Advertising Interviews

Arvind Wable

| 30 Dec 2011

Arvind Wable: The issue is that people see digital as a completely virtual world to connect with the consumer. I think the efficacy of the medium will become more visible and more meaningful if we connect digital with real, that is, connect digital with activation. We are trying to do exactly that through Aquila Experience and it has got tremendous traction from our clients. Aquila’s addition to strategic capability of Draftfcb Ulka is a force multiplier.

Arvind Wable, Executive Director & CEO – Delhi, Draftfcb Ulka & CEO Draftfcb Singapore, is a veteran in the advertising world and has witnessed many changing trends in the industry. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Wable started his career at Hindustan Thompson Associates (now JWT) in 1977 as a management trainee in Chennai. In 1983, he moved to a start-up company, Network, to set up the marketing department and launch the first electronic typewriter in the country. He joined Ulka Advertising (now Draftfcb Ulka) in 1989 and has been at the helm of things for more than two decades since then, being associated with brand building efforts of numerous companies, including Tata Motors, Tata Docomo, Whirlpool, Amul, and Hero, to name a few.

Puneet Malhotra, General Manager, Aquila Experience, has been providing brand experience solutions to clients across various mediums for the last 12 years. He has conceptualised and run programmes across most services and formats, including Retail Activation, Direct Marketing, Events, Roadshows, School & College Programmes, Mall Promotions, Social Media, etc. Through these years he’s worked for clients like Turner International (Cartoon Network & Pogo), HP, Bausch & Lomb, DLF Malls, Microsoft, Whirlpool, Tata Indica, Castrol, Cummins India, GPI, Choko La and more. Having done a stint of four years with Drafcb Ulka earlier, Malhotra rejoined the company in April 2011 to spearhead operations for Aquila Experience.

In conversation with Deepika Bhardwaj of exchange4media, Arvind Wable and Puneet Malhotra speak about Draftfcb Ulka’s foray into the experiential marketing domain, the future and completing 50 years...

Q. How was 2011 for Draftfcb Ulka? You lost SC Johnson in global realignment, how has it impacted business?

Arvind Wable: 2011 has been a great year for us in Delhi. In fact, it has been a great year for the agency overall. All our large clients have very much stayed with us and grown impressively this year. We added Snapdeal.com, ICICI Credit Cards, Hero Scooter and a couple of more new accounts. Our experiential marketing division Aquila has won businesses like Ambience Mall and Choko La. Yes, we have lost SC Johnson, which was a very dear business to us, but in financial terms we’ve had a minimalistic effect because of that account. We will certainly miss working on SC Johnson, but in terms of business it is not a major loss.

Q. You launched ‘Aquila Experience’ marking your foray into the experiential domain, which already has many established players. Why this move?

Arvind Wable: Aquila is an in-house division that we have set up centrally for experiential marketing and not just activation. Today, agencies are offering 360 to any client by forming idea and strategy in the agency and then pulling partners to do work. These partners can be a part of your group or outside agencies. The loss here is that every partner of that 360 is not a part of the ideation process – it’s like I create an idea and go to the execution agency to execute it. So activation or execution agencies are not a part of the original idea.

Draftfcb has taken a worldwide initiative to involve all key components in contributing to the idea rather than calling partners when the idea is already cooked and done. Media, Digital, Activation and all others are being involved at the initial stage for the idea to be better envisioned in the large organisation. Reason for launching Aquila Experience is the same, have an experienced team in this domain sit at the initial stage and contribute to the idea.

Q. Are you saying all activation agencies today are just executing ideas given by mainline agencies and there is no innovation?

Arvind Wable: No, I am not saying the agencies are executing ideas developed by mainline agencies, but we would like to execute ideas developed by us in-house. For Draftfcb, the idea has to be media agnostic. There have been many times when we have advised our clients that they don’t need television or print to go to the markets, they need activation. That can only come if the entire team is sitting there at that stage to explain to the client how digital and activation can have a ripple effect.

Q. It was all close knit first, then media, creative and other functions split and now the agencies are talking about integrated solutions again. What do the clients want?

Arvind Wable: Yes you are right, but Draftfcb has always felt the need for it. Though we have specialised units like Lodestar or Aquila or others, we have worked very closely with each other. I believe clients are also realising the need for it. They are ending up dealing with four different entities for the same brief today. Some clients are asking agencies to come together as they realise that the idea suffers if you do it separately. I believe going ahead if someone needs a 360 idea which is media agnostic, people have to work together.

