Advertising Interviews

Ashish Bhasin

Chairman, India & CEO, S-E Asia | 08 Jul 2011

The key thing is that the clients haven’t understood the social medium. They just want to feel that they have a presence on social, but do not know how to use it. They need to understand five cardinal rules, apply them to each brand in each category and then venture into any kind of activity. Secondly, they should take the help of experts, but unfortunately there are few experts in this area, especially in India...

Ashish Bhasin is the Chairman, India and CEO, South-East Asia at Aegis Media, as well as Director, Posterscope for APAC. As an industry veteran, Bhasin sits on the Board of Governors of MRUC, the executive committee of AAAI as Treasurer, and several other industry bodies, besides being a member of the Cannes Lions jury, Dubai Lynx jury and other significant international bodies.

He chairs the IOS (Indian Outdoor Survey) committee and is the Founder Chairman of Sydenham Institute Alumni Association (SIMAA).

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Bhasin speaks at length about the social media space in India, its haphazard growth and how brands can really leverage it in a more effective manner...

Q. First and foremost could you please take us through the concept of ‘Is Social Media turning into the Bogeyman for Brands?’ by Aegis Media.

It is an approach to social media, which in India we think has been very haphazardly handled so far. It is a fact that social media is perhaps the fastest growing part of any media and India is in the midst of the revolution. However, my concern is that when something gets popular, for instance, when Internet had started long back, everybody wanted to create a website without knowing how to use it or what is the best way of doing it. So to say, that time website was a bogeyman for the brands and was a good conversation topic. Similarly, I see social media going a bit in that direction, which is that people know and understand that it is really very important, but I don’t think many people know how to use it to the best effect for their brands. It can be the best brand building tool, but unlike any other media, it is not fully in your control and can be a complete disaster if not handled well. Many brands have burned their fingers very badly. Which is why in India we are faltering and hence, globally we have brought in learning from iProspect and Isobar and have applied the expertise here in India.

Q. So what exactly is this approach?

To give you a specific number: to reach an audience of 50 million, it took radio 38 years; TV did it in 13 years, Internet in seven years, and mobile in three years. So, the point is that all the mediums are compressing and the number of people coming on social media is increasing substantially. So for example, there are already 33 million Facebook users in India. Thus the social media space is changing faster than what brands or marketers can understand what is happening in the space. In the same way, LinkedIn has 10 million users; Twitter is now 4 million strong in India. Taking all these numbers into consideration, all the trends will be analysed and studied for India, like how iProspect has done in the rest of the world.

As per the study and research that is done, we have found out that in India, the explosion of the social media space is already happening even as we speak. Brands that don’t get it right will suffer tremendously vis-à-vis brands who understand, who will gain tremendously, because their one rupee of advertising will get multiplied and amplified a million times. But, on other hand, if things go wrong, within minutes everybody will know about it on social media. Giving you an example of the strength of social media in India would be the Anna Hazare campaign on social media. We have heard about Obama’s campaign driven by social media, but in India we experienced the same case when Anna Hazare’s Lokpal campaign was driven in the social media space. Why is that happening? Because there is 2,000 million minutes being spent on FB per month, there are 4 million monthly Twitter users already in India and there is 35 hours of video content being uploaded on YouTube every minute. So this is just the beginning.

Q. What were some of the offerings and learnings that can be put forward through this approach?

As per the research, there are five deliverables that social media can provide, and nearly 89 per cent of the marketers in India said that it was buzz and word of mouth (WOM) on the brand; 65 per cent said it was insights into brands because social media could be used to understand what the consumer was thinking about the respective campaign; for 61 per cent it was engagement and sales. So, it is a very hot medium, which the marketers themselves are realizing, but as I said, very few are really being able to use it in the right manner.

Q. Presence in social media for a brand today is inevitable. How does a brand leverage this medium while skirting the pitfalls?

The key thing is that the clients haven’t understood the social medium. They just want to feel that they have a presence on social, but do not know how to use it. They need to understand five cardinal rules, apply them to each brand in each category and then venture into any kind of activity. Secondly, they should take the help of experts, but unfortunately there are few experts in this area, especially in India; but the fact is you need such experts or else the brand can get off the rail in 30 seconds!

The other bit that I find very amusing is that even professionals who are experts in this field will give a very convoluted explanation to that. We at Aegis (more specifically, iProspect and Isobar) say that social media is having conversation online; conversations can be through Twitter or FB. So, we as a company believe in simplifying it into big ideas.

As per our latest study that we did covering nearly 2,000 respondents, only 14 per cent trust advertisements, while 78 per cent prefer other’s recommendations. So, in order to simplify and for clients to understand, we need to devise simple rules, backed by our global and Indian experience and case studies. The first rule is to listen and not to be afraid, because there are many clients who get afraid of a conversations and this is a medium that helps the brand to listen and have conversations, thus helping in analysing social media direction and the strategy for the brand ahead.

