Industry leaders spell Solidarity with a big ‘S’ during the COVID-19 crisis

Empathy, transparency in dealings and remaining connected with consumers top of mind, say Sam Balsara, Shashi Sinha, Ashish Bhasin and Amer Jaleel on exchange4media’s first webinar

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Apr 9, 2020 8:59 AM  | 8 min read
e4m webinar

The COVID-19 pandemic induced shutdown has produced an unprecedented effect across the marketing and advertising ecosystem. While the future looks rather grim at this point, industries and sectors and, in fact, the entire human race is seeing a solidarity like never before. Leading by example are the stalwarts of India’s media and advertising domain who participated in exchange4media’s first webinar.

Here’s what Sam Balsara, Chairman and MD, Madison World; Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands India; Ashish Bhasin, CEO APAC and Chairman India, Dentsu Aegis Network, and Amer Jaleel, Group CCO and Chairman, MullenLowe Lintas Group had to say about the need for solidarity in this crisis in a webinar moderated by Naziya Alvi Rahman, Editor, exchange4media.

Kicking off the conversation, Balsara defined solidarity for the industry, clarifying that agencies should refrain from taking advantage of any situation the crisis might cause. He was clear that this is when companies must stay transparent in dealings with clients, agencies and employees especially. “Even if the lockdown continues, which it mostly will, I'm sure under Ashish's (Bhasin) leadership, we'll come together on our platform (the Advertising Agencies Association of India) and take a decision on what we can collectively do and ensure that lives and jobs are safe once the industry gets back to normal,” Balsara said.

IPG Mediabrands’ Sinha was quick to second that, and added that the priority for everyone should be to keep the industry safe and to stay united in ensuring the safety and happiness of employees, of partners and vendors. “We are in the media business and we feed off media, and are closer to whatever is happening. Small examples of what we can do are – we can help people in need, sick people, our own employees, their families, etc. So we can start with simple things, both physically and emotionally, which will raise the morale at this point of time,” said Sinha.

In his capacity as President of AAAI, Bhasin pointed out that this is an industry that is quick to come together in solidarity even when there is no crisis. “According to me, the first thing for us as leaders is to be real and authentic. Everybody needs to understand that this is an emergency situation and it is not business as usual. It is going to impact and cause difficulties to a lot of people, hopefully for a short period of time and hopefully we will all come out of it. At times like these, liquidity is an issue that affects all agencies. So we need to start communicating with our friends on the media owners’ side and tell them our problems and accommodate each other, keeping in mind the challenges that they face too.”

He added that Sundar Swamy, Chairman of R K Swamy Hansa, has proposed an initiative, which he hopes to take forward with the support of senior industry folks like Balsara and Sinha — to write to the Government about what they can do to help agencies at a time like this. This is also a time to address people working in the industry dealing with insecurity about their jobs, salaries, etc., and for the leadership to communicate and reassure people across the industry, particularly those at the lowest end of the pyramid, and come out stronger in the end.

MullenLowe Lintas Group’s Jaleel said that the crisis has a huge humanitarian aspect to it, which the industry should keep in mind. The crisis has had a far-reaching effect across sectors, and it is not limited to just the media and advertising industry. “Marketing has understood how inter-dependent it is on the littlest person, the person at the factory. We have understood how dependent we are on our production people. This crisis is huge and it is human. It has exposed inter-dependence and has converted a lot of people into better human beings. The whole world has a shared history right now and is experiencing similar problems. We may all become saints by the end of this, because we will get each other so much and we will understand each other so much,” Jaleel said. While he agreed that the situation has brought the industry together, he also said that there has been pettiness and bickering. All that will soon disappear, he observed, since this issue has put everyone in the same boat.

Speaking about the kind of support the industry seeks at this juncture from the Government, Bhasin spoke about some of the obvious ways it can help the industry. One of them was to clear the dues owed to advertising companies, given that the Government itself is a major advertiser in the country. This could help address the liquidity issues the industry is trying to deal with. “If the Government can pay its own bills, which are often not paid for months, and even years, that would help. The TDS deducted, especially from media agencies, is disproportionate, because our commissions tend to be 2-2.5%, but TDS is much higher than that. There are always refunds we need to get on income tax and that often gets stuck for years and the industry needs this money to pay salaries, rent, etc. There are some practical suggestions like these.”

