching and observing people every time I go out – at coffee shops, restaurants, bars, malls, while traveling, at airports, even in the flight, everywhere I encounter them.

D: What's wrong with planning?

P: Are you referring specifically to this region ? If yes, at the risk of sounding cynical, it is a highly ill-defined role at the moment and there is no Planning culture in the ‘real’ sense. Worse, within agencies people are unclear about the role. In addition, clients have varying expectations from Planning. Unless there is a clear definition and understanding of the discipline and unless a philosophy is practiced in reality, nothing will be right with Planning in this region.

D: If you were conducting this interview, what would you have asked yourself?

P: Am I a frustrated ‘creative’ disguising as a Planner ?

D: Many thanks Prabs, good luck with JWT!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Post 3 on our Insignificance

Yes, here we go again...this is the 3rd cynical post on advertising. This time, captured brilliantly by a George Carlin stand-up segment. I think watching this video every so often is a sobering experience that might help keep us rooted in the reality of our roles in consumers lives.

Now for the light hearted, please be warned, this is delivered in classic Carlin style (for those of you unfamiliar with Carlin style, the best way to describe it would be to ask you to imagine a 70 year old pi**sed off drunkard who can make a point.

Credit to Jim Hacker for post this clip.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Greg Brays Sony Ad

Caught up with Greg Bray (Promoseven) last week, he showed me this ad he shot for kicks on the weekend. Yet another demontration of why Greg is truely one of the best creatives out there...Enjoy

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Planners in the Region...

Everyday other day I find myself browsing through the UK's APG and every other day I worry when I look at the trainings scheduled for young planners ( some listed below)...The dates are too far apart to actually fly to London for all of them.

How to Brief Creatives for Advertising
How to Understand and Use Quantitative Research :
How to facilitate inspirational brainstorming and generate fresh creative thinking
How to Brief Integrated Campaigns
Getting to Know Brand Frameworks & Tools
Understanding Econometrics
Mini Business School
How to make your IPA paper a winner
Intensive Induction into Account Planning

The lack of proper training for junior planners in the region is a scary thought...it's left up to you to extract your education from other peoples blogs, agency planning kits, APG papers and your seniors, but that really only gets you so far...

I know there are some great senior planners in the region who are capable of holding training sessions or facilitating discussion for younger planners and one another, from Brenda, Angela, Prabs, Anil, to Ramzy and many more I'm sure I have yet to meet. I'm equally as sure that there are some pretty fiesty young planners who would definitely throw some serious passion and dexterity back the other way, Incognito, Hadi, Rayan & Talal...(let alone aspiring planners)

Thus this little post is a form of an attempt to spark some talk about creating some form of an informal planning group in the region, be it as simple as getting together every other week for a chat...(as Incognito mentioned to me)


Monday, November 20, 2006

An interesting blog, 'Muttawa', with a wealth of knowledge on Saudi Arabia comes to an end after 2 years and a combination of 400 posts...
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the 'Muttawa'have a look here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Add life to life

du, the new telecom provider, have launched, check out their ad here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Adding more to the pessimistic posts on the fundamentals of advertising, (see It's goanna change your life forever below) I was sitting with a creative director discussing a sign off line to an ad, I made the comment that maybe we are taking it a little too far, maybe a humbler sign off would be more suitable, now as people tended to do he started off his sentence with 'I see your point but...' the rest was basically a haze of words like 'Bigger-Wow' I lost him completely at 'life better'.
Back in Uni I took a course that more or less covered a section on the psychology and dynamics of persuasion. In a nut shell it mentioned two routes to persuasion, 'central' whereby you list the facts- this procedure used to persuade the more knowledgeable crowds, and the 'peripheral' which is basically the show u put on, call it delivery- a prime example was Hitler's methods of propaganda, imagery, music, symbolism etc. But the fate of both these techniques lay at the hands of one integral factor 'The source' of a message..., who they are, what they have to gain, their likeability, credibility etc....
This last point has been leading me into the thought that we tend to forget the context of our message, overrate our existing credibility, forget that this is indeed an ad (very much in the same category as all 'advertising', most of which if sh*t), we are speaking on behalf of a people that the consumer knows very well will tell you anything to take your money,. In spite of all this for some odd reason we assume that anything we say will not be approached with cynicism, we really do expect the consumer to interpret our message at face value. Maybe its sometimes better to say 'Hey it is indeed just another f*cking biscuit but it is a good one' instead of 'Reach paradise', 'Escape' or as Incognito mentioned ' so sweet you wont want to share'
Image courtesy of Organic frog

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Brenda's Secret Revealed!

Going through the comments on Diablog...i stumbled across a comment by Fertilise your mind AKA Brenda Kassir (Saatchi's senior strategist), turns out Brenda's got a blog she's been hiding from us since May (SINCE MAY BRENDA!!) Below is an extract I loved ( thus stole) off her blog that I think really personifies the creative process...
Now that the news is out, we all look forward to Brenda updating her blog Sensitive Mind more often...

