Insights and ideas remain at the core of the ad industry: Madhukar Kamath

Vinay Kamath | Updated on September 06, 2019

Madhukar Kamath, Chairman Emeritus of DDB Mudra

Madhukar Kamath, Chairman Emeritus of DDB Mudra, receives the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award today (September 6). In this interview, he talks of his career in advertising and the future of the industry and what trends will shape it. Excerpts:

In your long career in advertising, what have been your highs and lows?

There have been numerous highs. While there were many in the earlier part of my career, being invited to come back and take over from AG Krishnamurthy as the CEO & MD of Mudra was a high point. Then, transforming the Mudra Group, rebuilding the relationship with DDB and working closely with John Wren (CEO, Omnicom Group) and Randall Weisenburger (CFO) to make the Omnicom acquisition of the Mudra group happen and then integrating the Mudra Group into the DDB global network (an Omnicom brand) is something I remember well.

Chairing and putting together AdAsia 2011 in Delhi and closing that with a conversation between Indra Nooyi and John Wren, was another high. Serving on the global executive committee of DDB Worldwide and as the Chairperson of the Mudra Foundation for 14 years and the chairmanship of the Governing Council of MICA (2010-17) are memories I cherish.

The privilege of working with some of the most talented people in the business and the goodwill of hundreds of colleagues in our offices in various cities, and interactions and success stories with clients give me the most pleasure.

Honestly, when I look back, it’s hard to really identify the lows. There have been numerous challenges as I worked across geographies, agencies and clients through the four decades but these I saw as opportunities.

How has the industry changed over the years?

Insights, ideas and solutions have remained at the core of the industry. However, the business aspect of the Industry has changed significantly and rightly so, decade after decade. I joined the Industry in the ’70s when it was print and cinema dominant. With radio on the fringe, I also saw the introduction of the first B&W television. In the ’80s it was the time of the colour TV and its growth. Then, we saw rural and outdoor come into play and in the ’90s, opening up of the skies and explosion of satellite television. And, the beginning of the disintegration of the full-service agencies.

The first decade of the 21st century saw the growth of the media agencies and the introduction of internet and the terminology of digital solutions. The need for multimedia solutions became paramount.

Over the four decades, the industry has definitely seen a multitude of structural changes. The remuneration formats have undergone a paradigm shift. The fight for talent has shifted immensely too. The marketing services industry is at the cross section of the technology and entertainment worlds too.

What influence has the coming of digital had on the industry? How has it challenged the traditional ways of advertising and are agencies geared to deal with this new age of communications?

The world is a different place today. It’s smaller and totally inter-connected. The industry has therefore had to reorient itself to the newer marketing challenges.

The understanding of the changing consumer landscape and mindset has demanded that the older and more conventional ways of strategising, planning and executing solutions give way to more focused, multimedia and multi-dimensional thinking.

What will be the future trends in advertising?

We are already seeing the shift here. The word advertising, I wonder if it is still relevant as it is not descriptive of the solutions coming out from agencies today. Even the word agency is questionable; that came out of the commission system which the advertising business depended on and which doesn’t exist today. However, these are debatable. But, personalisation is the norm. It has gone beyond communications solutions to customising solutions to geographies and the time of day has become more important.

Thinking of the long term as a journey that is broken up into shorter capsules of time is the need of the day as also agile, response-based thinking and solutions.

The commission-based print advertising model has changed ... the fee-based model too may change.. how will agencies work with brands in the future?

There is no doubt, the future is already here. All client-agency relationships will be deeper engagement-based. The remuneration model needs to provide for the profitability of the business on both sides and the enablement of surpluses for future investments.

What are your plans now, post retirement?

As I handed over the responsibilities at MICA and DDB Mudra in 2017, I embarked on an entrepreneurial journey too. I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to lead the management buyout of a business that we had built for 11 years in Mudra. This was the retail and field marketing business. Since then, we have created Multiplier (the name of our company) to be the go-to company for ‘Connecting Shoppers to Brands’. We are working with a very committed and talented team and growing the business immensely has given me a lot of happiness.

As the Chairman Emeritus, I provide counsel to the CEO of the DDB Mudra Group, Aditya Kanthy. I play the role of a mentor to Ashish Mishra, the MD of Interbrand India and also mentor and advise a tech-based measurement solutions start-up in Singapore/Malaysia. I also serve on the Board of Radio City. However, one place where I have dialled up my involvement is at Plan India (an NGO working for child rights and education). Our agenda is to touch the lives of 10 million children and make progress on gender equality and this gives me a lot of satisfaction

Published on September 06, 2019

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