‘Ad agencies need holistic thinking on digital platforms’

Vinay Kamath | Updated on January 23, 2018

MG ‘AMBI’ PARAMESWARAN, President, Advertising Agencies Association of India

It’s the inaugural session of the MMA All-India Management Students Convention and FCB Ulka Advertising’s Advisor, MG ‘Ambi’ Parameswaran, is doing what he’s best at: mesmerising the students with slick, well-made commercials, outlining the case and situation which needed those ads, and drawing huge applause for an ad’s punchline.

With over three decades of marketing and advertising under his belt, Ambi, a chemical engineer from IIT Madras and an MBA from IIM Calcutta, is a dyed-in-the-wool ad man. Re-elected President of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) for this year, Ambi has worked on numerous top brands in his long career.

In a conversation with BusinessLine, Ambi answers questions on why the ad industry is not attracting the best talent there is and outlines the trends shaping the industry.

What are the top trends the ad industry will have to watch out for?

The advertising industry is in constant change and over the next 10 to 20 years the pace of change will accelerate.

New sectors will become bigger and bigger advertisers.

For example, sectors like healthcare, travel/tourism and financial services will become bigger; just as telecom and auto became big sectors over the last decade.

The other significant change will be the rise of smaller towns in the overall scheme of things.

Rural and Urban India will need to be understood better; we can no longer ignore rural India as an unknown mass.

Our ability to understand the urban and the rural consumer will have to move up a scale.

The bottom of the pyramid argument has gone on for long; Indian demography will move from being a pyramid with a large base, we will move toward a diamond market. This would entail exploration of segments of large sizes across India. The media landscape and ways of reaching consumers need to be understood better.

Will digital media totally replace newspapers and magazines?

Not likely. But all brands have to figure out how to reach their consumers, without becoming excessively intrusive.  

Are ad agencies up to speed on digital media?  

Agencies had to learn many new tricks over the last two or three decades.

They had to learn to make television commercials and to engage with consumers in places like malls.

So, digital is yet another challenge. It may prove to be a bigger challenge simply because it is a many-headed Hydra.

On the one hand, there is search. It replaces the good-old directional advertising like Yellow Pages and classified ads; but at the other end, it is a critical last-mile piece.

Then there is social media, which is a great listening tool. Companies are setting up digital listening hubs to monitor what consumers are speaking about their brands, the category and the competition.

I think digital advertising is a lot more than putting up the 30-second ad on YouTube.

A lot more holistic thinking on digital platforms is called for and agencies are quickly learning what works and what does not.

Why isn't advertising attracting top B-school talent like earlier? 

I think the crisis is not just with advertising but also with marketing.

Till ten years ago, only the bottom-rankers from top B-schools took marketing jobs; simply because they didn’t get investment banking or consulting jobs.

But that is changing and we are seeing bright-eyed toppers opting for marketing.

With advertising the challenge is also compounded by the lower salaries offered by ad agencies.

Though, in ten years salaries more than catch up, the youngsters of today don’t want to wait. I can’t blame them since they have paid big sums for their MBA degree. So a systemic solution is needed. May be agencies need to create a different cadre to attract fresh MBAs with a ₹15-lakh salary tag.

I don’t see that happening in a hurry. But we all live on hope.

What is the ad industry doing to attract top drawer talent back to the industry?

One way is to see if you can bring talent into advertising after the person has spent five or ten years in marketing.

This has happened in the past and I suspect this will happen more in the coming years as people discover that the marketing job they lusted for is just a co-ordination job, and loans are all paid off, house payments are under control.

Now what? The advertising agency business offers tremendous challenges and opportunities; so someone with ten years under her belt may very well choose to move to advertising.

Published on October 25, 2015

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