On September 21, 1945, 60 years ago, Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) was registered as a society in Calcutta. 4 agencies from Calcutta – D J Keymer, General Advertising Agency, J Walter Thomson Co. and Press Syndicate – and 3 agencies from Bombay – Adarts, Lintas and National Advertising Service – were the signatories in the registrar’s office doing the honours. Initially the registered office of the Association was located at 37, Chowringhee, Calcutta. Calcutta, under the British Raj, was a vibrant commercial city. In 1961, the AAAI office was shifted to Bombay.
What was the size of the ad industry then? The Government’s own Press Commission in 1953 noted that the value of print advertising was Rs. 35 million. Other media spends were estimated at another Rs. 15 million.
In such an era, these were some real bold men, who felt the need to create a platform to promote advertising, as a professional activity!
We must also understand the background under which AAAI grew in stature. After India became a Republic in 1950, our successive Governments promoted the policy of self-reliance and import substitution. For three decades – from 1951 to 1980 – advertising in India had limited purpose to play.
Till the 80’s, while the Government did not encourage competition, the Government did grudgingly acknowledge the importance of communication in social aspects like in family planning programmes, nutrition, education, the modernization of agriculture and ushering in the green revolution. AAAI Members were called upon to provide support in the Government efforts in some of these critical areas.
The Government also had a healthy respect for AAAI and always consulted it in matters of consequence. For example, it was at AAAI instance that the Government permitted foreign equity holding in ad agencies in the late 80’s.
Whenever required, AAAI has stepped in to protect its business interests to regulate orderliness in the industry. It has been intrumental in restoring the 15% commission/trade discount for Government business in Government owned media, or in lobbying for removal of tax on advertising way back in 1965 and subsequently in 1978 and 1983, or during the most recent Fringe Benefit Tax where advertising and promotion was included as Fringe Benefit!
AAAI’s contribution in regulating the industry is no less significant. In 1987 when TV sponsored programmes became a reality, it determined how the income should be shared between the placing agency and the creative agency. In 1988 and again in 1990, AAAI was actively involved in determining the procedures and policies of the electronic media i.e Doordarshan.
In 1983, AAAI was involved in a serious dialogue with Indian Newspaper Society (INS) when the credit period was proposed to be reduced from 75 to 45 days. Finally we agreed on 60 days, with the rider that "no changes would be made in the Accreditation Rules without mutual consultation and consent" of INS and AAAI. In 1991, when the proposal came to reduce this 60 days to 45 days, it was persuasively defended. Since then INS and AAAI meet regularly with respect to matters that concern both bodies.
AAAI has been behind the National Readership Survey as a joint industry initiative in collaboration with INS and ABC. Having felt the need for a self-regulating body in Advertising, AAAI was highly supportive to the formation of Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
Similarly, AAAI encouraged the formation of Indian Broadcasting Foundation so that it could address the needs of TV channels. About 4 years back, AAAI signed a unique Agreement with IBF, which codified the working relationship between the members of IBF and AAAI in the matter of placing and paying for the ads. This initiative has been a resounding success for both sides.
AAAI enjoys a healthy relationship with Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA). Time and again, AAAI has been called upon by its members to resolve disputes with advertisers for which formal Arbitration proceedings have been conducted. AAAI also assists our members to collect payment from defaulting advertisers.
In summary, AAAI, over the last six decades, has stood by its members and have protected their business interests, be it in dialogue with Government, media bodies or advertisers; AAAI has regulated its members in the orderly conduct of their business affairs, whenever the need arose; And last, but not the least, AAAI provided a platform for training of advertising professionals, recognition of creative work through its coveted Triple-A Awards and honouring outstanding advertising men through its AAAI-Premnarayen Award.
AAAI has thus come a long way from its humble beginnings 60 years ago. But as they say, the future is always more exciting than the past.
AAAI is alive to the changes that the future holds out and the next decade would be a stimulating period, ushering the advertising industry in newer challenges and opportunities.