What It Takes to Become a ‘Sensible Adman’

By Pavneet Kaur

Ahmad Abu Zannad, novelist, and independent advisor, speaks to Communicate about the upcoming launch of his webseries, “The Sensible Adman.”

After more than 12 years in advertising, Ahmad Abu Zannad is on a mission. Almost a year ago, he released a book, “Adman VS. Chomsky,” challenging Noam Chomsky’s assertions about the industry. Today, he launches a webseries, “The Sensible Adman,” which explores the role of advertising in our lives. In an exclusive interview with Communicate, he explains the issues that, he believes, have been overlooked in the industry and that he aims to address with this new project.

“It is not about the product’s features, it’s about the values it shares”

The first episode of Abu Zannad’s series lays the route to becoming reasonable advertisers by paying attention to consumers’ sentiments, while upcoming episodes will explain how advertising makes (or should make) consumers happy.

“Today, we know that 70% of the consumers choose to transact with an organization that shares their values, and this is the brand purpose that the industry shields away from by boldly asking for credit,” says Abu Zannad, who proposes to become more socially responsible. “We might not be able to execute it right away but at least it’s an aspiration,” he says. “What it takes is standing up to intellectuals like Chomsky and confronting them on their negative critique of advertising. Also, coming up with alternative definitions,” he adds.

“Advertising seems to be losing its charm”

Indeed, in Abu Zannad’s opinion, advertisers from across the world are often seen as “flashy salesmen.” “We put ourselves at ease and feel confident after completing a brand building campaign, sometimes a CSR activity, mainly done to win a creative award. But the majority of what we do is annoying to people; it’s conniving to get people to buy something,” he explains.

Abu Zannad also links relevance to how many advertisers these days are tied to investors and businessmen who are chasing return on their ventures. “We are not meant to be advancing as a financial institution, but we are often looked as one,” he says.

As a result, advertisers need to pay attention to what psychology explains, he says. “Whenever we are realistic about what the future holds, we suffer from a wave of mild depression. And then, there is a world where an ad tells us that we can be at our best performance and behavior if [we] buy a product; it instantly changes our thought to become more positive,” he says.

“Effective advertising can bring purpose to life”

Abu Zannad stresses on how one role of advertising is to give the brand a human purpose. “The content should drive consumers to bring a purpose to their life. But in the absence of an ideal and aspiration of the prime task, we advertisers are getting the job done on a day-to-day basis. We are falling into the trap of just producing more and more ads everyday using digital tools and being extremely intrusive and annoying. Someone needs to take a step back and understand the bigger purpose here,” says Abu Zannad.

Yet, Abu Zannad calls himself an optimist. “A brand needs a higher purpose and that purpose requires an optimist who is gathering the benefits of this purpose. An optimistic strategist will be able to connect all the dots by digging deep into finding genuine human tensions,” he explains.

His approach to advertising bringing purpose to life doesn’t stop at the consumers. “Advertising can potentially become a common ground. It starts when consumers can benefit from the content put out by brands and further extends to the society these consumers are a part of. As a result, individuals, societies, and businesses can mutually benefit from advertising when there is a human purpose behind the campaigns,” Abu Zannad explains.

When asked what it takes to become a sensible adman and strategist, Abu Zannad stresses on the importance of gaining deep insights. “Everything that matters in advertising starts and ends with human behavior and as humans, we tend to play two polarizing roles: a cynic and an optimist. The cynic identifies the tension and is always digging deeper whereas the optimist will be identifying the purpose and help others resonate with it. The best creative work looks the human tension in the eye.”

This article was first published on Communicate.

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