He also drew parallels with whatever is happening around the world, particularly in places like Singapore that are offering relief to businesses. “Over a period of time, we need to put money back into the pockets of businesses so that they can continue to run,” pointed out Bhasin, saying that the industry is still in the process of collating suggestions and pleas to put before the Government.

Speaking about the crisis before the world and the industry, Balsara observed that there has been no time in history when the whole world has been locked down the way it is today, perhaps barring the recession of 2008 brought on by the Lehmann situation.

“At that time, business and advertising took a hit. We, in fact, saw negative growth in advertising for the first time in years back in 2008. The most difficult task now for both agencies and advertisers is to get the economy going again,” he said, adding that it might be a lot easier for companies that have maintained brand equity to benefit when things normalise. However, the industry folk need to put their heads together to evaluate how advertising can get rolling again when the lockdown is lifted, because everyone will be facing a severe cash crunch.

IPG’s Sinha said it is premature to guess about how things will turn out when the lockdown ends and India returns to normalcy. “It is all nice to say that there will be a U-shaped or V-shaped recovery path, but it will take time. There is no doubt. We need to go client by client and break them up in small, manageable parts. So each client has some strong markets and weak market depending on category. Without generalising, some kind of micro discussion with clients will need to happen.”

An interesting discussion that followed was about the brand Amul, part of the IPG Mediabrands’ clientele, which has been particularly active through the crisis, despite being a conservative advertiser that has gone on record to say it spends less than 1 per cent on advertising. Sinha offered a possible reasoning for Amul’s sudden advertising overdrive.

“Aside from Amul’s infrastructure, which has been able to respond to the surge in demand for milk, a lot of credit goes to Mr R S Sodhi. If you see the communication, a lot of it is around ‘Maa ki Mamta’, or small moments of joy at a time like this,” he explained, observing that with morbid news coming out of news channels today, Sodhi has brought out some positivity in his advertising. Also, given that many advertisers are staying away and withholding their campaigns, it’s been a kind of hidden bonus for Amul to advertise and get the consumer’s attention at a difficult time like this. However, only time will tell how much this campaign has impacted its brand equity.

Bhasin added that advertisers and agencies would do well to note that when the lockdown lifts, it will not be a switch that comes on and restores normalcy in the country. He spoke from experience, having seen first-hand how the offices in Wuhan, China have coped and are still recovering from the COVID-19 blow.

Speaking about how the creative agencies might help in this regard, Jaleel said, “All of us, whether marketers or brand builders of any kind, are trying to keep a connection on with our audience. There is a lot of fear among people. What we are suggesting to our clients is what we have always done traditionally in the past, which is to keep the connections going with consumers and solve problems with creativity.”

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis will be felt and seen across the board even through 2021, said Balsara. While some categories might be up and running in no time, others might be left grappling and struggling to return to what they were in the pre-COVID era.

Compiled by Christina Moniz

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‘Índia is by far the fastest growing AdEx markets in the world’

In a chat with e4m, GroupM’s M Parthasarathy and MMA India’s Moneka Khurana spoke about the marketers guide for transforming marketeers and more

By Nilanjana Basu | May 30, 2023 2:28 PM   |   6 min read


GroupM and MMA India unveiled a report “Modern Marketers Guide for Transforming Marketeers” on Tuesday as they set out to guide marketeers on the changing environment in the world of marketing, and how they can do that smartly and successfully.

Speaking exclusively to exchange4media about the report and how marketers can thrive in this era were GroupM’s Chief Strategy Officer – South Asia, M Parthasarathy and MMA India’s Country Head Moneka Khurana.

Parthasarathy talked to us about what inspired this report and its aim. “The theme of this report is on transforming to thrive. What we are saying here is that there has been a period of tremendous uncertainty, not just when we thought we were out of the entire COVID debacle, there's been lots more uncertainty, whether it's inflation, war, so on and so forth. And at the same time, there's been lots of advancements as well, whether it's in terms of technology, whether it's in terms of consumer behaviour and so on. So, the entire aim of this is to literally look at how can how companies and brands are looking to transform in order to not just survive, but also thrive in this in this new age.”

