One month down: Can 2021 shape up to be a strong year for advertising?

From increased consolidation to more focus on marketing automation, adlanders open up on what will drive advertising in 2021

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Feb 9, 2021 9:03 AM

While none was quite prepared for what 2020 had in store for everyone, Indian ad agencies have proved to be remarkably resilient, pulling it off despite remote working & shooting and executional constraints.

It's been one month down to 2021. As agencies recover from the impact of the Covid-led lockdown, exchange4media reaches out to leading ad-landers to quiz them on their outlook for 2021 and what, according to them, will propel advertising this year.


Tarun Rai, Chairman & Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia

With more attention focused on marketing automation, technology, e-commerce and data, the revenue opportunities will come from these streams. Traditional media will continue to play an important role but the share of the spends will change. Wunderman Thompson is in a unique position to exploit these opportunities since combining global capabilities of Wunderman and JWT a couple of years ago.

Coupled with this is the need for greater efficiency and ROI.  Clients will look to consolidate the number of partners they work with for integrated, end-to-end solutions. Ways of working have changed for ever with our experience of WFH. We will need to formalise and institutionalise this. New HR policies, appraisals and evaluations, focussing on output than input… a lot will need to be looked into. But what it definitely does is that it frees up talent from the confines of geography. This means more opportunity for our people to work on exciting brands and projects across boundaries. It also means that talent acquisition is not restricted to a particular city – we hire the best talent irrespective of where they are based.”

Subhash Kamath, CEO, BBH & Publicis Worldwide India

The best thing we can do as an industry is to focus more closely on our client’s business needs. Our work needs to have more business impact than ever before. And we need to have a solutions/ results-based approach to help meet our client’s KPIs. As advertisers start to reinvest in their business to rebuild what had been lost, our thinking has to be sharper, more insightful, more creative and more effective in delivering results.

From our own business point of view, we should be optimistic but cautious, not overly ambitious. The economy won’t change overnight, but will bounce back slowly and gradually. So we need to continue to be cautious on costs/expenditure. Importantly, it’s the right time to invest in people, especially the stars in our organisations. We need to invest in their welfare & health (both physical and mental) to protect and nurture the talent we have.

Happy people create great work. Tired people cannot. It’s as simple as that.


Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman and CCO, 82.5

2020 accelerated the brand transformation of mainline agencies. One of the things this meant for us was the improved ability to put together bespoke teams with individuals picked from across branches and disciplines—to give clients exactly the solution they need, regardless of geography. This approach was already in our DNA, but the rise of video conferencing and the concomitant reduction in the importance of the physical location of talent allowed us to strengthen this offering. But if clients insist on going back to the old ways of working post-vaccine, it would be a setback.

The other aspect of the agency brand transformation is of course—almost a cliché—becoming more digital-oriented. 2020 probably saw 10 years’ worth of digital transformation among consumers. Marketing companies and agencies must keep up or perish.

At a broader level, growth for us is about becoming more flexible in what we offer clients—from strategy-only solutions to content pipelines to applications of creativity to spaces heretofore thought beyond the purview of adland.


Dheeraj Sinha, Managing Director – India & Chief Strategy Officer – South Asia, Leo Burnett

The key to growth in the coming year will be harnessing the energy of people. The past year has showed us the power of ‘culture’ to beat any adversity. As we came together in the time of crisis, to make key decisions collectively, we realised that ownership is indeed a weapon. Our collective efforts and resolve ensured that we come out of 2020 stronger and more resilient. Empowering and mobilizing the workforce by enhancing their skills and capabilities will become critical to the agency's success.


Anil Nair, CEO, VMLY&R India

I see growth coming from areas like digital infrastructure upgrade, commerce both D2C and marketplaces, content at scale, customer experience focus, shopper marketing etc. Any initiative or intervention that can accelerate growth, reduce inefficiencies and increase engagement will help.


Amit Wadhwa, President, Dentsu Impact

While 2020 has been a challenging year and a lot has been said about it already, I feel that 2021 too will come with its set of challenges. While businesses would need to take several measures to come trumps this year but a few key ones according to me would be the following:

Avoid desperation and under-cutting: While scouting for pushing for new business would be on everyone’s list right at the top but I would really caution against picking up businesses out of desperation rather than which makes business sense. While this may lead to a feel-good factor of winning, I feel it will only add to the challenges even in the short-term. This to me is a complete No-No in my list.

Invest in the right talent: While everyone is talking about rationalising, I would also emphasise on investing in the right talent. The world is changing and so is the ask from a communication professional – creative, strategy or account management. It is not just about a more prudent structure but a more efficient and able team to deliver to the requirements. If businesses and people don’t evolve, they might as well forget about growth.

Integrated approach: ‘Integration’, is a much-abused word but this is the need of the hour from a client and agency POV. An integrated approach will look at solving business solutions and not just marketing solutions and the agencies that walks this talk will see growth in the true sense not just in 2021 but years beyond that.


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