Naresh Gupta, ex-national planning head, Publicis India and now the director, strategy and planning, Dentsu Marcom is popularly known - among his circle of friends and acquaintances - as Google Gupta. Ask him about it and he smiles and acknowledges that he does receive calls from a number of people, seeking advice on which brand to buy and which not to buy.
To start with, when he was doing his graduation in physics, everyone in his family thought that he would be an engineer just like his father. But later he gave up science and did his masters in marketing. Neither did he become the corporate honcho, as wished by his family. Instead, he gave up his campus placement in a textile company within days of joining only to end up jobless. Fortunately, for him, that year, Mudra was hiring freshers from smaller towns and Gupta who was based in Udaipur at that time managed to find a job.
Gupta spent almost four years at Mudra. But at the end of it, he felt that research was too limiting and moved to Maharaja International (an export house) as executive assistant to the chairman and then to Jagatjit Industries as product manager on the company's liquor brands. It was then that the advertising bug bit.
His parents objected saying that advertising was about "climbing up ladders and painting billboards". But they gave in in the end. After a brief stint with MAA Bozell and Contract, he hopped over to Grey where he joined as account director and left as the head, planning, South Asia after eight years. According to Gupta, his 'plan-less' experience in diverse fields helped him as a planner.
Gupta remembers that when he started off, there weren't many creative agencies in India, leave alone a separate department for planning. "TV meant Doordarshan, flying meant Air India, every car happened to be Ambassador, every soap a Lux. After 1991, things changed. The markets opened up, more brands came in and marketers started taking advertising seriously," says Gupta. As the market became more competitive and offered no guarantee about where the next competition would come from, investing in intellectual property became essential for the agencies. And planning became more and more central.
To make his point, Gupta asks: "Which company sells the maximum number of cameras today? It's neither Nikon nor Canon but Nokia. Similarly, Airtel is the biggest trader of music. Google is No. 1 in selling digital maps. The market situation is unpredictable. As a result, clients are becoming more and more dependent on planners to show them some light."
What further complicates the situation is the advent of digital media. Consumers, Gupta feels, are no more voiceless receptors. Gupta considers the Indian market to be one of the most challenging because of its fragmentation. "Style," he predicts, "will become a big driver in the days to come. Another trend to stay is the vibrancy of the market, thanks to our young population."
Looking back, Gupta doesn't have many complaints. "I started my family when I used to earn Rs 1,800 a month. I remember how my wife and I waited for the raddi to pile up so that we could sell it off and go out to dinner. From there to what I am today - life couldn't have been any better for me." Now, even after two decades in advertising, Gupta feels that his best efforts are yet to come.
(Profile is a regular column which peeps into the career path of senior advertising, media and marketing professionals, who are currently in news.)