Shibani Gharat

Everything you wanted to know about Bates India but...

Following the afaqs! story last week about yet another change in the agency's identity, we received many questions about the Bates genealogy. So, here's an attempt to help our bewildered readers.

Bates India has been through many changes in recent years. So many, in fact, that even people in the advertising business have lost track of its many twists and turns and identities. In the last 15 months alone, it has carried three name plates on the door: Bates 141, then simply Bates (October last year) followed by the announcement last week that, post a joint venture with CHI & Partners, it's now Bates CHI & Partners together with a working identity. The final shape will be revealed in February 2013.

The Origins

How it began: The agency was set up in 1940 by Ted Bates and achieved fame in large measure because of his flamboyant creative partner, Rosser Reeves, who came up with the concept of USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

Everything you wanted to know about Bates India but...
Everything you wanted to know about Bates India but...
Everything you wanted to know about Bates India but...
It has had a strong presence in Asia thanks to Bates' acquisition of an Australian ad agency, Cathay Advertising, in the 1960s following which it expanded quickly in this region.

Ted Bates passed away in 1972 and in 1986 Saatchi & Saatchi (founded by the brothers Charles and Maurice), which was then on a roll, added Bates to its long list of acquisitions.

A year later, Bates was merged with Backer & Spielvogel Advertising to form Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide. Seven years on, it became Bates Worldwide. Saatchi & Saatchi's acquisition of Bates actually didn't go down well with major clients who moved business worth $300 million away because of perceived conflict with other group agencies.

Charles and Maurice were ousted by shareholders in 1995 following a series of financial setbacks and Saatchi & Saatchi was renamed Cordiant Communications of which Bates became a subsidiary. (The brothers left to found M&C Saatchi.)

Bates Comes to India

In India Bates made its appearance in 1999 when it took over the troubled agency Clarion, taking the name Bates Clarion for six months before calling itself Bates India.

In 2003 WPP acquired Cordiant, bringing Bates, Fitch, 141 Worldwide and HealthWorld under its wing and this is when Bates got re-launched as a standalone Asian agency brand.

In 2005, Bates Asia acquired a 74 per cent stake in the agency of the legendary ad man, Mohammed Khan, and the Indian unit took on a new name, Bates Enterprise.

Soon after, rmg David, already part of the WPP network and managed by Josy Paul, was inserted into the equation to make Bates David Enterprise.

The idea, as is always the case in such acquisitions, was to migrate the businesses of other agencies to Bates. "The other agency brands were not strong enough," explains an industry insider. But within WPP, the matter of whether Bates itself is strong enough or should be merged with, say, Ogilvy, keeps popping up - and routinely dismissed. A good question, though, would be: how many of the businesses from these Indian acquisitions has Bates been able to retain?

In 2007, Bates merged its activation arm in India, 141 Worldwide, with Sercon, a marketing services company it acquired. The merged company was known as - no surprises here - 141 Sercon. At that time, Bates David Enterprise was supposed to deal with above the line advertising, with 141 as the marketing services arm.

Soon after, the bosses had a change of mind and the agency was renamed Bates 141.

In October 2011, the '141' suffix disappeared in India and it went back to being Bates India. It also got itself a new logo (with colourful little blurbs) and a new philosophy, 'Changengage', an amalgam of two words. Sonal Dabral, then regional executive creative director and chairperson, Bates India, expounded, "The cluster of speech blurbs above the name is symbolic of the vibrant conversations and debates Bates aims to promote through its work. The overlapping blurbs are also a subliminal reminder of tag clouds, the language of now and the future. And, the vibrant colours represent the new Bates identity -- much younger and more nimble, ready to create better and more engaging work for the clients."

That sounded impressive - except that three months later, Dabral quit the agency and so too did the CEO, Sandeep Pathak. The Asia boss of the agency said 2011 had been a wasted year for Bates India. Sanjay Thapar of Ogilvy moved in to take charge of Bates India in May this year.

All this whirl had barely been digested when, last week, the CHI Partners thing happened. It sums up the confusion in India about what Bates stand for. Why, within a year of elaborately revealing a new identity, would the agency top brass decide to turn everything on its head again? Of course, there must be a larger game plan but not one that is easy to understand from an Indian standpoint.

But then, as the cliché goes, the only constant is change. It is certainly true for Bates India.

Have news to share? Write to us