The imperfect storm

It‘s a quirky world full of inscrutable clients, unrealistic deadlines and unpredictable bursts of energy, advertising is.
Presenting tongue-in-cheek peeks at life in media as it exists in India. We would also welcome such and similar thoughts that you would like to see featured in this column. Feel free to pen in your own take to

The Brainstorm: - On the face of it, a group activity that engages in the noble quest for better ideas. But this is as far from the truth as the assumption that global warming is a factor of the gas inducing content of worldwide cuisine. These sessions eventually end up as forums where all the seven sins flaunt themselves unabashedly. And the quest for inspiration is reduced to nothing more than candles flickering in the bellicose gusts that are the hot winds of human ego…

"The quest for ideas must begin, but not before the room beckons sin"

The hushed oriental tone, the express delivery of the tea cup and Chai-La, the mystical Chinese canteen tea boy, had vanished into the weather warning on the morning newspaper that indicated the lurking promise of a fierce storm sometime soon. "Hmm, sin? What has sin got to do with brainstorming?" queried Ram Shankar, more of himself than anyone else. He was by far the junior most person on the horizon and when one is an underling, one simply does not burden one‘s superiors with philosophic conundrums early in the morning.

The ‘brainstorming‘ session had been initiated by Vikas (Ram‘s boss) and Dharti (the ravishingly radiant strategy head); the other invitees included PP (the creative director of the ‘moustache‘ fame) and Planimus (the gladiatorial media planning head). The client had also decided to participate with enthusiasm as the three hour session entailed a few sedate hours away from office for them. Bose and Madhur Lele (first name endowed by parents, the second courtesy the general public) had spirited themselves away with glee when the plan was drawn up.

"Why are we doing this session?" Ram had asked Vikas.

"Primarily to showcase our thinking ability in making contributions beyond the realms of merely advertising," began Vikas. "This will be a session in which we will generate lateral ideas for the clients business that will help him create market value and foster long term strategic and competitive advantage." As usual by time Vikas had finished, Ram was sorry that he had asked the question.

The room was bubbling with anticipation with most of the seniors (read as in key members in the forum) dreaming of devious plans to ensure that their ideas would be the only ones recognised.

It was like the tension before a one hundred meters dash at the Olympics. The various ‘competitors‘ in the room were bustling with anxiety, just about ready to erupt in an ‘idea shooting trigger happy‘ mode.

"We are here…" Vikas had only gone that far that the chains unfettered themselves. "We need a new media vehicle. A low cost innovation…," started Planimus. "And a new television commercial that is more interesting…," cut in PP. "A consumer usage and attitude study needs to be commissioned…," Dharti interjected. "Our sales guys need to be walloped…," Bose thumped his ‘marketing‘ chest.

"Shouldn‘t any session like this have a structure?" enquired the polite Ram Shankar. All eyes froze on him. Bose‘s face was turning blue from the effort of withholding the next staggeringly interesting point that he was about to make.

"Be it pride, envy or lust, Sometimes silence is an absolute must."

Ram deciphered those prophetic words above the cacophony and felt the warm reassurance of the tea cup, as its deliverer exploded into sparks of creativity.

"Ahem! A brainstorming session is a place for only matured minds to contribute," began Vikas, in what promised to be a scathing rebuke, but his eyes caught Dharti‘s gaze. "However, let me lay down the agenda for why we are here. We will try and uncover ideas beyond advertising; I hope that emphasis on the underline is not lost. Ideas that will help us reinvent perception on the value chain and ensure that the clients business always sets benchmarks in terms of thought leadership in industry…."

As usual, when Vikas was on song, people needed a few seconds to react, not wanting to lose the plot that Dharti assumed to be the ‘intellectual leadership‘ of the group.

"Let us start by using one of the techniques I learnt abroad," began Dharti, emphasizing just the right bit on ‘abroad‘, "what if we were to see our clients business one hundred years from now? What pictures and ideas come to mind?"

"Commercials that are more interesting," began PP. "Larger media budgets," chipped in Planimus.
"Lesser and shorter client meetings," was Vikas‘s contribution. "Wider portfolio and a more loyal consumer," said Bose with contempt.
"I don‘t know what will happen tomorrow, how can I see anything that far?" Whenever Madhur Lele troubled the airwaves, he created unifying moments.

"Use your imagination!" scolded Bose. "For once think about more than leaflets," boomed PP.

"How can a marketing man lack vision?" Planimus wanted to know. "Madhur my man, at least try and use your mind sometimes," was Vikas‘s exhortation.

The hostile airwaves seemed to pound poor Madhur Lele into submission and he curled up into a fetal position and disappeared under the table.

"Despite that remark," began Dharti, oozing competence, charm and sensuality in every syllable, "we did have some interesting ideas back there. There seems to be a clear need to break all the present moulds of our thinking and try something new. See, isn‘t it interesting what that exercise threw up?"

Despite the curfew on his participation seemingly imposed by Vikas, Ram felt he had to make a point.

"But weren‘t those kind of obvious suggestions? Also weren‘t they still to do a lot with essentially advertising? If we are looking at a hundred year perspective, shouldn‘t we touch upon how the brand might not need advertising any more? Can‘t we examine possibility? Like what if we changed the equation to make consumers pay us to speak about their products to friends? Don‘t we need to discuss how the product delivery of our brand might change from a tube to maybe a destination? A place where you simply enter and you‘re itching disappears? If we create one location like this, surely we can increase our business portfolio as well to include other aspects of wellness…."

"Stop this nonsense," shouted Bose. "How dare he question the caliber of my suggestion? Someone who has only been twelve months in the business? Look at the fellow he seems to be suggesting ideas that belong to a movie…"

PP exploded in appreciative laughter, winking at Ram at the same time, an action that saved Ram from further humiliation, as the diversion and the acceptance of ‘his joke‘ by the creative director completely floored Bose. "Hey I have other ones as well…" began an elated Bose. "And we shall hear them later, too many diversions already," cut in Dharti, with an icy coldness that saddened Ram. "What if we come back to the main issue? It seemed to be going in the direction in which we need to do business differently. And where can we get directions about that from?"

"From conducting an exhaustive research!" concluded Bose. Dharti smiled with the poise of a boa constrictor. "Brilliant Mr Bose, that‘s a great suggestion. Lets consider that the first ‘out of the box‘ insight that has emerged from this forum, and I think this is going just the right way."

Ram felt pangs of guilt about his participation in such obvious conclusions. He was about to raise his voice and spirit in participation again when Vikas patted his hand firmly down and scribbled something down on Ram‘s writing pad...

‘Just take minutes of this meeting and keep your mouth shut!‘

Ram felt utterly demoralised. He returned to record the inanities that seemed to be masquerading as ideas.

"Let‘s change the packaging!"
"And we take a new celebrity endorser this year!"
"This year we will take direct pot shots at the competition!"
"And we will innovate at every step!"
"We will set benchmarks, the others will follow."

That last statement (Ram was too disheartened to notice its originator) send the entire room in a jingoistic frenzy to the accompaniment of enthusiastic table thumping and back slapping. Ram just sank his head on the table.

"While the sins of the powers that be are of a higher need, the ones lower in the food chain at such times should always succumb to their basic greed."

The high pitched cackle and Chai-La had vanished along a series of marks scribbled along the side of a designer bench kept in the conference room.

But not before leaving Ram some tea and a whole lot of tasty snacks…

The writer is an independent strategic & ideation consultant. He is also the patron saint of Juhu Beach United, a football club that celebrates the "unfit, out of breath media professional of today." You can write to him at (

(The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same)


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