"When I do a design project, I begin by listening carefully to you as you talk about your problem and read whatever background material I can find that relates to the issues you face. If you’re lucky, I have also accidentally acquired some firsthand experience with your situation. Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem! Now, if it’s a good idea, I try to figure out some strategic justification for the solution so I can explain it to you without relying on good taste you may or may not have. Along the way, I may add some other ideas, either because you made me agree to do so at the outset, or because I’m not sure of the first idea. At any rate, in the earlier phases hopefully I will have gained your trust so that by this point you’re inclined to take my advice. I don’t have any clue how you’d go about proving that my advice is any good except that other people — at least the ones I’ve told you about — have taken my advice in the past and prospered. In other words, could you just sort of, you know...trust me?"

From Sensitive Mind (Linked on the right, Brenda's Blog)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Guest Rant: Promoseven Strategist, Talal El Kateb

I know I haven’t been called in for a second interview by the diablogger extraordinaire but I feel like ranting and I believe my only outlets for such drabble is here or on 2-ply pink toilet paper. I’ve run out of the latter.

I feel like venting about research if you don’t mind… well I’m glad no one does. You see I am a firm believer in the power of consumer knowledge. The more you know about those you’re targeting the better you can communicate with them and the easier your task of selling to them… ooops… I meant your task of making them believe in / love / feel affinity for / emotionally bond with… your brand.

But here’s a doozy: how many times have you regretted even asking your client for ad pre-testing when the response was not to your liking? How hard was it to convince your client that pre-testing is meant to give more ammunition to the creative team rather than bore a hole through the bullseye? How close were you to suicide when your client saw a piece of research and asked you to craft a piece of communication around its findings in the most literal way possible?

It just feels like it’s taken us agencies eons to finally get clients to buy into the fact that research is always beneficial to their marketing efforts, only to see it abused in the hands of the number-crunchers, the black or white viewists and those that use research as a safety, existing for the sole purpose of covering their butts when things go wrong… “Wasn’t my fault! Research said adults trust their family doctors with their lives. I don’t know why having them endorse our life insurance product didn’t work out!!!”

Here’s the pickle: yes I am a firm believer in the importance of consumer knowledge, but I’m also an idealist who believes that advertising can change the world, or at least the behaviour of a select few.

You see, research will have banks believe that it’s the Asian population of the UAE who are most prone to saving, the national population most prone to need investment guidance and symbols of status, and the Lebanese populace most prone to taking out loans to fund their Porsches and Maseratis (that last one was a non-PC joke but I’m sure all the Lebs out there feel me).

Sales figures and market share will have us believe that the average Saudi family will always opt for either a gas-guzzling SUV for their extended family to cram in for those joyous Friday picnics on the corniche; or a moderate, affordable Toyota Camry or Corolla.

Are these stereotypes true?

Most definitely!

Should they guide our brand and communication strategies?

Of course not!

I know I’ve used terrible examples above but I know you know what we all know: research and data should set the backdrop but it’s up to us mighty planners of the new age to write the screenplay.

Now that we’ve succeeded in convincing our clients to shell out a small but hefty percentage of their marketing budgets on research, the next step is making the best use of that research instead of just turning it into a brief. On a final note…


Thanks for letting me vent.

Diablog: As always our pleasure.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Torture your consumer?

Was looking through a couple of my books yesterday and came across The Art of Seduction,
a purely Machiavellian look at how to court, or better yet manipulate someone into falling for you. Despite its' somewhat dark nature the book does make a couple of valid points, which I prefer not to get into. However, what I was thinking about was how this might provide some sort of new perspective on branding. I guess you'd have to read through the book to figure out what I'm babbling on about. Basically, what if the consumer wasn't boss? What if we played hard to get with the consumer? What if we sent mixed signals? What if we weren't always available where expected? What if we contrasted the utmost satisfaction and pleasure with a tad of disappointment possibly even pain? What if we appeared to be an object of desire by creating triangles?

Yes now that I am re-reading through this post it does seem a little bizarre but not obscene enough to delete.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Coffee with Blogger/Copywriter, Farrukh Naeem

D: So lets kick it off with a fellow blogger question, why blog?

