Edtech giant BYJU’s has been one of the most visible advertisers on both digital and traditional platforms lately. Literally on every screen, you will find a BYJUs ad. Its most recent campaign ‘Education for all’ — a heartwarming film centred around empowering 10 million underprivileged children through digital education — crossed over 10 million views in a mere seven days. The film was entirely conceptualised by BYJU’s internal brand team, and has been blazing a viral path. 

Remember last year’s eye-catching ‘Indiranagar ka gunda’ campaign by CRED, featuring cricketer Rahul Dravid in an unexpected personality flip? The contrary ad delighted consumers, and catapulted CRED as an out-of-the-box campaign creator. Although the campaign was executed by DDB Mudra, the concept was spun to life by freelance writers like Tanmay Bhat, Devaiah Bopanna, Puneet Chadha, Nupur Pai and Vishal Dayama.   

Understanding the audience

“Freelancers are generally content creators who understand their audience really well. They stitch this understanding into their ideas, which makes their concepts a lot more relatable,” says Vismaya Naganna, Founder, The Orange Heart — a Bengaluru-based boutique creative agency. 

If we dive a little deeper into the advertisements being churned out by start-ups today, we see that many of them are being conceptualised by freelancers, independent agencies or in-house.  

Given that heavily funded start-ups are today one of the biggest advertisers — the latest Pitch Madison report shows that 15 new-age start-ups have entered the Top 50 advertisers list in India — are big agencies missing out on a lucrative client base? And why are start-ups choosing a different creative set up? 

Abhinav Arora, Co-Founder and CMO of Scenes, a community platform for tech companies, believes that advertising in-house brings the most effective results. “Larger agencies need time to research and understand our target audience. We work with our audience on a daily basis, so it’s a piece of cake for us. I wouldn’t go to a legacy ad agency for my messaging, but I may go to one for campaign execution,” he says. 

Deep Mehta, Co-Founder, DigiChefs, isn’t a huge fan of legacy ad agencies either. He believes that over the last decade, brands have clearly preferred smaller boutique set-ups over full blown larger agencies. This trend is attributed to three factors – inventory, energy and a lean team.  

“Ad networks have larger offline ad inventory available at wholesale rates, which means that they could offer the same to clients at a discounted rate. In the digital world, you don’t need such inventory, so there’s no added advantage in working with a legacy ad agency,” he points out. As for the other two reasons, Deep Mehta says, “Boutique agencies also come with a hunger to do great work and build case studies for themselves. This new energy definitely helps brands in achieving their marketing goals.” 

“Thirdly,” he adds, “the leaner the setup, the more involved is the top management in the actual execution of the campaign; the top brains in the agency work alongside the younger talent — giving you a healthy mix of new ideas and old wisdom.” 

Agility and attention

Nisha Singhania, Founder of Infectious Ads, explains, “Many clients come to us because they want our personal involvement. For larger agencies, it becomes really different to give personalised attention to clients.” 

In Arora’s opinion, start-ups need people with skin in the game. “Ad networks don’t have this. They’ve got a hundred other clients to deal with,” he adds. 

Naganna — who worked with Ogilvy back in 2015 — expresses similar sentiments. According to her, one needs to take into account the hierarchy in ad networks. “In the creative department itself, you will see multiple layers of feedback, approvals and reworking. This modus operandi doesn’t work for start-ups who need more agility in a marketing partner.” 

In today’s adworld, start-ups are prioritising quick and effective creative set-ups over legacy agencies of repute. Arora says that a long turnaround time is a dealbreaker for start-ups. “We want to experiment fast, scale fast, fail fast (if we have to), and move on to the next experiment.”  

Manan Shah, Director Marketing – India, Truecaller, emphasises on how creative professionals need to focus on marrying agility with the power of ideas. “After working with a plethora of ad agencies — both small and large — we have realised that ideas are more important than size or reputation.” 

Indeed, many of Truecaller’s ad campaigns have been developed by independent agencies like Wirality and Thinkstr. “If you’re spending crores of rupees on advertising your brand, then choose an ad network. But for brands like mine, I believe that mid-sized independents provide the most value for money,” Shah says. 

However, he does express one concern about working with an independent agency. “They have limited resources and manpower, so execution timelines can stretch. I would say that ad networks could do a better job at executing ideas,” he says.  

Singhania, however, counters this view. She feels that independent agencies can always ramp up and hire more talent to avoid shortage of resources. “In a legacy ad agency, you have to get approval from the headquarters to hire someone, which can take up to six months. With an independent, you can hire whoever you want, whenever you want.” 

And as Naganna explains, “When you’re running an independent agency, you don’t need to justify why you think a 21-year-old is a good candidate for Head of Content. Onboarding is so much more convenient.” 

Contributing to the debate from a freelancer’s perspective, Vanshika Mehta, brand consultant, affirms that jobs are not for creative people. “You can’t be creative eight hours a day. When you’re allowed the freedom to choose your projects, work hours and creative approach, your mind has the space to come up with better ideas,” she says.  

On the other hand, Shah opines that the chances of creative ideas coming out from larger ad networks are mathematically higher, considering that they have ten creative professionals working on a single idea. “But there’s also a greater chance of these ideas getting killed when they climb up the ladder of approval. Ultimately, brands should understand that ideas from ad networks may not be as experimentative or bold, when compared to the ideas of younger agencies,” he adds.  

Insta savvy

 Naganna also agrees that ad networks tend to think more traditionally. “A format that I see many ad networks struggle with is Instagram reels, since they depend so heavily on the latest trends. In such cases, a digital native would be able to provide more value than a veteran with 25 years of experience,” she explains. 

According to Vanshika Mehta, independent agencies are a perfect solution when you’re in the early stages of brand building. However, if you are an established brand, you should go to the big networks.

To sum up, while the smaller agencies have the advantage of agility, and larger ones have all the muscle — mid-sized agencies seem to be able to hit the sweet spot most clients look for. Not only do they have sufficient resources, but they can also provide the personalised touch that brands can’t find in their larger counterparts. But reputation – which the big networks enjoy – is still a big pull.