The other learning is that the days of 360 are over. Now it is about engaging with the consumer 365 days and 24x7, because today’s consumers are highly connected either through mobile or Internet. The other big change that is happening is that it is no longer about huge hoardings or a 30-seconder, today any brand can have a cheaply produced viral on YouTube that could be more attractive and attract more attention than millions of dollars spent on 30-second ads. Hence, the whole trick lies in being irresistible and not being big.

The next rule is that today it is about creating time for consumers, as compared to earlier times where it was about buying time or buying a 30-second spot. The next thing is that we have gone through various phases in advertising and communication in India. There was one phase where everything was about planning and consolidating data. Then came a phase where everything was about creativity. But for today’s consumers, none of that matter. Today’s era is about uniting creativity and data, and social media gives you a complete understanding of the consumer. So, it’s not only data or just creativity, but both together. However, the biggest rule in social media is that the consumer must trust the brand for what it stands and what it is communicating should be in sync with that.

Q. Could you take us through some of the case studies in this regard?

Reebok is one such brand where it launched its ‘Easy Tone’ shoe. The campaign has been awarded nationally and globally for its work on social media. The success was built on these simple rules that were shared with the client. The brand involved the consumer, made it interesting, understood what the consumer wanted and didn’t push it down to their throats and yet got them to participate in the campaign.

Similarly, we had launched another campaign for Reebok with MS Dhoni, where we had also created a game. This was brought in progress as we studied that consumers, driven by social media, like to play games. So we got the brand into a game.

Another one was for the Philip Groom Vroom challenge. The campaign included both online and offline media. It was a week-long teaser campaign, which was then extended to augmented reality on digital outdoor. So here was where social media transcended from being on the web to outdoor digitally.

Q. How can clients benefit from this study?

These rules will help clients build trust and in being irresistible. If the five rules are followed, there is a good chance of leveraging a successful social media campaign.

Q. Before putting out this study, in what ways was the research carried forward?

We got the research all over the world with the presence of iProspect and Isobar globally. Then we took some APAC studies that had been done in this area; however, India is not the leading country in this area, countries like Australia are much ahead. So based on that, we customised and did the baseline study creating social media guidelines for India based on the way the market is today.

Q. Coming to Aegis Media, last from the group to be launched was iProspect, which was in October; any other launches in the pipeline?

There are a few initiatives in the pipeline; one of them should be announced within a month or two. We are looking at initiatives across different areas. We are now looking at supplementing our capacities. In one of these units, particularly in the activation area, there are opportunities coming up now. Since we are a media company, it is difficult for us to give creative advice to clients when they ask for it, so we are working in that area. Within a few months you will hear of one venture and within this year you will hear of another. We have kept a very aggressive growth path.

Q. How has the year 2011 started for the group? What has been the growth in percentage terms?

Looking from a profit point of view, we were (it’s a well-known fact) a large loss making company. So the first two years went in cleaning up those losses and bringing it back on track. This year is the first year we are going to be making a significant profit and, therefore, if you look at growth rates, the profits are more than doubling-tripling every year, but it was coming from a small base. Now lies the challenge because having come up to this level, how do we sustain that? I want to make sure that our profitability continues to be high, because that’s how we can invest back into our business. I want to make sure that our width and depth of offerings to the client continues to increase and automatically our revenues will increase. So, if I had to compare in a three-year period, we’ve had 800 per cent growth in our topline. Obviously this is not sustainable and obviously I cannot expect to grow at over 800 per cent, but we are very clear we must grow at twice the rate of the market and so far we have been outstripping that.

Q. What, according to you, are the emerging trends in the Indian media industry for 2010-12? What role will digital media play vis-à-vis traditional media?

There are some few fundamental changes happening in the advertising and communication business in India. Firstly, recently in India it was a given that creative agencies or a full service agency own the brand, and I think that myth has changed. Today, because there is a lot of data available with the media agency through which they investing more and understanding the consumer, I would say the balance has shifted in favour of the media agency. So, media agency is no longer just about buying and planning of media; they are or should be about understanding the consumer right and, therefore, being able to tell the client what are the ways and manners in which they can reach those consumers through different touch points. Up to there, it has been successful, but the challenge is how to do it through a single window. Clients today want specialisation, but they want that specialisation through one P&L. Secondly, we all knew that digital is happening since the last two years and now it is starting to hit the tipping point and has reached a level where it can’t be ignored anymore. I think search will drive digital and with the 3G coming in and demand for smart phones increasing, search will be the new trendsetter. Thus social media and search will become a critical part of our business.

Q. Are you happy with the kind of budgets being allocated to digital right now? Could you compare this to the scene internationally?

For many clients, I think it should be lesser; not because their brand doesn’t deserve more, but because they don’t understand it, hence they are wasting money. So there is no point of putting an allocation on digital if there is no effective utilisation. It’s not the contempt of money going, but I am hoping that the importance of digital in social media is understood better by clients.

Q. Speaking on recent developments, in the past too, the agency had had mentioned that the group targets early 2011 to work on Nokia. What is the current status on the Nokia business moving to the agency?

I don’t know, but we hope that it will happen one day.

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