Speaking about the factors that affected the need to transform, Moneka said, “There were three top factors which came out as the need to transform and to think very out of the box to be able to thrive. Those three like, one of the factors MAPS mentioned was, of course COVID. Second being the pace at which technology is evolving, and third being the shift in the consumer mindset itself. So, these three have been extremely potent reasons why the need to transform the tribe as a narrative just lands perfectly.”

Talking about what marketers should invest in amid the plethora of opportunities that they have, Moneka said that the most important bundle to invest into for marketers are the marketers themselves. “So primarily, it's the need for marketeers to be to become full-stack marketeers, who are not only doing what a marketer does, but who are able to drive performance using data and technology at the heart of it, and yet, build the brand and the reputation with storytelling, with design with cultural nuance and with of course, better and equals creative tools.

The second area, which we can't ignore, is investing in data stacks. So, when we say data stacks, it's not investing literally only into collecting data, but it's investing into the entire ecosystem of building a very rock solid, robust data driven strategy and data driven approach to business.”

On a similar note, Parthasarathy says he believes testing is one thing marketeers should spend their bucks on. “I think there's one investment which is never given enough priority, in my opinion, and that's the investment into test and learn. As we move into an era of more and more volatility, the only way for marketers to thrive will be to have a very strong test-and-learn process and a kind of a culture of test-and-learn and there is an investment required. There's a financial investment as well, which is required in that test and learn. It's about learning about consumers, trying to learn about what works, measuring each and every aspect because very often we see even today that learnings are in the head of individuals and not institutionalized.”

With India’s fast paced growth economically in the last few years, Parthasarathy says “India today is the eighth largest ad ex market in the globe. It was tenth not too long ago, and it's moved to the eighth position. More importantly than that, it is by far the fastest growing ad ex markets in the world. Our Group M has this year, next year report which we publish every year. In 2023, the expected growth is around just ahead of 15% as per February estimates. Obviously, we keep calibrating it periodically and so on. Now, last year, as well, it was about 15.7% when we look at 2022 over 2021. So, it's extremely robust while the overall entire world is growing at perhaps half that speed. The second point is even when you look forward into a period up to 2027, we are looking at a CAGR growth of anywhere in the region of 12% to 14%. So, this market is projected to continue to grow, continue to grow ahead of global levels. The other interesting thing is till date, if I look at 2023 it's the only market perhaps among the large markets where every form of media is growing; digital TV, print, radio cinema, out of home, so I think those are positive indicators. That's how marketers are also kind of increasing their investments.”

Moneka spoke about the AI trends as that is turning out to be a game changer this year. “AI obviously has multiple use cases and they will only keep growing, but when we talk about AI for marketing, there are clearly some very strong trends which are emerging and which are also already showing immense success. So, for example, enabling AI powered personalization, that's a very big trend. Whether it is through communication through media, through creative through influencer marketing, but enabling AI powered personalization is a very key trend, to a point where it's already for one of the global reports that mme released some part of the last quarter. It's already shown that when you deploy AI powered personalization, you would see a 25% increase in your customer retention and you will see a 20% growth in revenue.

Second is even when you look at AI from a lens of influencer marketing, there is a lot of experimentation happening on creating AI avatars and creating ways where you could use influencers and ambassadors multiculturallym multilingually and that also is a very big trend. The third is, I wouldn't even actually call it a trend, I would call it as oxygen for businesses. That's basically about having a driving data first marketing where you're continuously finding ways of leveraging data, whether it is your own data, whether it is second party data, whether it's third party data or blended data, but leveraging data effectively to drive marketing and growth.

Parthasarthy, speaking about the balance between creative marketing techniques and technology, said, “The message and the medium are now inseparable. I think what is important is to leverage these trends in the best manner possible manner.”

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Retail therapy: Decoding Myntra’s love for celebs

Sunder Balasubramanian, CMO of Myntra, talks to us about roping in fashion icons like SRK and Kiara for its latest campaign and how the brand keeps experimenting to stay relevant with consumers

By Tanzila Shaikh | May 30, 2023 9:12 AM   |   3 min read


“The role of celebrities is critical for fashion and beauty,” asserts Sunder Balasubramanian, the CMO of Myntra. He was speaking to e4m on the e-commerce platform’s recent campaigns for its End of Reason Sale (EORS).

