India’s advertising industry wants to graduate to the next level, where digital becomes integral rather than incidental to the thinking. It is this culture, which expats in the industry want to bring in, says Charles Cadell, chief executive officer of Lowe India, in a chat with DNA Money’s Nirmal John. Excerpts:
How is the India office different from other global offices you have worked in?
It is very different. You often see those who are Indian saying it is different. But you are slightly sceptical. But once you come here and work from the inside, you realise it is true. There is also the Indian upbringing, the psyche which is fundamentally different from anything in any market, both in Asian and in the Western ones. I had an assumption that I could use some of my learning, cultural learning from other Asian and Western markets here in India. But they are not really the same. You could build on that, but that is about it.
How about the advertising agency culture?
The level of talent here is incredible. I spent a large part of my life in other Asian markets stealing Indian talent. You have a fairly well-developed traditional advertising environment, in terms of creativity. The nature of the rest of the market is fairly far behind, especially the rest of the Asian markets, be it digital platforms or the marketing services platforms or the development of new verticals like retail marketing.
And that is obviously the reason why I came here. A lot of the agencies are struggling with the integration of these services. Even the remuneration system, the number of clients who are still of the commission system, is ‘wow’. There is enormous talent. But in terms of development of the industry, in relation to other markets, there is some way to go.
So your mandate in India is to bring India up in terms of integration?
It is my mandate; it is the mandate of the whole industry as well. There is not one agency out there which is not talking about digitisation and mobile marketing and integration, accountability and measurement now in the context of a recession.
Has this slowdown affected Lowe?
To the extent that our clients have been more cautious as compared to the previous quarters, yes, it has affected us. It has affected our planning for the next year. But I have seen three downturns, first in the 80’s when I was an account manager, then the Asian one in 1997, and now this.
Again, I think I am blessed as an expat manager in the one place in the world where a downturn is regarded as a 6% growth. The outlook of our clients as well as others in general changes every week, on whether they are spending or not spending. It is incredibly fluid. I do know that the industry will grow and I hope that this will result in additional spur to the marketing services debate and accountability issues which should come into the industry.
How do you plan to integrate these into your agency?
The main way is channel planning. We are going to put a lot of emphasis on that. We will be bringing people from outside. I think the biggest problem is that digital is perceived as a separate channel. That is not what it is about. It has to be completely embedded into any organisation, any advertising agency.
Any such agency which is not fully digitised does not have the right to call itself an advertising agency or a communications company. The process within agencies needs to ask creatives to think digital. You may have experts within a domain, but frankly, you ought to have brand managers, planners and creatives at ease with digital. That is the first thing we are doing. We will be bringing in best-in-class digital companies into India in another six weeks.
We have been seeing a re-entry of expat talent into India…
To a large extent, India doesn’t have the expertise in channel planning and experiential planning and also in integrating digital into the whole communication process. That is exactly what we will bring in. Retail marketing is another area. Very few Indians are experienced in it. So that is why expats are here, bringing in knowledge about these verticals. But for any expat, you know from a cultural perspective that India is going to be ‘full on’.
International agencies like BBH are coming in and trying to align their international accounts in India...
I don’t see BBH as a threat in India. They are competition like all others. I don’t think they will be offering anything in the Indian context that we don’t offer. Of course, the likes of BBH and Mother are going to come in. It is the Indian market. It is a surprise that it has taken them so long.