Q. What are the plans for Aquila Experience?

Puneet Malhotra: We have won clients like Ambience Mall, Choko La and are also doing activations for existing clients like Bausch & Lomb. The idea is to tap opportunities within the system first. More and more of our existing clients are asking for experience-based solutions primarily and advertising as support. But that does not mean we will not go out for independent businesses. We have started from Delhi and Mumbai and plan to open an office in Bangalore within the first six months in the coming year.

Q. What is the unique differentiation that Aquila brings?

Puneet Malhotra: There are many activation and experiential marketing agencies in India today and some of them are very good too. The core issue most of the agencies face is that they are coming in at a time when a lot of thinking on the brand has already been done. What we do well is we add conceptual value to the brand. We develop idea from brand perspective and not just from core activation point of view. For example, we are working on an on-ground activity for Choko La, which will be amplified on Facebook. So, we have a well integrated model. The capability is now in-house to give surrounded shape to the concepts that are married to the brand and that is the key differentiation we bring.

Arvind Wable: In my view, what Aquila adds to the entire strategic capability of the agency is a multiplier – a 360 perspective, which is what the client’s need today. Agencies should respond to growing marketing challenges that the clients face today and offer the most cost effective solution that works and is certainly measurable. The best way to do that is strike from the strategy and ideation stage, see what’s best to meet their marketing objectives rather than suggest vanilla formatted ideas – let’s do a TV ad, let’s do a print or outdoor. I don’t think that’s the way future is for the industry.

Q. Though we are talking a lot about experiential and social, we have hardly seen any path breaking work in this space. What is your view? Have we adopted digital fully?

Arvind Wable: Traditional media is here to stay, but digital activation area is also growing. There will be a tipping point, which I am not sure about. Problem today is most of the clients do not have a systematic plan for digital. Everyone is interested, but investments are not commensurate with the plans. The main issue here is people see digital as a completely virtual world to connect with the consumer. I think the efficacy of the medium will become visible and meaningful when you connect digital with real, that is, connect digital with activation for experience marketing. We feel the growth will come when you connect the two. A consumer has to be connected from virtual world to the real world. We have seen huge traction from clients as soon as we have done that with Aquila. Being a pure digital or activation agency, you don’t get that mileage. But when you connect the two, you get the synergies which are far-reaching.

Puneet Malhotra: Look at it this way – a person is on his smartphone in the morning, in the mall in evening and on Facebook at night. It’s the experience in the mall which he has shared on the social medium, thus amplifying the whole effect. Unfortunately, most of the people on the digital side and activation side looked at providing services like mall activation or Facebook fan page to the client. Nobody has looked at it as a solution. The moment you look at it in terms of solution you realise that it is not one particular medium, but a mix of mediums that the consumer is consuming, so you need to be there wherever he is.

Arvind Wable: The reason digital has not grown as much is because of compartmentalising of mediums. The moment we create true 360 degrees and combine these mediums is when we will have what Puneet rightly said – a solution.

Q. What kind of expertise are you building in Draftfcb in the area of digital or do you believe creativity can take care of things there?

Arvind Wable: This medium works in a different manner than traditional advertising. We cannot play this game with the same yardstick. You need certain kind of expertise for digital, which can only come with exposure. At Draftfcb, all our teams – digital, activation, media and creative – sit together and brainstorm on an idea so that everyone can think about implementation in their medium. People know what digital is, but you have to give them a platform to see how they can build strategy around the idea in their medium and execute it.

Q. We saw big ticket clients getting some path breaking work done from independent agencies this year. Does that bother you as a large agency?

Arvind Wable: This is not a new phenomenon. All creative boutiques have come up like that, not only in India but all over the world. Once in a while big clients have gone to small creative boutiques for some work, but I don’t think that changes their relationship with the mainline agency. It has always been ‘this+that’. Creative boutiques can give you one big TV campaign, one creative breakthrough, but they can’t play the 360 game, they can’t completely take over. I don’t think they can substitute large client-agency relationships simply because they don’t have teams for providing 360 degree solutions. Of and on you will see things like these happen, but I don’t see these having a major impact in future.

Q. Draftfcb has completed 50 years. What is the vision for the years to come?

Arvind Wable: We will continue providing solutions to clients rather than campaigns. We would invest in the new and emerging mediums and evolve in the experience marketing area, including activation, shopper marketing and more. Thirdly, we would invest in our people, which has always been a priority for us and we will continue to build in terms of our people and teams.

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