Myntra has roped in Shah Rukh Khan and Kiara Advani to promote the same with a set of quirky ad films.

“In the fashion industry and when you talk to consumers at large, the role of celebrities is critical because that is aspirational for consumers to start with and when they start thinking of fashion choices, they say what does my favourite celebrity, wear and endorse which is different for many categories. Kiara has done multiple campaigns for us in the past, but when it comes to EORS, it plays an important role in democratizing fashion in the country.”

On getting SRK on board, Balasubramanian shared, “SRK is someone who resonates with every cohort, right from the GenZ to the millennials - men or women, whether urban or rural.”

The superstar will be featured in a number of commercials highlighting innovative features of Myntra's EORS-18. The campaign will be promoted with multi-media amplification before, during, and after EORS-18. Myntra is banking on SRK’s fanbase for making the campaign big.

Talking about roping in celebrities from the South, Balasubramanian said, “For us as a brand, it is about associating with fashion icons everywhere.”

We also asked the CMO on the flak the brand received with some of its campaigns, alleging that it was spreading negativity. While many loved the humorous take on fashion in the films, a few questioned the morality.

Balasubramanian noted that people are welcome to perceive the concept but the brand is just trying to tap into the insights they have received on how people find their previous dressing habits funny.

The brand recently onboarded a virtual influencer - Maya - to talk to the GenZ audiences who are excited about the virtual universe. 

Asked about having a virtual influencer when the brand already has been working with macro and micro-influencers, Balasubramanian said, “We are keeping pace with the changes in the world. For the GenZ, the digital avatar or the virtual world is part of their daily lives. Myntra has always been experimentative and always follows trends.”

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On the buzz around AI, Balasubramanian said the brand wanted to study the problems or barriers with this new technology before getting on to the bandwagon - “what are the problems and barriers, when the consumer is looking at your platform and what are the different ways to solve it”.

Asked about the media mix for the EORS campaign, the CMO said they would be banking heavily on TV for reach and influencers for call-to-action purposes. In the coming future, the platform has many such things in store with celebrities, influencers as well as marketing initiatives.”

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Whether at work or at home, always ask for help: Sujata Dwibedy to working moms

In this edition of e4m's Mom Boss series, we speak to Dwibedy, Chief Investment and Trading Officer, Amplifi India, Dentsu, for her take on balancing motherhood with career

By Aditi Gupta | May 30, 2023 8:10 AM   |   2 min read

Sujata Dwibedi

When it comes to motherhood, Sujata Dwibedy, Chief Investment and Trading Officer, Amplifi India, Dentsu, does not hesitate in asking for help from her immediate family and friends.

For this mom of a 17-year-old girl, and someone who has over 24 years of experience in media planning, buying and research, success is no more about designations in the workplace but inspiring her child to have the same values as her.

Talking to exchange4media, Sujata said that her idea of success has changed after being a mother as it has taught her patience and forgiveness.

“Being a mom truly changes the way we look at things. Patience, forgiveness, empathy and compassion come naturally to me now. So, success to me after 18 years of motherhood is no more about designation.

“It is more about setting an example in terms of resilience, honesty, integrity, loyalty and sincerity. It is more about her recognising and looking after the values that I follow without me talking much about it. As we grow older, we realise these intangible things are critical and it is important to imbibe these values amongst them,” she said.

Sujata says it is tough to balance being a mother and a professional especially in the industry she is in.

“The journey of being a working mother in a nuclear family, and especially in the industry we are in, is not really easy but with the many challenges, the most difficult thing is overcoming the guilt that we don’t spend enough time with our children takes a lot of our energy.

“With my kid growing up I realised it is more critical to spend quality time. I have been very vocal in asking for help whether it is family, friends or relatives,” she said.

As advice to working mothers, Sujata said “never give up”.

“Never give up. The universe is always there to support us. Never hesitate to ask for help whether it is at work or home or neighbourhood. Do not overload yourself with the burden of being a super woman. Take help. Meals can be managed with so many apps available now. You don’t have to do everything.

