In the first of a two-part interview, Dr Mir Damoon Mir, the founder and creative director of Tehran-based agency Zigma8, discusses the conflict of interest facing many Iranian agencies – and how his business came to join the 4As.
Why did you start Zigma8, and how have brands and marketers in Iran been underserved by the existing agency landscape?
“I was working as a creative director with top advertising agencies in Iran, and I soon learned that the most important part of advertising or branding is the media. Media is important everywhere in the world, but in Iran it means everything, because the major advertising agencies are all media owners.
“So what is the problem? As a creative director and brand strategist, when I was working on a media plan – which is the most important part of a successful advertising or branding campaign in Iran or anywhere on the earth – I had problems picking the right media for my campaigns. The reason was that each advertising agency was trying to sell its own media first, but I was getting paid to develop a campaign that made use of the best media opportunities available.
“Soon I learned that all the big advertising agencies in Iran were making money by selling media, and all their other departments (creative, design) were just there as a complementary service to help the agencies sell their own media. The worst part was the offers the media owners – ie advertising agencies – would give the clients. For example, if you bought media from an advertising agency all your creative services would be free of charge.
“It sounds nice at first, but soon you find out the quality of the creative services is very low. Why? Because it’s free. When someone is giving you a gift, it’s not acceptable to expect more! We have a Persian saying: ‘Do not count the teeth of the horse which was given to you as a gift.’
“I got to the point where I wanted to leave and start my own full-service advertising, branding, and marketing agency with the core idea of never to own media”
“The situation is tough. You are expected to create the best advertising campaign ever, with the lowest budget, as a gift. The advertising agencies only care about selling their media. On the other hand, it is impossible to ask a client who is offered free creative services to pay for better services. If you insist, it’s like saying the quality of the service offered by the agency is low, so you are in effect downgrading the agency.
“So, basically, you have to kill all your ideas because of budget limitations and design an out-of-the-box, no-budget campaign for the media owner to give to the client as a gift horse (and of course, the client is not supposed to count its teeth!). This was the story of working with top advertising agencies in Iran. I got to the point where I wanted to leave and start my own full-service advertising, branding, and marketing agency with the core idea of never to own media – ever!
“In time clients became aware of the hazards of using free offers, and started to pay for their creative services and media plan to avoid wasting the budget. Clients learned they could trust an agency which is not a media owner, and can trust their media plan. At Zigma8, we design and develop the advertising or branding campaign, taking special care with the media plan – choosing the right media, the right time frame, and the right duration – plus supervising the placement of the ad and monitoring the process all the way to the end of the campaign. We also design and develop the creative and strategic parts of the campaign.”
Zigma8 has recently become an affiliate member of the 4As – how did this come about?
“I was working in the UAE for three years, and I dealt with big international brands as the creative director and art director. I knew that major international brands could not work within the existing platform of advertising and marketing in Iran. They needed agencies to work with their guidelines, and suggest local strategies aligned with their policies.
“On the other hand, medium and small international brands looking to do export or import business with Iran needed to find an agency with international branding experience and knowledge, plus expertise on the local level. Around this time I learned about 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies), an organisation that has been around for 99 years. I contacted them and shared my ideas, and little by little I persuaded them that our system aligned with what they stood for.
“After 10 months of negotiations Zigma8 | 360º Creative Communications was accepted as the first and only Iranian affiliate member of 4As.”