Nitish Mukherjee of Orchard Advertising thinks MNCs are opening up to Indian advertising mainly because a lot of global communication failed to impact the Indian consumer. "Obviously, the fact that some of the global advertising passed through like ships in the night helped make the point that India needs specific attention, and the 'accept, adapt or alter' decision needs to be taken with some sensitivity and intelligence. What was wrong would have differed from case-to-case, but what was obviously wrong with all of them was their inability to read the Indian mindset, and, in some cases, the false notion that they could have achieved instant mental colonization of the Indian multitude."
Another reason for the change in favour of Indian agencies is the fact that more and more Indians are marshalling these companies' India operations. "It certainly has to do with Indian managers heading the MNCs," Kurien Mathews of TBWAAnthem is emphatic. "An Indian at the top, like Pepsi versus Coke, proves that. Indian heads of MNCs are more likely to believe in the prowess of the Indian mind." He also looks at the global ad from a 'people at the helm' point of view. "The global ad was ineffective only as long as there was a know-it-all white man taking or influencing the decisions. Change that, and you will have effective advertising for MNCs that works in the Indian context. Look at Coke, where, for a long time, Atlanta knew everything."
Of course, the fact that more Indian CEOs are being appointed is proof of the fact that MNCs have begun trusting local judgment. "I do not think it has only to do with Indian CEOs," says Leo Burnett's Aniruddha Banerjee. "MNC clients learned how to play the game in India, some faster than the others. I think appointing Indian CEOs is, in itself, a reflection of this understanding."
Rajiv Sabnis of Contract has a slightly different take. "I think it's about India being accepted as part of the global communication market, more than with the Indian CEO being accepted globally. We are competing with international agencies, and communication gurus have hailed the creative standards that India has started setting in the last five years." He believes the opening up marks "a greater degree of respect and admiration for the country, and an acknowledgement that we can handle this market equally well."
But all this is not to imply that communication along global lines has stopped in India altogether. 'Rigid' MNCs still exist, among them being technology players Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Oracle. Which suggests that, perhaps, it has to do with the product category. (Inversely, Compaq, Microsoft and IBM are seen to be more flexible, which goes against that logic.) And Nokia is one hugely successful brand that has mostly been built and sustained on global advertising.
Mukherjee explains this so: "Interestingly enough, in the case of New Age products, it is easier to create global communication matrices, as they tend to address 'New Age values', which have considerable homogeneity across regions. However, even in these, if the evolution of the market is not at a similar pace across geographies, communication might need to work at varying levels across various markets."
"It depends on the product category," agrees Suman Srivastava, director - strategic planning, India and Middle East, Euro RSCG. "Categories where the appeal is largely rational, and the need is universal, could quite easily get by with global advertising. For example, headache pills should be able to run global advertising quite nicely. A product category where appeal is more emotional, or where the need varies from country to country, might require more local advertising. Soft drinks are an example of this. Most image brands fall into this category. Even when the imagery that needs to be created is the same, the starting point in the minds of the consumer may be different."
Also, when different markets are in different stages of the brand's lifecycle, having global communication is foolhardy. Which is one reason why even so-called rigid clients do, at times, make exceptions. Take P&G and its advertising for Whisper in India. Nowhere in the developed world does a sanitary napkin ever compete with cloth. But in India, the usage of cloth is the issue that needs to be addressed.
Interestingly, quite a few MNC brands use a mix of Indian and foreign advertising in its communication. Axe is a classic example. Pepsi too intermittently releases global commercials that run in tandem with Indian ads. Recently, Adidas ran the Tendulkar-Paes and Martina Hingis commercials simultaneously.
"There is a high level of fatigue in testimonial communication," Sabnis explains. "Unless you refresh the relationship time and again, the consumer tends to start switching off. The cost of producing new versions eats into your media allocations. Sometimes, it's wiser to achieve your GRP deliveries by just taking an international version and doing a mix-n-match with your Indian version. So you achieve your objectives without creating high fatigue levels." He adds that this ploy could be used vis-à-vis product launches in a relatively small or underdeveloped category, "where it's better to keep your production costs low and put money behind media".
Srivastava agrees in part, though he's not quite sure if that makes sound business sense. "While the client and the agency team may believe that they need localized communication, they may not have the budget for making a new film, or would rather spend the money in media, rather than in creative and production. This seems to be a shortsighted approach since, in effect, the client is reducing the effectiveness of his media budget just to save a small percentage of his overall budget."
Mukherjee proffers another explanation. "Such combinations are not always the creation of intelligent minds. It may simply be a case of the money being allocated from two different budgets with two different control centers, each having little control over the other. So, at times, it is exigencies that govern these, and at other times, it is perhaps the desire for a heady cocktail. More often than not though, it tends to confuse the consumer."
Ultimately, it's all a question of trust in the capabilities of Indian agencies. "Often, the people at the client's headquarters do not have the confidence that the Indian team can deliver high quality on strategy and creative for their brand," says Srivastava. "They are worried that we here would erode the brand's equity through substandard creative. Yes, this is changing as more and more clients see better work from Indian agencies. However, we still have a long way to go. We have to make a mark at international award forums like Cannes before there is greater acceptance that we can do a good job."
It's also about cultivating the client. "When you manage client expectations, build credibility and build partnering relationships, they (MNCs) are incredible clients," insists Banerjee. "It is when agencies do not manage the expectations and fail to deliver, that clients start taking whatever actions they can. And then, agencies whine about 'lack of freedom' and 'global themes being thrust down our throats'."
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