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WPP will continue to invest in the Indian market: Mark Read

The WPP CEO spoke at FICCI FRAMES 2020 about the importance of creating ‘silo-less solutions’ for the Indian market, the need to understand consumer behaviour in the context of Covid, and much more

by exchange4media Staff
Published - Jul 8, 2020 8:34 AM Updated- Jul 8, 2020 8:34 AM

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“No company is immune from the economic impact of the pandemic,” noted Mark Read during an interaction at FICCI FRAMES 2020 on Tuesday. The WPP CEO was speaking on the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian market, ad spends and his insights into what the future holds.

“In the short term, things are going to be tough for my business in India. We expect to get people gradually back into the office when measures relax. We're very focused on keeping our people safe, therefore we're not rushing people back into work. It's been fantastic to see what people have done, given where they are. We're investing in a new production hub. We’ll be able to produce content for our clients quickly and cheaply, that goes across all channels.”

Sharing more his India outlook, Read said: “We continue to invest in the Indian market. We were there in India, around three weeks before the lockdown. It was my last trip abroad before we went into the lockdown. We had spent three or four days with Srinivas and the team in Mumbai and met a number of our clients. At that time, I don't think people fully expected this. But, I'd say there was some cautiousness, but not where we are. What we're really looking to do is, help clients with that gradual recovery - identifying areas of demand, helping them to communicate in the right way to the consumer's need, providing reassurance, and understanding what the crisis is doing to them.”

“India has always been a very socially responsible country. We've done a lot of work with the government. We're very proud of the efforts we've done in that in that area. We're going to continue to help clients in their comeback, get the right balance of creative message between being appropriate, and communicating the functionality that people need at the moment.”

Asked about WPP creating solutions for client demand, Read said: “Our vision for WPP is to be a creative transformation company. So creative means, we're in the business of ideas, innovation and growth. I think this is what clients need to succeed, what they've always needed but what they'll need even more than ever, as they come out of the pandemic. We'll see people different people affected very differently by this. There'll be some people who will be delighted. There'll some people who will be financially worse off. There're some people who would have lost loved ones. We can't forget that more than half a million people around the world have died so far, that number is only increasing sadly. Therefore, I think understanding consumer behaviour will be critical.”

Read further said that as a company WPP will be focused on creativity and transformation “on how we help clients, how they use the market, and how they need to market in the future”. “We want to be ‘a’ company, meaning we operate as one, if we can. While we have strong brands, like AKQA, Mindshare, Ogilvy, and Wunderman Thompson etc, all to be able to work together. Clients do want to have what I call ‘silo-less solutions’. So, increasingly, what we're doing for clients is putting teams together. We're eliminating duplication. We’re taking down barriers. We're enabling to work in a much more agile fashion. We're letting them share data. We're putting in common technology systems. We have creative teams that work together to come up with ideas that work across all of the channels. That gives clients a much better answer to what they need to do, particularly bringing creative, media, production, public relations and social media together. In India, unlike other markets, if we can get that working in a very agile and fast fashion, it will be really important to our clients as they come out of the situation.”

Read also shared his thoughts on outdoor media. “Clearly outdoor has been challenged by the fact, that in many parts of the world people are not outdoors. Three months ago in London, it was deserted. Today, it's feels like 80% is back to normal. I don't have the benefit of being in Mumbai or Delhi to see what it's like there. But I think outdoor media will come back.

“The growth of digital outdoor media is really interesting. It offers the ability to target messages, more precisely by audiences, by time of day, to be much more responsive to events, and to measure the impact much more carefully. Like other parts of the economy, the outdoor industry needs to move online and provide clients with much faster ways of changing their creative and adapting it, than it has done historically. The cost of that may be prohibitive in some parts of the world. But we'll see that'll really drive the continued growth of outdoor and this pandemic will be something of a blip. But, a sort of broad based, brand awareness media will be still needed in this world.”

Speaking on the worry over sustainability from a packaging and delivery point of view, Read said “theoretically, it should improve sustainability”. “If we're reading an electronic newspaper compared to buying a paper newspaper, it should be better for the environment, particularly if we could generate energy from renewable sources. I would say I am an optimist. I'm an optimist about sustainability and about clean energy. The decline in prices for solar and wind, are already cheaper than a coal powered power station. The decline in prices will give us renewable and sustainable energy at the right price.”

Read spoke about driving digital adoption that would lead to much less impact on sustainability. “One thing I have seen during this pandemic is that digital payments have been quite resilient. Consumers are prepared to pay for services, like Spotify approached a $50 billion market cap now in music. People are signing up to online subscription services. There's a much greater willingness to pay for digital products and services. I don't think that goes against the sustainability agenda. If anything, it should start to accelerate the sustainable agenda. And suddenly, if I look at WPP's carbon footprint, it's going to be much lower in 2020, than it was in 2019. We're saving significant amounts of money on air travel around the world. I think we have found we can efficiently do an event like this without me flying to India, generating few tons of CO2 for my return trip. It may not be 100% as good but it's probably 95% good, and it's certainly 100% better for the environment. Hopefully, people will be less willing to go back to the way things were. There could be hyper local delivery on foot.”

As part of the virtual events, Read also took up questions on the digital medium’s growth, the Facebook boycott, and the ban on TikTok in India. Asked how advertisers and agencies can look to connect with the digital consumer in such scenarios, Read said: “Despite the shift of digital media, there continues to be issues with social media around brand safety, and around the divisive nature of some of the platform. As an agency, WPP advises its clients on how to spend the money, and it's up to the clients to decide how to do that. But a number of our clients have either paused this thing with Facebook, or taken other actions over the last few months.”

“We have had robust conversations wading through all social media platforms, if they respect advertiser dollars they have to provide a safe environment for all brands and for consumers. And that does mean taking more responsibility for the content on their platform, and having policies that protect consumers and end up with a safe platform. Also, these platforms should have procedures and processes to take down content that doesn't fit those policies. To some extent, demands by consumers, pressure groups and activists, have accelerated the changes both in policies and in the procedures they can do to take down content. There's a degree of frustration that these things are not happening quickly enough. There continues to be hate speech on social media platforms. People generally agree there should be no hate speech on social media apps. I do think that the pressure on platforms to change is understandable. We had a lot of robust conversations with the platforms about the need to change the things they do, like working with a global body, or the Global Alliance for Responsible media, with the World Federation of advertisers and all of our clients to make clear what has to happen. Now currently, this is mainly an US issue. But I think to some extent, it is a global issue. And it's a careful balance that the platforms have to take between free speech, taking down hate speech and moderating the content on their platform and having the resources to do that. And, I think, perhaps they've moved too slowly in the past and haven't taken firm enough action and so they're being caught out by these pressures. In a long run, it is a good thing

Coming back to the Indian context, Read spoke about the impact in terms of ad spends in the Indian market.We said it was 5% in Q1. We're looking at a figure of, the average of three months to may be 50%-60% in Q2. I would Q3 to be 30% and little bit less in Q4. I'm really extrapolating from that. There are no other official or expert forecasts, but we are seeing some recovery in economic activity.”

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Tags Cvl srinivas Wpp Mark read COVID-19