Goa Marketing Philosophy. Invented Here.

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Partha Sinha

Norm Johnston

As ad men decided to position Goafest 2014 as the marriage of talent with trophy, cat.a.lyst decided to do its own bit of matchmaking by pairing Indian advertising men with international delegates. The result is for your eyes only



Goafest 2014, the annual advertising jamboree was advertised as the coming together of Brand, Baaja and Baarat (live band and the bridegroom’s contingent). The music was there, but the bride and groom were missing in action. So cat.a.lyst decided to bring together Indian advertising men to interact with international speakers and let the sparks fly.

Partha Sinha, director, South Asia and chief strategy officer, Publicis was one of VSNL Internet’s first subscribers. “I still recall the sound of the modem. You remember the days when it would take forever to download a webpage,” he recalls. Norm Johnston, chief digital officer, of media services major, Mindshare cannot agree more.

Both Sinha and Johnston have seen the Internet since its infancy. Sinha, who studied at IIT and IIM (one of the few executives in Indian advertising to have that rare distinction) was a dotcommer and did a bit of coding in the early days.

Johnston has seen the boom of the dotcoms in the mid-1990s and the subsequent bust. “By 2002-03 you could not get meetings,” he recalls. Then in 2004-05, people realised that digital has not gone away and the medium started looking up. “The next ten years are going to be phenomenal. There is an exponential rate of innovation happening in places like Google,” says Johnston. Self-driven cars is just one of them.

Beyond measure

But for digital to become an inherent part of the marketing mix there are some challenges. “In the area of digital communications, it is the measurable part that people seem to be obsessed about it. Just because you can measure digital better does not mean that measurement has to drive your thinking,” says Sinha.

Johnston agrees, “We have always held ourselves as being more accountable and measurable. We measure things like how many seconds did a consumer spend on your digital property, did he click through and so on. But look at television. How many people see an entire ad? Does anyone know?”

Johnston says it’s not a bad thing if people flash the measurability card for everything to do with digital. “It makes us robust at the end of the day.”

“Will we shy away from innovation that does not lend itself to measurement?” asks Sinha. Johnston has a simple solution. All companies should set aside the 80:20 rule or the 70:30 model to enforce their employees to work on areas that are outside their official roles. That will help them innovate in the 20 or 30 per cent of the time on projects that are funded by the company.

“When did data start becoming big data? Like when does an actor become a thespian or a journalist become a historian?” asks Sinha.

“There is somebody out there who said, let’s put some nomenclature,” says Johnston with a smile.

Sinha persists with his question. “Is digital becoming a victim of nomenclature?” Johnston is a little more forthright. “Every year something comes along. The same themes get repackaged. We thought virtual reality was done and dusted. Now it’s back with Oculus Rift. Lots of these things that come back have been tried and tested,” he says. Then, he sets up a challenge for Sinha. “Can we make up a semantic right now? Call it the Goa Marketing Philosophy. Invented Here.”

Bandwidth matters

After some light-hearted chat, they progress to business chatter. With the Internet growing by leaps and bounds, with smartphone sales zooming, has digital marketing never had it better in India is the thought that’s foremost on Johnston’s mind.

“Bandwidth still seems to be an issue,” says Sinha. In a city like Mumbai or Delhi you may get decent bandwidth but in tier-two or tier-three cities, it is still an issue. “Mobile has picked up but there is not enough mobile content. India will skip one significant part of the technology evolution and move ahead faster,” predicts Sinha.

Johnston wonders if Google’s Project Loon that looks to use a global network of high-altitude balloons to connect people in rural and remote areas who have no Internet access will help bandwidth. “The implementation is not anywhere close to the hunger the country has for bandwidth,” says Sinha.

Johnston says that even in developed markets like UK, consumers still complain about bandwidth.

Sinha who has in his previous role has worked closely with Google for “the Web is what you make of it” has a suggestion. “One needs to innovate for thinner bandwidth. That’s something the market is waiting to see. Players like Rediff.com tried this in the initial phase with limited success. That innovation could open up the market. Some IIT kid sitting in some garage might innovate,” he says. “It always happens in a garage, doesn’t it?” says Johnston.

But Johnston has a pertinent question. There are many successful Indians in organisations ranging from Microsoft to Google, but there do not seem to be too many Indian digital companies.

“Made in India is very different from Made by Indians. Made by Indians is a very credible thing. There is an incredible success rate of Indian executives making disruptive innovations, but there is no Indian company that could be the next Google. That’s a bit challenging,” agrees Sinha.

But Sinha points out that India has a few poster boys on the digital horizon. “There is a company called housing.com that has already received its fifth round of funding,” he adds.

The topic moves on to festivals like GoaFest or the soon-to-begin Cannes. Sinha takes off: “What frustrates you about festivals like Cannes and Festival Of Media is people announcing Doomsdays and that doomsday never happens.”

No dividing digital

“Then Google and Facebook go and hire old world agencies like BBH and W+K and then we sit and wonder that maybe you do not need a digital strategy but just a strategy for a world that goes increasingly digital.” For the record: Sinha worked on the Google account when he was at BBH.

“I just had a debate about this,” says Johnston and adds, “The Cannes Cyber Lions makes me cringe. Every piece of work that you do today should be digitally led. What’s the point in having a separate category?” At the Festival Of Media, he points out that newspapers would present a 3-minute video in which only 30 seconds would be about a physical newspaper and the rest would be about what they are doing on the mobile, laptop and so on. “So you are creating content. But the format in which it’s being consumed, I would not call it a newspaper anymore. The newspaper is only one manifestation of that information,” says Johnston. “It would be better off being called just news,” Sinha adds.

“In many of these festivals, the world has moved on but some of the classification is stuck in the 19th century. Also, the thing about agencies that have a separate digital creative department … frankly I would be concerned for their clients,” Johnston continues.

Sinha joins the diatribe. “If someone is stitching a digital strategy then it’s time to worry. And if someone calls himself a social media expert, then it’s time to call the cops,” he says.

Sinha believes that there is no need to have a separate digital strategy. “Acknowledge the behavioural change that it has brought into consumers and come up with a solution,” he says.

“I was once in a discussion where I told that if digital is such a critical part of a brand’s strategy, I can give examples of brands that have been built purely on outdoor, or built purely through television. But are there examples of offline brands that have been built purely through digital media?” says Sinha. None of the members who were part of the discussion could come up with an answer to that one. Though he agrees, the theory is up for scrutiny. Johnston says: “Let’s toss that challenge to the reader.”

Can you think of one large offline brand that has been built purely through digital media? Write to us on [email protected]

Published on June 05, 2014

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