An alumnus of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Rishad Tobaccowala, chief strategy and innovation officer, VivaKi (a Publicis Groupe entity), is a soft-spoken and frank leader who swears by his brand's commitment to India.
afaqs! caught him in a relaxed mood at Goafest 2012 and quizzed him on his plans for brand VivaKi in India, the outdoor and mobile media landscape here and why the agency is not proactively bringing in new tools into this market.
afaqs!: In India, brand VivaKi is not as much in the limelight as brand SMG (Starcom MediaVest Group). Do you plan to change this perception or does it work for you?
Tobaccowala: Our belief is that we are a brand-led group. In India, we go to market as SMG, as ZenithOptimedia and as Digitas. We don't go to market with VivaKi. The client doesn't hire VivaKi. VivaKi is much more enabling; it is a brand-led family of companies that are built to deliver scalable and innovative solutions for our networked world. So by its very nature, VivaKi is in the background.
afaqs!: So, you're comfortable with brand VivaKi blending into the background? No plans to bring it ahead?
Tobaccowala: No, we have no plans to make VivaKi front-and-centre.
VivaKi allows our brands to work together in concert. I met with all our brand leaders in India recently and found that VivaKi allows for sharing and collaboration regarding - not competitive information - but how we can move talent around, share buying power and invest in technology.
So the plan is to make our brands really powerful in India and to make VivaKi a way that eliminates duplication, allows scaling of resources and allows us to move talent from one company to another, when necessary.
afaqs!: Do you plan to bring in interesting tools from the international market into India soon?
Tobaccowala: VivaKi does bring in certain tools but in India, we haven't emphasised them much and haven't yet scaled them. Internationally, VivaKi has something called 'The Pool' which, in partnership with media companies, allows for experimentation with different ad forms. We have created a new ad unit called 'ASq' for short form and long form video. We're working with a lot of tablet companies. We also have a product called 'AOD' (Audience on Demand) which is about how to buy audiences at scale. These are all VivaKi capabilities and they'll come to India at the right time.
afaqs!: Why haven't these products come to India yet?
Tobaccowala: Until now, the Indian market hasn't been either ready or relevant for these products. And anyway, most of the specific tools and technologies tend to be very brand-driven; say, Zenith has something called 'Touchpoints', Digitas has a lot of things built around active branding so they, too, do their own thing. Also, a lot of these VivaKi tools are digital by nature and we require a relatively developed digital market for them to have an impact.
However, I think we use a couple of tools here in India presently (for example, a search asset called 'Benchtools' which allows for competitive benchmarking and utilisation of intelligence for search) but some of our larger ones are probably, for the time being, over-engineered for the Indian market.
afaqs!: How soon will the Indian market be ready for these digital tools?
Tobaccowala: I'd anticipate that a lot of these tools will come into the Indian market by 2013-14.
afaqs!: How is VivaKi working on improving the outdoor metric scene in India?
Tobaccowala: We're not trying to build the market; we're just trying to build our clients' market share, because we're not the market leader here. If you're a market leader then you can try to build the market. So in India we will only do things that help us satisfy our clients or build our own market share. In places such as the US where we are one of the dominant players, we may do things that build the category but not here in India.
afaqs!: In India, what does the future hold for the mobile screen as a communication medium?
Tobaccowala: I think globally we need to think about the mobile space as mobile marketing and not mobile advertising. Everywhere in the world, there is a very limited future for mobile advertising, primarily because people are going to have to pay for data and the cost of data is rising.
The mobile medium should be looked at as a medium of utility and problem-solving, not messaging and advertising. The way to build brands on phones is by providing services.
afaqs!: What are the current communication, creativity and planning trends that you see coming into India?
Tobaccowala: Brands of all sorts are leveraging YouTube of late. There is a lot of 'YouTube-isation' and India is a very big 'YouTube country'. It is also becoming a big 'Facebook country'; I'm seeing more and more brands incorporating Facebook into their advertising mix.
Also, the belief in events, brand experiences and word of mouth is rising. Relative to other ageing countries, India is a youthful country and more than any other country, in India, SMS (text messaging) seems to be the preferred way of communicating! And a lot of marketers are trying to take advantage of this. I believe that Facebook is the visual way of SMS-ing.
afaqs!: Tell us about VivaKi's plans as far as M&As in India are concerned.
Tobaccowala: We're continuously looking to grow our presence in this market - organically and via M&As. We're a smaller brand compared to our competitors so we aren't going to be able to grow only organically. So you will surely see us looking for companies; that's no secret. Sometime in the course of this year we'll be able to make one or two growth-related announcements.
afaqs!: In the larger (global) scheme of things, how much priority is being given to growing VivaKi in India?
Tobaccowala: VivaKi is a dominant market leader in almost every other market - USA, UK, China and Russia - and it's all thanks to heritage. We're unhappy that we're small in India and we see it as a very big problem!
One of the reasons I keep coming to India is to fix this problem. VivaKi operates in 76 countries, of which we have an emphasis on 15. India is one of those 15. Further, we have a super-emphasis on three markets - China, America and India. So, VivaKi is committed to India. We have a relatively smaller market size in India but at the board-level, we believe it is one of our three most critical markets.