“Don’t give up the job for which you have worked so hard. There are bad days and tough times but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going,” she said.

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Mobil signs Hrithik Roshan as brand ambassador

Mobil had earlier partnered with Roshan’s action thriller ‘Vikram Vedha’

By exchange4media Staff | May 29, 2023 6:38 PM   |   1 min read


Mobil has announced actor Hrithik Roshan as its new brand ambassador.

Well-known for his confidence and unrivalled energy, Hrithik emerged as the obvious choice to highlight Mobil’s brand values of driving human progress, building confidence, and enabling customers to unlock their true potential, the company said.

Announcing the partnership, Vipin Rana, CEO, ExxonMobil Lubricants Pvt Ltd, said, “We are excited to partner with Hrithik Roshan for our Mobil lubricants in India.  We believe his personality will resonate well with trade partners and consumers to feel confident about what Mobil can deliver to serve India’s lubrication needs”.

Commenting on the brand association, actor Hrithik Roshan said, “I am really looking forward to partnering with Mobil and its trusted brand name that is recognized world over. I strongly believe that confidence is the real driving force of champions to make a difference to people’s lives and the community, and this is what the Mobil brand is all about”.

Mobil had earlier partnered with Hrithik Roshan’s action thriller ‘Vikram Vedha’ which reiterated on the message that prioritizing one’s wellness by making the right choices was important.”

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PlayerzPot launches new campaign #TalentKiValue with Rashmika Mandanna

The campaign will reintroduce and recognize India’s unsung indoor gaming talents to the excitement of skill-based popular games on the PlayerzPot platform

By exchange4media Staff | May 29, 2023 4:04 PM   |   3 min read


As the IPL season draws to a close, PlayerzPot, an online gaming platform today unveiled a campaign titled #TalentKiValue along with their brand ambassador Rashmika Mandanna, to keep up with the fervor and enthusiasm of fans of fantasy gaming.  Leveraging the strong connection between the diva and her fans through an interesting line-up of digital films, this campaign aims to empower the highly talented indoor gamers in almost every Indian household.

“A youth icon, Rashmika Mandanna topped the Forbes 2021 list of the most influential stars in South cinema. She is an avid gamer and is making her presence felt in global sports platforms while delivering back-to-back blockbusters. Her charming persona will strike a direct connection through this amazing campaign, which inspires indoor gaming champs in every Indian household by reintroducing them to their favourite games and recognizing them in the PlayerzPot platform. The campaign will be aired on various digital platforms, and OTT,” the company said in a release.

The campaign films involve Rashmika Mandanna as a celeb gamer encouraging and recognising the prowess of every indoor game’s expert, now on PlayerzPot. In a country where gaming is still largely considered a hobby, #TalentKiValue applauds the players for their talents through a series of contests and games with a chance to win exciting prizes. The core idea is to amplify the only demand of gamers in the country, which is #TalentKiValue.

Speaking on the launch of the campaign, Sunil Yadav, Chief Executive Officer, PlayerzPot, said, “Skill-based gaming is one of the biggest gaming categories that have caught the fancy of the country, across age-groups. However, the larger Indian gaming community is still years behind making a viable career out of skill-based casual games, that too in mobile format. With PlayerzPot, mobile gaming is serious for creators and players, and Rashmika’s charismatic on-screen appeal and national influence will be a game-changer for players enjoying an array of options on our app. After the humongous success in the fantasy gaming segment, we are now confident of leading in the skill-based segment, especially in tier II and tier III cities.”

RashmikaMandanna, renowned actor and Brand Ambassador, PlayerzPot, said, “We have all grown up playing Ludo, Carrom, chess, and Snakes & Ladders in our homes and societies. And playing these on PlayerzPot now takes me down memory lane every time I play them, including the fierce competitive spirit that takes me over with every game. There are several who play this with a lot of sportsperson spirit and a will to win. #TalentKiValue campaign will be a way for the members of the households to sit up and take note of the latent talent in their household,” she added.

