Flashback & forward 10 years

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The last ten years have been ones of tremendous challenges to the advertising profession and the media agencies. It is time to look back and ahead, 10 years at a stretch..

In the new decade, India's digital dreams of 10 years ago may finally come true!
In the new decade, India's digital dreams of 10 years ago may finally come true!

M. G. Parameswaran

First for the flashback: Ten years ago we were hit by a wave called ‘unbundling'. Till around that time advertising agencies were populated with people who knew the whole elephant called advertising; how to understand the consumer, how to develop insights that can work, how to turn them into advertising promises, how to then create the advertising, how to get it released and how to measure it.

Unbundling made sure that no one knew the whole elephant, if at all each player knew only one or two parts of its anatomy. This unbundling also unleashed on us the new phenomenon called cost rationalisation. All this led to a greater squeeze on both the agency and media sellers (with the media agencies being evaluated on cost per GRP). Agencies had to relook at who they hired, what they paid them and how they trained them.

Parallel to this phenomenon was the growth of the new breed of advertising specialists. From having an agency doing the packaging design for a small special fee, now the clients wanted to pay a lot more for the design of the packaging, but to a specialist packaging agency. From the days when an agency's planning team did a market analysis and branding strategy recommendation, the client now wanted to pay a lot more, but to a specialist brand consultant. From the days when the agency designed the launch event, now the client wanted specialist event companies to bring in a lot more than brand thinking into the events.

The digital medium was touted as the new growth medium, ten years ago. But Indian media's digital dreams were never fulfilled. Similarly organised retail, supposed to take over consumer goods distribution by about now, is still at high single digits, having suffered the ‘rent shock' a couple of years ago. As we draw to the end of this decade there is a general sense of ennui. Brand competition has dramatically grown in every market. If you had Rs 5 lakh to spend, you now have a choice of 15 brands of cars; if you had Rs 5,000 to spend you now have a choice of over 20 brands of mobile phones and so on.

Clients and agencies are now waking up to the fact that there is a need to have one brand message that should be projected through all the media and engagement planned. The young brand manager may have done a great job when 90 per cent of the ad spend went in television/ print and she was left to play around with 5-10 per cent in new media. Is there a need to get someone to help her manage the complexities a little better? Many clients are now wanting the agency to get involved in this holistic thinking. Is it too late already?

So while we started the decade with a sword cutting through the Gordian knot and let loose the ‘unbundle' genie, as we close the decade, there is a realisation that the genie now running wild may need to be put in a bottle, albeit a bigger one.

Flash forward

As India closes one decade of an average GDP growth of 7 per cent and gets ready to move into the next orbit, of GDP growth of 9 per cent, we will see several new challenges that advertising agencies and their clients will have to face.

We have been hearing the statement that there is no ‘One' India but that there are many Indias. With the impending economic growth, we will see many ‘big' Indias. We will have to think of products and services aimed at these many Indian markets. We will see many more products being launched aimed at sub-segments such as older men, or older women. Or single women.

How do we reach these many big Indias?

Media rates in India are still among the lowest in the world. Part of the problem was that we had only one India and that India watched Zee or Star Plus or Colors or Sun at 8 p.m. This is changing. Kids' channels, health channels, travel channels are all growing. But they have not been able to monetise their viewership. This should change soon, and so marketers have to be ready for a rate shock from media. I believe this will be for the better, helping advertising develop a more sharper target to go after.

Media dreams will finally turn digital. The next decade will see digital media growing, and emerging as a powerful force. It is expected that more than 200 million Indian consumers will be accessing the Internet by the end of the next decade. But they will not be accessing it from a tabletop or a laptop computer. They will most probably be accessing it from their mobile device or a pad-like device. Coupled with this will be the growth of Indian language Internet content. Let us not forget that the largest read Indian English newspaper garners only a 7 million readership. All English publications muster up only a total of about 30 million and this is surprisingly not growing. One leading Hindi daily delivers half this number. So the Internet will become Indian.

Advertising money will have to be spent through a multiplicity of channels. From television and print, significant money will have to found to be spent on PR, CRM, radio, digital, events, engagement, shopper marketing and so on. How to deploy the money and what is the best way to do it?

Can the brand manager be given this expanded mandate? Or should we call in the consultants?

I believe over the next ten years our job in marketing communication will continue to evolve, being driven by a fast changing consumer. I truly believe the consumer is changing a lot faster than marketing companies and therein lies the challenge and opportunity for advertising agencies.

Will India become digital? Will the 30-second television commercial die? Will consumers stop watching ad films?

I don't think any of that will happen. Indian consumers will become more digital. I am told Mylapore mamis form a big sub-segment on Facebook. So do the thathas of Triplicane. As Indian consumers become more digital, they will continue to go to movies, watch television and listen to music. And they will blog about it, post pictures and so on.

It was Laurel Cutler, planner at the erstwhile Foote Cone and Belding agency who observed that “I am but an articulate consumer in the client's office.”

This is the opportunity facing agencies for the next decade. They need to get to a position to advice clients on how to engage with their consumers, be it in mass media, digital, mobile or at a mall. Agencies are best positioned to provide this holistic perspective as they are communicating with these consumers from the many big Indias for a variety of products and services. Can you imagine what will happen in an FMCG company if they embrace the ‘Do the New' attitude of Tata Docomo? Or what will happen to an auto brand if they can embrace the ‘Women Against Lazy Stubble' movement of Gillette?

Advertising agencies need to rise to this challenge, but investing in the right people, right processes and right ‘Sixth Principle (learning organisation)' efforts.

And we can help all our clients reap the benefits of the many BIG Indias that await us.

Happy New Year!

M. G. Parameswaran is ED & CEO, Draftfcb Ulka Advertising, Mumbai.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 30, 2010)
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