Imagine your old, brilliant, talented family cook in the kitchen, making your favourite vengaiyam sambar or rajma or machcher jhol. No one quite understands what makes the preparation unique; no one else can match the amazing taste – even using the same kitchen with the same utensils and the same ingredients.
Now, imagine, the next time you’re in a similar situation. Before the cook enters the kitchen, you stop her/him for a moment. Now you ask for a cost-break up of the dish – which you want on an excel sheet in a specified format.
Next, you ask for a time-chart to be filled in as well with details of time taken in preparation, in the actual cooking and in the presentation.
Now ask for the exercise to be repeated every day, for every meal, for the entire month.
At the end of the month, ask the cook to make the favourite dish again.
It’ll taste terrible, like nothing that you’ve ever tasted earlier.
And you wonder what happened.
I’ll tell you what happened. YOU happened.
You and your cost sheet and time-chart happened.
Together, they took away the delight and joy of creation – and you made the cook focus on issues that had nothing to do with the original focus: delighting you with food.
That is what is happening in advertising in India.
In agency after agency, the conversation is more about cost and rent and margins and revenues and wastage and overtime and vouchers and procurement and negotiation than about the business of advertising – ideas that solve the problems of brands that retain the agency.
I’m not suggesting, for a moment, that no one at the agency should focus on efficiency metrics.
The wrong people shouldn’t.
Going back to the kitchen analogy, the housewife (or househusband) needs to focus on the cost of running the kitchen. The ingredients, the gas consumption, the salary of the cook, and so on.
But the cook is certainly not the person to bother about these issues.
Let the cook cook; let the cook continue to focus on making the food taste better; let him or her derive great joy from the comments of praise and delight as the food is consumed.
There is no reason for everyone in advertising to be talking about money and cost and margins and metrics; a handful of people need to be doing so.
That’s how it was a couple of decades ago.
Now when I meet creative people for a coffee or a Thums Up, I brace myself, waiting for the mention of account size or agency valuation or profit – and I make a quick exit, stage left. It’s as distasteful a conversation as talking to the family cook about a time-sheet.
We’re destroying the fabric of the creative fraternity, dragging them into conversations that only serve to distract them from producing brilliant advertising.
Which results in poorer and poorer work emanating from the majority of agencies in India.
So get out of the kitchen. Let the cook cook.
And you can benefit from the cook’s brilliance by looking at – and investing in – everything that makes the cook’s job better.