We are vocal about the hyper-local: Stark Communications

Stark Communications MD, Roy V Mathew; Chairman, T.K. Harshan; Vice-Chairman Swarup BR, and Director Anil Mustafa speak about the agency’s 25-year journey, their 'indie' advertising approach & more

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Updated: Oct 25, 2019 3:58 PM

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Stark Communications

The Kerala Tourism’s ‘God’s own Country’ campaigns were a trailblazer in the history of state tourism marketing; states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, followed in Kerala Tourism's footsteps. Many would know the 'God’s Own Country' campaign, but not so many would know about Stark Communications, the agency behind these and many such campaigns. Characteristically, Stark has always stayed under the radar while consistently creating exceptional work for different brands in different markets over the last twenty-five years. Stark’s #HumanByNature campaign for Kerala tourism has radically deviated from the well-worn paths of destination promotion.

Human By Nature film

In conversation with exchange4media, Roy V Mathew- Managing Director, T.K. Harshan – Chairman, Swarup BR - Vice Chairman spoke about the agency’s 25-year journey, the 'indie' approach in advertising, hyper-local insights and the way forward.

Excerpts:

Managing Director, Roy V Mathew sums up Stark’s journey as a “Quiet and hard one; one that was rewarding too. Deep immersion and unbridled enthusiasm in building the brands, from our end, did help clients make big leaps. Keeping these values undiminished and fighting for the freedom to be ourselves is what challenges us and helps our brands grow the way we do. ”

Speaking on Stark’s journey Mathew said,” We started in 1994 as a team of 8 people led by TK Harshan, Chairman. We were more focused on the idea of doing great work and less on growing the business or earning money. Swarup BR, Vice Chairman drilled down the importance of ‘attention to detail’ and craft which set the tone for Stark’s work over the years”.

Recalling the initial days Harshan said, “We started informally, with no office, working around a dining table in my house. Technopark, India’s first IT Park, was our first client. At a time when Keralites were sceptical about the success of the project, the client along with us went all out and released campaigns across India running full-page advertisements in economic/business magazines, newspapers etc”.

“In a city like Trivandrum, which was not as connected to the world in the 90s, getting and retaining talent was a big issue,” said Swarup about the challenges in the initial days. The way Stark Communications and a few such agencies have worked over the last two decades is closest to what could perhaps be called an 'indie' approach in advertising.

“At the heart of this approach is the idea of working independent of larger allegiances; together with a close community of passionate people who desire to create meaningful work and be truthful to themselves and their clients. It is similar to the contemporary concept of 'collectives' - groups of likeminded people with a common vision who can make a difference in different domains,” remarked Mathew.

Beyond the net

At a time when networks split the global advertising pie between themselves, agencies like Stark have operated outside the advertising networks and perhaps precisely because of that, have been able to go beyond patterns and processes imposed by networks.

“Starting out in Kerala, a small corner of India, and way outside the ‘happening’ advertising centres of the country, Stark was able to prove that location no longer defines the scale or scope of the work of the agency. As early as the early nineties, we were creating work for European markets like France, Germany and the UK. Today this has expanded - with branches in key cities in India, Stark creates communications tailored to several international markets besides Indian markets,” said Harshan.

Though Stark considers awards as an after-effect of good work, Stark has been recognised for its creative work since its inception, winning the New York Festivals, The Abbys, The Epicas and the Agency of the Year award multiple times at several forums in the country.

“The fact that Stark has been able to sustain its growth for over two decades and expand successfully from the deep South to markets like Delhi in the North is heartening news. I think ‘Your Moment is Waiting’ a landmark campaign launched in London in 2010, was extremely challenging and the huge belief in the concept by the client and the Stark team saw it through, “said Swarup.

Your Moment is Waiting film

Vocal about the hyper-local

An indie agency like Stark, devoid of limiting processes and encumbrances finds it easier to dig up hyper-local insights that make the communication work on a deeper level in regional markets. Often these are closely linked to elements of popular culture, language, dialects, gestures and nuances of living.

“While working with media brands like Malayala Manorama, Asianet or State co-operative federations like Milma, the agency was able to create films and brand stories that went viral because they ride on local cultural references drawn from regional movies, art and music. For brands like Malayala Manorama, Zee Keralam or Asianet which speak to both local and national markets, Stark has been able to consistently customise communications for both the urban trade and regional markets,” said Swarup.

Milma film. The hyper-local commercial for Kerala’s Milk marketing federation which went viral and created a trend in commercials in Kerala.

The question for agencies in India is whether to be one of the hundreds of 'boutique' agencies popping up across the country, or surrender to the processes and conditions of a global network.

The Stark approach seems to open up to a third possibility - of staying full service and staying independent. 

“These days, it is very difficult to find what was once called a 'full-service agency' outside established networks. While fragmentation seems the order of the day, and every division turns into a separate company, Stark has gone the other way. We have added on multiple competencies over the last two decades. From the regular set of advertising divisions, Stark has quietly moved into digital and social media,  publishing and video among others. We remain to be one of the few independent 'full service' agencies in the indie segment that offers clients the entire range of marketing communication activities,” remarks Anil Mustafa, Director, Stark Communications.

Challenges and way forward

“Finding the right people are still a challenge; bright young ones do come in, but are in a hurry to fly off to Bangalore (the closest big ad city for them). Slowly we are seeing a homecoming of the big city achievers because of different reasons,” said Mathew.

Talking further on the challenges, Harshan said, “Client agency relationships are increasingly becoming RFP based rather than creative excellence and symbiosis of two teams. This is happening in the private sector as well. Though it is all in the name of transparency the creatives often become bland and predictable”

So, what's next for Stark?

"Right now, we are continuing to create benchmarks in creatives and strategic thinking across emerging platforms and working towards extending our core strengths across more global markets", concluded Swarup.

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