Young leaders in Indian advertising are demanding more relevance and accountability from various industry associations. They argue that while the industry has undergone a sea change in the last decade or so, industry associations have not kept pace with it losing their relevance each year.
There are multiple industry associations in the country notably the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and The Advertising Club that work towards bringing together several stakeholders of the industries such as marketers, creative shops, media agencies, publishers, and now even a few digital shops.
With 1600 members, The Advertising Club represents the Indian advertising industry and conducts key activities like hosting the country’s top ad awards like the Abbys, Emvies and Effies. To be a pan-India industry board, in 2012 the club dropped Bombay from its name. The Agencies Association of India (AAAI) is best known for organising the annual advertising awards festival called Goafest. Apart from awards, these associations also claim to host seminars, workshops and conclaves to discuss best industry practices.
An average advertising person today is concerned about topics like pay disparity, burnout, toxic work cultures, portfolio building, career progression opportunities, upskilling to keep up with tech advancements.
However, professionals Storyboad18 spoke to believe that the industry associations need to shift their focus on what matters to young professionals and work on addressing various challenges that modern agency businesses are facing.
Address relevant industry issues
Gautam Reghunath, co-founder of Talented, which is one of the newest agencies in the country, says it’s the right time for ad clubs to shift focus to help set standards for how our industry runs internally. According to him, an average advertising person today is concerned about topics like pay disparity, burnout, toxic work cultures, portfolio building, career progression opportunities, upskilling to keep up with technology advancements, etc.
“If you ask the average advertising leader, they’d be focused on business growth, the pitch process, the talent gap in our industry, themes like pitch fees, in-housing, and modern issues like navigating ASCI guidelines around influencer disclosures. Currently, none of these seems to be top-of-mind topics of interest for most of our industry bodies,” he notes.
There has been a certain degree of disappointment over young professionals not participating and giving time to industry associations as well. In a previous interview with Storyboard18, Shashi Sinha, chief executive officer, Mediabrands India, who is also the current secretary of The Advertising Club, agrees the club needs more young players. However, he candidly adds, “the young agency CXOs are focused on their work and life. They don’t want to take extra work.”
“The young agency CXOs are focused on their work and life. They don’t want to take extra work.”
Young executives highlight that the biggest challenge is relevance because many young professionals don’t even know about various ad bodies. Talented’s Reghunath admits that as an industry we don’t use our skill sets to our own interest.
“We’ve got to make these forums more attractive and interesting to be a part of. Start with more local events, more avenues for talent to be seen and recognised like One Club’s Portfolio Night, better access to the best minds at curated get-togethers. And from an action point of view, use these forums to discuss actual topics that need addressing on real agency floors,” he adds.
Industry executives also said there is a greater need for mentorship and guiding young talent through regular workshops and knowledge sessions which associations can actively look at organising.
Make awards credible
There has been a fair amount of controversies related to association-led award shows as well. Over the years, various agencies pulled out of industry awards such as the Emvies organised by Ad Club or AAAI-organised Goafest where the Abby awards are conferred.
At one point in time, as a way of expressing their disappointment over industry awards, big ad agencies also launched their in-house awards such as Lowe and Partners launched ‘The True Show’, Ogilvy & Mather just held its first internal award, the Envies. While these awards events are led by veterans and often younger CXOs get involved only during award seasons, say agency executives. However, awards are losing credibility as well.
Somewhere along the way, the Abby’s itself lost a bit of sheen possibly because of the sheer number of new award shows that have sprung up every other week, adland executives observe.
“The Effies are amazing and it’s the only show worth its salt in the effectiveness space. But I wish they did a better job of communicating the Effie brand value. The value of these shows can’t just hinge on the 24-hour celebratory high post an award win. They’ve got to be able to give agencies and participants long-term value, and that comes with the strength of the award show’s own brand,” notes Talented's co-founder Reghunath.
There has been a fair amount of controversies related to association-led award shows. Various agencies pulled out of industry awards and launched their own in-house awards.
Industry executives also believe that industry associations have been stuck in time when it comes to creating categories for awards. Even the juries are chosen on the basis of the availability of resources and not on skill sets.
Most of the advertising bodies are also quite old in their approach and refuse to believe that digital is taking over.
“… it's laughable that some awards still have Best Email and Best SMS as a category within digital. The world has moved much beyond the 2012 way of doing digital. There are tonnes of new things happening in this world and ideally the ad bodies must take the right initiatives to learn and adapt to be relevant in a few years,” says another digital agency executive on the condition of anonymity.
Santosh Padhi, chief creative officer, Wieden+Kennedy, says he has often pulled out of award shows knowing that the chosen jury did not do justice to the category they entered. Padhi co-founded the creative agency Taproot, which was later acquired by Dentsu.
“… if you're a great writer, then you should be judging the radio or print category and not art direction. It seems that juries are being selected on the basis of the availability of people and not their core skill sets. Most awards are shoddily arranged and that’s why they are losing credibility amongst young industry folks,” he rues.
Pivoting to digital is the key
All hope is not lost given there has been a decent case study around ad industry regulator Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) revamping itself to become relevant. The 38- year-old ad industry watchdog has undergone a complete digital overhaul to drastically reduce the time required to address complaints, especially those related to influencer marketing and digital advertising.
In May 2021, ASCI officially launched the influencer marketing guidelines for 'consumers to distinguish between something that is promoted with an intention to influence consumers' opinion or behaviour for an immediate or commercial gain'.
… it's laughable that some awards still have Best Email and Best SMS as a category within digital. The world has moved much beyond the 2012 way of doing digital."
In July, it also started monitoring digital and social media platforms for violations of its influencer advertising guidelines about labelling paid promotions by influencers. The body has logged over 2,700 influencer-related violations since 2021.
Padhi believes that when a body like ASCI, which involves a certain degree of legality, can revamp itself then what’s stopping the advertising associations to pivot and become more effective and relevant.
“ASCI was dead 10 years back but in the past few years, they became active. Now, they are addressing consumer complaints as quickly as in 2-3 days. If a body which deals with a lot of legalities can be action-oriented then I see no issues as to why industry associations cannot revamp themselves by doing much more interesting and exciting stuff to hold the industry together,” he concludes.