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"We don't believe in undercutting; we attract the price we want": Raj Gupta, CEO, Lowe Lintas

By Suraj Ramnath , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 21, 2017
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We caught up with Raj Gupta, the recently elevated CEO of Lowe Lintas and Arun Iyer, the agency's chairman and chief creative officer.

Raj Gupta: "Yaar Arun, creative mein mazza nahin aa raha hai. Do din aur le loon kya client se?"

Arun Iyer: "Raj, we're a little off the money. What do we do?"

These are the sort of counter-intuitive things Arun Iyer, chairman and chief creative officer, and Raj Gupta, CEO, say to one another, as they jointly manage the creative and business fronts of Lowe Lintas.

Chairmanship, Arun insists, hasn't changed anything dramatically. Have the pencil and yellow pad gone farther away? "The copywriter in me will never die," promises Arun.

L to R: Arun Iyer and Raj Gupta

Even so, he has sunk his teeth further into the business side of things now. "There are very subtle changes. When Balki was there, even he was involved with the money," Arun shrugs, "I always speak to my account management partner and ask him 'tera target wagera ho raha hai na? Kuch chahiye kya? Koi project udana hai kya?'"

The two have been working together at the agency for seven years. "Raj was looking after the Mumbai office, one of our biggest offices. We have worked together on Idea, a bunch of Unilever brands and pretty much every brand in Mumbai. Now, we will partner each other more..." says Arun, who has spent 15 years at Lintas, about their intellectual partnership, "... these elevations are in the interest of preparing for the future more than just managing the present."

They will work closely in a more literal sense too - more work trips, more offices to worry about together, more discussions on brands handled by not just the agency's Mumbai office.

About his new role as chairman of the agency, Arun says, "There are a lot of internal responsibilities in terms of shaping the future of the agency while continuing the good run we have had... Raj and I are both tasked with that. We have to make sure we become the one-stop kind of solution available to a client. We are there on certain aspects and we are not there on certain aspects. It won't happen overnight, but we have our milestones in mind and will figure out how to get there over a period of time."

Raj who has spent 21 years with the agency adds, "Every manager has made us future-ready in some or the other way but the difference this time, is that a lot has changed in the market... take the youth dividend, for instance. What makes it even more complex is the fact that digital has come into their lives. Digital reach amongst youth in the last three years, has gone up from 20 to 60 percent in the SEC-A segment. And in SEC A, B and C put together, it is about 45 percent. This is growing every day, thanks to the Jios of the world and offers. This is going to have a profound impact, not only on advertising but also on marketing."

How so? Raj elaborates, "When you go digital, there is a lot of content available. The market is now moving from push to pull advertising. We all have been brought up under the push strategy of the one-to-many kind. But today, there's a Skip Ad option. Google recently said that they will do away with long format ads. When the consumer is not interested in advertising, how does a pull strategy work? If pull is the way to go, then it is our responsibility to make the agency 'pull strategy-ready'..."

No points for guessing the kind of ads that the duo thinks fit the bill - purpose-led work. Examples include the agency's work on Tata Tea, Surf, Idea, Havells and Tanishq. Purpose-led ads get pulled six to eight times more than proposition-led work, their research showed.

"Take for instance Tanishq against Kalyan Jewelers," illustrates Raj, "Kalyan Jewelers employs the first family of Bollywood. One would imagine that they would be pulling more attention, but no. Tanishq pulls eight times more attention than Kalyan, because Tanishq stands for something. We will do even better in the pull era because our competitors don't have an understanding..."

The team's Fastrack 'Come out of the closet' ad, though part of a push campaign, inadvertently became pull along the way because two years after it broke, 377 (section) came in, making Fastrack the poster child for that subject.

While on the subject of purpose-led campaigns, Arun laments, "A very strange thing is going on in the media community - marketers, ad agencies, media agencies. Work gets created only to be celebrated amongst ourselves, something we are not interested in. I am noticing a lot of work where women empowerment seems to be a nice little wave to ride. We are very consciously staying away from this. These campaigns may make for great boardroom discussions, but may not always make sense for the brand..."

People, in general, we ask, have become more forgiving of ads, haven't they? Arun laughs, "No I don't think so. People are not even seeing the ads. You have to see something to forgive it, right?"

To combat this, the agency has been re-looking at the way it approaches the ad film. "There is more finesse to our work today in terms of execution and stuff like that... our work is more nuanced today," Arun says.

They classify content, and consequently ads, into three types: On TV (a format that's here to stay, they reckon), linear (TV content which can also be downloaded onto one's laptop) and YouTube/Netflix (a higher SEC trend, according to the duo). They don't classify ads as TV or digital; rather, they prefer calling them "videos".

In a recent interview, Arun spoke about his goal of changing the way Lowe is perceived, that is, as an out and out 'TVC agency'. "...There was a time when I used to get affected because I didn't agree with it, but now I am seeing it as feedback and am looking to evolve from here... It's something Raj and I have been speaking about, in fact," Arun says, hoping his future ads will help change this perception.

Ask him about the pitch scene and the duo's choice of adjective is "aggressive."

"... We don't believe in undercutting the market; we attract the price want. If the client can't pay for it, we tell them, 'Whenever you are ready please come back; we would love to work with you.' So yes we do lose out because of that but at the end of the day 70-80 percent of our revenues come from our top 20 clients and I have to keep my focus on that. If we start pitching around, our attention will get diverted. I'd rather have Arun sit in his room and crack one more Ramzan ad... that is the best pitch strategy. It attracts more clients." says Raj.

"Recently," he shares, "I got two calls saying the client wants us to pitch but that they will do just one project with us. Then what? We have stopped entertaining such clients. Also, in the last three-to-four years, clients came to us for different reasons like raising funds... we are not that kind of agency. Money is dear to all of us."

Arun adds, "We don't want to be desperate and go after pitches. We will pitch, but we have a clear point of view on what we can bring to the table."

It's the regard they get from their existing clients that gives them this sort of confidence. Raj smiles, "Take Flipkart for instance - they love us. They want to throw a party every time we are in Bengaluru. That's more important than winning another pitch."

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