Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is it okay to watch a rape, silently?

That was no cheap trick to get your attention. All of us in advertising are guilty of this crime. I mean, how many times have we seen some rogue clients repeatedly screw their hapless share holders with utter disdain? How many times have we crafted lofty corporate campaigns for charlatans who have no scruples about blowing up Other People’s Money? How many times have we shameless played along, all for the sake of bloody billings? How many times have we shushed our conscience and looked the other way?

I dunno about you. But I’ve been a mute spectator, many a time, in many an agency. Whenever I felt deeply disturbed, I’ve left the place, without a murmur. Now, when I look back in anger, I ask myself: Was I right in keeping quiet? Shouldn’t I have blown the whistle?

The reason why I write about whistle blowing in advertising is the latest Satyam revelations. Lots of ad agencies have been associated with that company. Several sharp minds, I know, have worked on that account, directly and indirectly. The seasoned ones would have figured out long ago, that Satyam was window dressing its balance sheet. Pity, they kept their misgivings to themselves. If only they had alerted the world, we wouldn’t be witnessing the biggest Corporate Governance sham in India.

Coming back to my burden of guilt. And yours. In the light of this scam, do we still stay silent? You, and me, know that for every Satyam caught, there are hundreds of others who are walking scot-free wearing their Teflon-coated suits. Do we squeal on them? Or do we still pretend nothing ever happened?

One response I’ve often heard is: It’s the media’s job…why should we lose sleep over it? But is the media doing its job? The same media that’s going after Satyam today, was happily accepting, campaign after campaign, from the accused. No one ever bothered to study their PNL statement. The so-called business journals happily reported every doctored press write-up that came their way. No hack ever bothered to sift the spin from the facts. So how can we trust the media to expose the unexposed? Shouldn’t we ad folks identify the guilty before they cause a bigger crime?

If that option is too risky, shouldn’t we at least stop working on brands that brazenly violate laws? As opinion makers of the civil society, don’t we owe that much to our target audience who read our ads and faithfully empty their little wallets?

SPEAK UP, folks! Else, we’ll be as guilty as the numb wimp who watched the rape without voicing his dissent.

Posted by Anantha.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely Anantha. I understand your concern. Playing silent spectator has become way of life for us in agencies. Mostly for the sake of billings.

We can make a start by picking out such rotten tomatoes in the market. And do the whistle blowing act. More importantly, a collective call to shun such practitioners from an otherwise defunct forums such as AAAI's would help in a big way.


Anonymous said...

Since we are indulging in some introspection, aren't we as an industry a part of the corporate world. Deadlines and targets are as much a part of our professional lives. Shouldn't we take a step back and look at what the industry resorts to, individ
ually and collectively, to meet 'expectations'. It's easy to choose between black and white. What scares me is to look inward and choose from the various shades that exist.Rajeev

meera said...

anantha,in response to the particular point about ad agenices being whistle blowers ... I dont think ad agencies have any clue as to the balance sheets , finacial workings (apart from what they wish to disclose , which can be any goobledegook ) etc of any client ...lets not kid ourselves!!

anantha said...

meera, this is where i disagree. there are many smoke signals from the client. the balance sheet is the fire. it's a question of reading the signals and acting. i'll give you an example of a signal: when a client squanders public money on sponsoring mysterious events or programs that have no connection with the brand, that's a signal.

Übermaniam said...

I think agencies should do scam ads to expose these scams. Might end up winning some major kudos and awards.

Übermaniam said...

In response to Anantha's response to Meera: How come you, as someone who worked very closely on the Satyam account, never saw it coming? That apart, you're a brain. Will you stick your neck out and tell me some other companies that might be bad apples?

anantha said...

i've never worked closely with satyam. i just worked for a year on satyamonline which is different from satyam computers. but i worked on several companies that are as suspect as satyam. i've never blown the whistle as even my esteemed colleagues never shared my dismal view. it is my feeling that there are several satyams waiting to happen. i can stick my neck out to you on a private forum. this is not the appropriate forum for naming rotten apples.

monica said...

Only when there is a process to protect and reward the whistleblower by govt/media/companies that we will be able to get these 'weeds' out of the system. Till then figure out a plan to keep your conscious and ur life together.

Übermaniam said...

Of course there are several satyams waiting to happen. It takes all kinds to make up this world. Let's start an email conversation on this, that should be private enough. I'm curious to know which companies you think are suspect.

Meera said...

hey! who IS this meera?? i didn't write this!!!!