Of Budgets, Ideas and Excuses

“We want to do something different.”

I have heard the above statement enough times to know that 95% of them change their brief after two rounds of ideation to do something ‘usual’, ‘safe’ and ‘something that works’.

I think most of my peers are familiar with the dance now. Client calls agencies (creative, media, social, branding etc.) for a brief for a new campaign or project. They have a brilliant product and their brand does wonders to benefit consumers. Some are aware about what their competitors are doing. Others don’t really even know who their competitors are. After a lengthy monologue of 15-20 minutes, what we usually get an idea of is how awesome the brand is, and why the consumers love it. What’s next is an all too familiar statement depending on which agency you come from.

“We want to have a new campaign which is very different from our past campaign.”

“We need to do an innovative campaign for getting more reach.”

“We need videos and more social media clicks.”

“We need to change our packaging to make it more attractive.”

If you are wondering why every other FMCG brand campaign looks broadly the same (there are exceptions here), and if every other online beauty brand video looks similar to that of a blogger you follow or if it just looks tired, dull and old – refer to the above statements. Maybe, just maybe that could be the problem.

Back to the process, the agencies brainstorm, put in their heart and soul, develop fantastic ideas that they believe will work. But alas! They forgot all about the budget lords which the marketing managers never hesitate to remind them about.

What happens next is murder…. of ideas, slashing it down to bare minimum and that’s the problem. The slashed out, minimized version of the powerful, impactful idea is now reduced to a mere single creative or video. Do the benchmark, expectations of results to be delivered change? No. The scaled down version of the idea is to deliver the same results as the proposed, big idea.

By now, the process is a grind. Marketing Managers are looking for vendors to execute ideas for the cheapest rate. Creative agencies are wasting away talent and time and losing money in the process. Very few brands plan based on long term strategic goals. We have started to witness the shift towards, immediate tactical returns – enough to meet the KPIs of all and be happy over.

I have failed to understand the reasons for this budget shortage. Sometimes, it’s for research and data, branded content or for good quality content – video, text on website etc. It surprises me that clients who are willing to spend on a massive million dollar hoarding won’t invest the same amount on a good website. There is still a very wrong perception that social and digital media is supposed to be free or atleast very cheap. Eitherways, the results are usually summed up by the average campaign creatives.

You see this on TV. Forget the housewives, we as marketers itself sometimes end up confusing brands from their communication. Smiling moms in kitchens, with kids or supermodels endorsing brands or even some of our music– we are only re-inventing and recycling the old and pandering to nostalgia than creating anything ‘new’ or ‘innovative’. This is strange considering the lifestyle changes we have witnessed over the last decade.

Do we still get to call ourselves ‘creative’ if it’s only rehashing and repackaging that we do? Creative agencies are businesses too who have employees on their payroll, so slashing budgets hurt them. Just like slashing good ideas with potential, hurts the brand. Why are we still doing this though? As an industry, we need to introspect and decide what direction are we heading towards.

Amidst all this, there are some genuine innovators and storytellers who are taking the risk and trying something new, who are probably making smarter spending decisions with their budgets than making excuses. I just wish and hope that there will be more of them.


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