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Amitabh Bachchan partners with GSK for shingles awareness

GSK’s latest campaign film highlights the painful disease and its risk in adults above the age of 50 and the possibility of prevention

By exchange4media Staff | May 29, 2023 3:39 PM   |   2 min read


GSK has announced a partnership with veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan to raise awareness about shingles, a painful condition that affects 1 out of 3 adults above the age of 50 years.  

The campaign film evocatively captures the agonising pain caused by shingles and its debilitating impact on the people living with it. It gives an important message that it is possible to protect ageing adults against this pain through vaccination.

Commenting on the partnership, Amitabh Bachchan said, “Shingles is known to be painful and thus certainly a setback to senior citizens. For prevention against Shingles, I recommend the Senior Citizens to talk to their Doctors.”

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus remains inactive in the body after a person recovers from it. When the immunity of the body weakens, it re-activates to cause shingles. More than 90% of Indians by the age of 50 years have this virus in their body and are vulnerable to shingles.

Rashmi Hegde, Medical Director, GSK, said, “Amitabh Bachchan has been the face of several disease and vaccination awareness campaigns before, and his support has motivated people to take the required action to prevent these diseases. Today, India's ageing population is rising, and we need to make them aware of diseases such as shingles which can impact their quality of life. We believe this will persuade more people to talk to their doctors about protecting themselves or their loved ones from shingles.”

The film has been conceptualised and executed by Lowe Lintas. The creative focus is on capturing the intensity of the shingles pain through powerful metaphors and images. The representation of pain is based on scientifically documented patient testimonies.

Commenting on the creative insight for the film, Sagar Kapoor, Chief Creative Officer (Global Brands), Lowe Lintas said, “Our challenge was to find a way to 'show' the unbearable pain of shingles, a sensation that can only be 'felt'. That is why we have made use of imagery such as sharp nails piercing the body or a person getting electric shocks. We do not want to scare people, but we want to make them aware that Shingles can be extremely painful, and it can be prevented.”

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Sachin Tendulkar stars in Ageas Federal Life Insurance's 'Sachinverse'

The campaign launched with a film featuring the cricketing legend that highlights how technology will deeply disrupt every aspect of life

By exchange4media Staff | May 29, 2023 2:03 PM   |   2 min read


Ageas Federal Life Insurance launched its new brand campaign – ‘Sachinverse’, an optimistic vision of the future.

The campaign launched with a film featuring cricketing legend and brand ambassador, Sachin Tendulkar that highlights how technology will deeply disrupt each and every aspect of life from education to social interaction, to mobility, to household chores and even cricket.

In a virtual ‘Sachinverse’, the different avatars of Sachin Tendulkar take viewers through various scenarios including a virtual cricket stadium, onion-chopping robots, holographic cafes and a driverless car all rendered in a heady mix of animation styles.

Driving home the message that while the future might be exciting, evolving and uncertain, by focusing on financial planning and investing in life insurance, one can face the future with optimism, hope and confidence.

Karthik Raman, Chief Marketing Officer and Head – Products, Ageas Federal Life Insurance said, “At Ageas Federal Life Insurance, we believe in staying ahead of the curve and doing things differently. A recent study* by McKinsey suggests that in the next five years, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X consumers may spend between four and five hours a day in the metaverse, using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) devices.

As we gear up for a very different future, our latest campaign, Sachinverse talks about being prepared for a landscape that is rapidly being reshaped by technology. Building on our long-term brand philosophy of #FutureFearless, we continue to remind people that with timely investment in life insurance, they can be adequately prepared for any uncertainties or disruptions that life throws at us.”

To execute the Sachinverse, multiple renditions of sketches were created to ensure that the physique and facial features closely resembled Sachin. Extra care was also taken to bring alive and recreate not only Sachin’s character but also the different realms of the metaverse.

The Sachinverse campaign was conceptualized and created in partnership with VMLY&R India. It is a completely digital-led campaign using social media platforms, influencer pages, and different digital media like OTT platforms and news sites.

Rajshekar Patil, National Creative Director at VMLY&R said, “Ageas Federal Life Insurance’s communication has been refreshing when compared to how the insurance segment communicates, with films like Young Sachin and The Boy Who Dreamed. Sachinverse is yet another refreshing take on the category. The idea of using the theme of technology and animation came naturally because audiences today want to see stories that reflect their world and also borrow from popular culture.”

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