F: Blogging is fun. Blogging is interactive. Blogging is free. These are someof the basicreasons. I have always considered writing as a means to make a difference, to cause animpact. I do not seemyself as an artist who is writing to express himself and show the world howgreat his literaryskills are. I write on strategy, to get results. For God's sake, we are in abusiness calledadvertising - it's about strategy, ideas, cause and effect. That is the reasonwhy you will seethat I do not rant and whine and put others down on my blog but rather discussthe importantissues that affect the advertising industry, throw some ideas around, anddiscuss the poststhrough reader comments. Writing to get results, to evoke response, being able to assess the impact ofone's creativeeffort, is important to me. That's why I have a strong direct marketing (DM)portfolio. I haveworked with one of the best DM companies in the world - Wunderman. Blogging,with its blogrollsand comments and tags and trackbacks, is like DM to me. It's all about connecting, interaction, two-way communication. Through my blog,I have been ableto help people look for advertising related jobs, source creative talent,discuss industry relatedissues openly, share ideas, find out how advertising is in our part of theworld. I have made goodfriends. I regularly have people calling and emailing me to tell me that theyenjoy reading myblog. Many editors and clients, after reading what I write on my blog, want meto write for them.That is why, blogging! I think blogs can sometimes give a more objective, quick and personalisedaccount of events thanthe mass media, and this is what I too would like to do as a blogger when itcomes to creativity,marketing and advertising.

D: So what are your thoughts on the English copy writing in Dubai?

F:There is very little of it. Press ad layouts have become so predictable - avisual pun with alogo and a tagline tucked in a corner. Yes, award juries like that. It looksclever. But whateverhappened to persuasive, well crafted copywriting? Copywriters are writing loadsof text inbrochures and direct mailers. But I would like to see great copy in press adstoo - I'm fed upwith Photoshopped visuals and stock pictures and posycard ads.

D: Your top 3 copy writers in Dubai?

F: The cult status and prominence that copywriters enjoy in other parts of theworld is not seenhere in the UAE. We do not have copywriters people talk about, like Neil French,Indra Sinha orPiyush Pandey. Why is it like this? See my answer to the question above. I likethe work ofShehzad Yunus of TBWA, Shahir Ahmad of Team Y&R, and John Mani of The ClassicPartnership - all ofthem are more than copywriters - they head or co-head their creativedepartments.

D: Best slogan you've written?

F: You might come across many slogans I have written that have become anessential part of thebrand's communication like "Stay Ahead" for Alpha Data - an IT company and"Expect More FromEducation" for Al Ghurair University. I am not a big supporter of slogans orcatchlines if allthey have to do is sit under a logo and regurgitate corporate fluff about acompany. The best slogans go on to become a part of everyday usage for people. I haven'twritten such aslogan yet but I did coin a brandname that has become part of everyday language.When I was inIndia working for Wunderman (Y&R), I joined the words 'flyover' and highway' toname an expressbridge The DND 'Flyway' and I later read 'flyway' being used as a common noun.

D: Best slogan you've seen in Dubai?

F: I like the slogan 'Fi Masafi?". It's brilliant because it is not just a tallclaim but acampaign idea - like the legendary 'got milk?' Plus, the word 'fi' and the brandname 'Masafi' gowell together. And, it's in Arabic. We need to have more of such brilliantArabic copywriting.

D: Through your experience as a copy writer how do you perceive the role of planning. Creative support or buzz kill?

F: I tend to get along very well with planners. What planners do today,copywriters were doingwhen planning did not exist. Visiting manufacturing plants, polling their targetaudience, diggingup info on competitive products. And even now, only a handful of agencies haveplanners. So manytimes, the inquisitive copywriter gets fed up of asking questions from theaccount executives whoknow only as much as the client has told them and gets out and does his or herown research onconsumer trends, competitive brands. With a good planner, this would not benecessary. Plus,planners can be the creative's best friend when they know stuff about a brandand consumers thatinspires and lights up a writer's imagination. Sometimes, I have seen planners getting so enamoured with their brief that theyinsist on a veryliteral rendition of the strategy - that can seriously limit the creativeporcess instead offocusing it. But it happens rarely. As a copywriter, I think a smart, intuitive planner with the mind of a client,the heart of acreative person and the instinct of a consumer can be a great asset for an adagency and awonderful support to the account handling as well as the creative team.

D: The world is becoming increasingly more frantic, more clutter, more distracting gadgets, less attention, all resulting in less processing time. Will copy heavy ads live on?

F: There is a myth that people don't read long copy. If that was so, youwouldn't be sending methese questions and I would not be writing their answers. If people werewatching more and readingless, we wouldn't have blogs and newspapers and magazines and Harry Potter andDa Vinci Code. 'Copy heavy' itself is a loaded phrase - the kind of stuff spoken by artdirectors who can't readand look at copy as black lines of text interfering with their design. The kindof art directorswho go weak in the knees when they have to design an actual layout rather than a full bleed ad. Well-written long copy is becoming harder to come by, but it is not becausepeople don't read.It's because many copywriters today don't know how to write copy that gets read,how to craft asales pitch, how to build a persuasive case for their product, service or causewith words. Thatis why when it comes to radio spots, where the copywriter can't hide behindphotos and layouts, wesee what is really wrong - the writing sucks. Long copy is alive and well - its experts are minting money for themselves andtheir clients inareas like direct marketing where creativity is judged by ad response not fancyawards. They arethe copywriters who know their art and craft well enough to make people read,get convinced andact, just with the power of words.

D: Many thanks Farrukh for being with us. For more from Farrukh have a look at his blog here.