Agencies India Marketing Services

Agencies: time to stop serving comfort food and start solving the wicked problems

By Priya Jayaraman |

May 20, 2021 | 5 min read

Priya Jayaraman, co-founder of Nine Yards communication consultancy and till recently the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Propagate, wonders why aren’t agencies of today moving from just creating demand to actually solving wicked problems.


Time to relook at the agency models

So, what’s the brief? And, so begin most of our long-winded, presentation-laden solutions in the advertising business today. Not the problem, but the brief.

Imagine all those start-ups that are introducing us to newer ways to go about life and living, with so many changing landscapes, customer preferences. These businesses, many of them, actually are solving one wicked problem or another. And they are evolving every day.

Are agencies looking to solve this, armed with the same old toolkit? Or reimagining a new model that looks beyond one campaign to how a whole lot of organizational structures, thinking, processes and even product narratives may have to be rewritten in this new light.

Essentially, wicked problems come to light when brands have to deal with change. There is no definitive roadmap or guide.

For starters, agencies today, need to let go of any predetermined bias while approaching a wicked problem. Insights that are rooted in the current socio-cultural realities that we live in will drive our present and shape our future. But most importantly, let us look within our own agency organizations and our client offices – we are still friends only with marketers.

Time to look beyond marketers (only) as friends

The way we build our teams with data scientists, researchers, doctors, psychologists, architects, technologists, sit beside the agency planning, design, creative and production teams will allow us to get perspectives on complex decision systems that brands live in. Let’s not say it, let’s show it on the employee or consultant roster.

Time to build the agency stamina

Let’s get this right, there’s no right answer to a wicked problem. It is not an overnighter, it’s a sprint process. Do we have the stamina in an agency to run sprints today? How are we building this stamina? We need to work alongside our client partners to arrive at a better solution with their own data while bringing our behavioural thinking and data sets to play.

Time to serve more than just comfort food

But then, agencies, have always taken pride in serving comfort food. The waft of yet another film, on the same mediums, and platforms, all dressed up in a garb of positivity because, hey, that’s what we all want to hear, and sell it to our clients.

We’ve had a good 15 months to rewire thinking for ourselves and our businesses, but we still spring back to original form. It’s time agencies saw this new emerging land ahoy! And reimagined.

Time to be brave, honest and simple

Let’s face it. The pandemic has stripped us of all the prejudices we were carrying with us. Even children have managed to finish a complete year of learning, online. Let's face it, everyone has moved in the blink of an eye. Covid-19 has been a catalyst that has asked us to change the way we communicate authentically and the only way we can get there is with customer intimacy.

The Bhima’s #PureAsLove campaign is a classic example of the beginning of solving a wicked problem that addresses inclusivity. Painted in a very progressive brushstroke, adorned with acceptance of oneself, of unconditional family love, and wrapped around beautifully in a simple brand message from a traditional jeweller. It took many people in the organization as well to push through a campaign that was steeped in authenticity in its storytelling.

Agencies have to recalibrate themselves in the post-pandemic world

The pandemic has left almost all businesses and brands with newer challenges, brought to the forefront decisions that need to be taken to cater to a post-pandemic world, slowly accepting that the way people live, work and communicate may have changed forever. The Covid-19 pandemic itself is truly a wicked problem.

The shifting dimensions of gender, preferences, and fluidity is another problem that perhaps brands can help solve. Wicked problems need us to roll up our sleeves and add a community layer to problem-solving.

There’s a new wave of agencies that are assembling this motley crew of teams that are rewriting the codes of business. They are the ones changing the question from “What’s the brief? To let’s-get-to-the-bottom-of-this-problem”.

Where do you size up?

The author is co-founder of NineYards and was the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Propagate.

Agencies India Marketing Services

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