For ages, Kolkata has been famed for its thoughtfulness, creative idealism and intellectual contributions. And, all this was reiterated in the words of Business Today Crossfire moderator Suhel Seth, chief executive of Equus Red Cell. “Kolkata is a land of fertile imagination. It is the city that allows people to think. It is a city that breathes and helps others to breathe,” he avowed while kicking off the Kolkata chapter of the six-city advertising debate on Friday evening at Taj Bengal.
“There are more talks and less actions, more thoughts and less do, more ‘adda’ and less work,” rued Seth while offering his views on the features that describe quintessential Kolkata. He invited Ram Ray, Chairman, Response Group and Ishan Raina, CEO, Euro RSCG, India & Middle East to debate out the evening’s topic – ‘Advertising in Kolkata: Ideas or Business’.
Ray was not ready to accept that ideas and business could be two distinct dimensions in the advertising industry. “I believe advertising is the business of ideas,” the veteran adman began his speech, “There has been a mental floss that advertising in Kolkata has lost its teeth.” Snubbing to be called a debater, he preferred to present a picture of what the opinion makers in Kolkata think about the industry. Ray’s ‘Mindbytes’ reflected a holistic image of the business in the city – observed and studied by different people with varied viewpoints.
As Ray read out the observation of Selvel’s Noomi Mehata, media was highlighted to enjoy a better stand compared to agencies. She advised the city to forget deserters and encourage proselytes. Amitabha Sinha of Rediffusion and MS Balaji of JWT were quite optimistic. They felt the market was upbeat with more and more local converts beginning to invest in brand building exercise and real estate, healthcare, hospitality and many other sectors coming up of age in the city – helping the business gather new momentum. Pawan Lohia of Radiant Advertising was of the belief that commodification of the market was complete. But Rajlakshmi Menon of Times Of India found the industry not in a promising state.
The presentation turned exciting with Ray putting up dissenting views. Thoughtshop’s Meera Kakkar felt while clients were more focused on the below-the-line activities, agencies were turning self-destructive with mismanagement. Deepak Pramanik of Access Ability, in his elaborate analysis, observed the curve was on the rise with retail advertising fast coming up as a potential domain. He felt there was a potential territory in the as-yet-unexplored markets of North East and Bangladesh.
To keep alive the atmosphere of a debate, Seth interrupted in an eristic intent, asking whether people should now on move to Bangladesh instead of heading for Delhi or Mumbai for businesses.
Ray, however, carried on without being needled. Quoting Indrani Sen of Mindshare, he said brand building had limited scopes in Kolkata as regional marketers were not so keen on this. While the who’s who of the industry so far maintained a soft tone even being sceptic, Lowe’s Sandip Choudhury, Bates’ Asish Palchoudhury and Sandip Ghosh of The Telegraph were forthright in calling the situation ‘very bad’.
The Rs 500-crore advertising market in Kolkata is the pastureland for over 250 agencies of different sizes. “Medium and small agencies are maintaining a healthy bottomline,” claimed Ray, “Business has grown by 50 per cent – from Rs 289 crore in 2003 to Rs 350 crore this year.”
Interestingly, the latest Business Today consumer survey report claimed, East had recorded a five percent growth in job expectation of the people in the next year. This has a strong point in establishing the fact that East was on a swing – with Kolkata being the nerve-centre.
Though the debate didn’t centre round the suggested topic, the ambience was exciting. While Ray took the stand of ideas, Raina preferred the business aspect. With both the speakers and the moderator looking at the city from different angles, Kolkata as a city of ideas remained the theme of the evening.
In a humorous tone, Raina pointed out that Kolkata always had ideas and someone else had the business. “Lipton, Britannia, ITC….there are lots that are ideated in Kolkata but flourished and developed elsewhere,” lamented Raina. Highlighting the want of a national brand from the city, he said, “There are KC Das, PC Chandra, Ananda and many other local brands that are famed across the country but they always suffered a national presence.”
When Seth asked both the speakers about what was fundamentally wrong with the city for not coming up to the level with other major cities, Raina quipped: “In Kolkata, owners are rich but companies are poor.” Ray, however, felt most of the Kolkata brands were inward bound.
On the subject of marketing brand Kolkata, both the debaters agreed on a point that insight mattered the most. Calling advertising as the business of unique re-configuration of existing ideas, Ray said successful advertising was all about creating communication that would pull the consumer to the product and the brand. Perceiving the need of the hour for advertising in Kolkata, he advised, “It is the time to re-engineer….enter the brand into business, blueprinting marketing plan…..and above all, we need to learn to listen.”