India must learn from and leap frog the mistakes made in the West: Seth Solomons

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | November 27, 2009
In an exclusive interview with afaqs!, Seth Solomons, global chief marketing officer and Mark Beeching, chief creative officer, Digitas Worldwide, share their opinions on the digital marketing scenario in India

Recently, Seth Solomons, global chief marketing officer and Mark Beeching, chief creative officer, Digitas Worldwide, visited India to connect and ensure support for their colleagues here. afaqs! caught up with them to explore their views on the digital marketing scenario in the country. Excerpts from the interview:

afaqs!: What are your views on the digital media scene in India?

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Solomons: I think it is just the beginning. We believe that there is an opportunity for Indian market players to leap beyond the places where the West and the more developed nations went wrong - places where we fell in love with online advertising and display - and in turn, lost sight of the value we need to provide to the consumers.

We also believe that in this marketplace with the increasing number of mobile subscribers and the multi-function phone users, mobile phones could be the next growth driver in India.

Beeching: India has a huge young population and a whole generation is coming into the world of mobile and not just PC-based social network. I think it will be very interesting as we go to a whole new level of the speed and frequency at which people are connecting with each other.

afaqs!: Do you think that India is still lagging behind in the creative work ideated and executed by digital agencies?

Beeching: I think yes, there are obviously areas where you need skills to be flexed and learnt.

One needs to be very good at putting customers first and understanding people. The key thing is that good creatives are the ones that really understand the people they are trying to connect with and create value for.

Ironically, a lot of talent in the overseas market in our organisation are people who came from the Indian education system and marketplace.

afaqs!: A lot of digital work done here is mostly an extension of television or print ads. Do you believe that digital agencies have the capability to become the mainline agencies for communication?

Solomons: The digital experience needs to be its own engagement experience. Taking a television ad and placing it in the digital space or making a print ad into a piece of online advertising, has never worked in the developed markets. It would be a mistake for India.

In India, it will be very difficult for digital agencies to lead right now. However, in the US and the UK, digital is already playing the lead role. We have clients who are launching new products without any traditional advertising such as television or print.

So take that first step of learning and leap frog all the mistakes made in the West.

Beeching: The TV spot is very seductive because it is a very convenient format. It is very easy to share. It seems like a much focused expression of a strategy but it is not a strategy.

Whether you are using digital channels or any other touch point, what you need to think is how these channels work together; connect with each other in a way that the customer journey is organised.

So, even if we look at the Internet, we would be looking at TV advertisements and saying, "Hey! Wait a moment. How do we make TV advertising work better by making it a part of a truly integrated and co-ordinated strategy?" rather than "This is a starting point and we just translate it into other channels". That challenge is to be met, even if the web never came of age.

afaqs!: What are your expectations of Digitas' growth in India?

Solomons: I think we have high hopes for India. However, I want to make sure that we do not just put Solutions|Digitas in a digital bracket. It is a diversified portfolio and that will make a stronger entity going forward.

afaqs!: What are your plans to beef up the operations in this country?

Solomons: We are very keen to be the lead digital and integrated agency in India. We have very close partnerships with ZenithOptimedia, Starcom and with a lot of our group agencies. I think the best plan is to leverage the strength of our sisters.

It has been a fantastic experience so far. They have delivered on talent, on work and on numbers.

afaqs!: Are there any plans to launch Prodigious in India?

Solomons: I do not see a full-fledged launch publicly. We have already launched a few pieces of Prodigious in India. Prodigious is our digital production and analytics arm. We have already begun to build a few analytics practices here and have started doing digital production work for some clients.