Rashmi Menon

Looking beyond India

Unnoticed by most, Indian agencies are increasingly handling overseas advertising. It is early days yet, but the trend could lead to something much bigger.

International ad agencies have been around in India for a very long time, contributing immensely to the global outlook of the industry. Given the background, it is not surprising that Indian agencies have won international businesses as well, while still being based in India. The agencies cater to foreign markets through different working models, including global agencies with specially chosen Indian teams that handle the global advertising of brands; agencies handling brands in neighbouring countries; and those which directly approach brands to handle foreign markets. afaqs! looks at some examples to trace a pattern.

Global hubs

In 2007, when Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo decided to shift its global marketing hub and centralise its creative communication and strategy with Ogilvy & Mather in Bengaluru, it created a lot of interest. In fact, the brand's move caused C K Prahalad and M S Krishnan to note in their book, The New Age of Innovation, published the next year, "The Lenovo experiment shows that branding and advertising activities can be disaggregated and all elements need not be culture-specific. Further, this approach may reduce the redundancy and wastage of creative effort."

Looking beyond India
So, what led to Lenovo's decision? In 2005, Lenovo acquired the PC division of IBM. However, Lenovo was strong only in China at that point in time. "Outside China, people did not know about Lenovo. So, it was really important for us to establish Lenovo as the master brand globally and very quickly," says Ajay Kaul, executive director, global brand communications, Lenovo.

In contrast to IBM's decentralised organisation structure, Lenovo wanted consistent brand execution throughout the world. The decision was to synergise all marketing activities in a fast, cost-effective manner. Kaul says that to centralise marketing, the brand needed an agency structure that would gel with this model.

Although Lenovo retained IBM's agency, Ogilvy New York, it made sense to have the brand marketing team closer to the growth areas. "When we looked at the growth numbers, the future of PC was clearly going to be the emerging markets - India, China and Brazil. We had few choices but what became important for an entity like ours was that you needed to be comfortable with the English language," Kaul says.

Naturally, the choice zoomed to India. Besides, when Lenovo was launched in India as a brand, the marketing team demonstrated intelligent guerrilla marketing to launch the brand in India, creating 60-70 per cent consideration level in consumers' mind. "It was a big experiment for us and Ogilvy supported us along and set up the Bengaluru hub," Kaul says.

Looking beyond India
Today, Ogilvy Bengaluru's Lenovo account has a dedicated team of 70, which includes account handling, planning, creative and digital functions. The team has come out with five main campaigns and over 10,000 individual pieces for the brand, till now.

Explaining how the global hub works, Poran Malani, president of Ogilvy & Mather, Bengaluru, says the brand is handled on three levels - a central team based in Bengaluru, regional teams in Paris, Raleigh, Singapore and Beijing, and the in-country team. Each region or country has a specific team as well as a worldwide team. "Interface is direct with the worldwide Lenovo team. Of course, for this to work, a great deal of process and technology is needed. And, for local insights, we do have the largest and best network to draw on," he says.

Another example is that of Castrol, which is again handled by Ogilvy. While the brand is handled on a global level, the brand chose Ogilvy Mumbai as one of the three centres of excellence (the other two being New York and Singapore). The Mumbai office of the agency handles the truck and scooter business, a large part of which rests in India.


It's interesting to note how Indian agencies have also met creative requirements of brands present in the neighbouring countries.

For instance, Marico forayed into Bangladesh in 2002. Three years later, Bates CHI & Partners, which was handling the company's brands in India from its Kolkata office, opened an office in Dhaka to service the company in Bangladesh. The agency handles Marico's brands like Parachute hair oil, Hair Code hair dye/colour and Nihar Hair oil in the Bengali-speaking country.

Looking beyond India
Bates' Kolkata and Dhaka teams jointly work on the account, with the former driving the strategic planning and creative, supported by the Dhaka team, explains Abeer Chakravarty, executive vice-president, Bates Kolkata.

Besides account management, the Bangladesh team provides creative and studio support as well, while the Kolkata team travels almost every month to Dhaka for client meetings, film and still shoots.

Interestingly, the agency also won the Coca-Cola Bangladesh business a few months ago.

Inner Circle Kolkata, too, has been handling Bangladeshi FMCG company Pran for nearly two years, not only in Bangladesh but in West Bengal as well. Headquartered in Dhaka, Pran was set up in 1981 as a company that processed fruits and vegetables. Today, it has products spread across 10 categories, and also exports products to about 94 countries. Inner Circle came on board after the company initiated a pitch process and chose the agency in January, 2012.

"Pran was looking for a brand partner and not a mere creative design agency. This is where we fit the bill. We understood its markets both in Bangladesh and West Bengal and made a set of strategic recommendations," says Murali Krishnan, client servicing director, Inner Circle Advertising.

Beginning with three of Pran's products, the agency now works on the communication requirements of eight products, with two more in the pipeline. The creatives including television commercials are produced in India and sent to Bangladesh.

Direct move

Then, there are the agencies that are warming up to the idea of voluntarily pitching for foreign market businesses of brands.

Looking beyond India
Ogilvy Mumbai recently won the creative and branding requirements of retail brand Home Centre's Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Home Centre, a part of Dubai-based Landmark Group, set up its first retail store in Sarjah, UAE, in 1995. In the last 18 years, the brand has expanded to over 80 stories in countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and India. The stores offer contemporary furniture, home furnishings, accessories, bed and bath and kitchenware.

In India, Home Centre operates through Lifestyle stores, a chain of apparel and accessories store, which is also part of the Landmark Group. The brand has 16 stores spread across various cities in the country. When Home Centre initiated the pitch process for the MENA region at Dubai in January, four agencies approached the brand. And, all of them were Indian agencies - three from Mumbai and one from Delhi!

Ogilvy's Mumbai office has also carried out projects for confectionary brand Perfetti for some parts of its European market.

Desi brands, global partners

When Indian auto manufacturer Bajaj decided to expand its motorcycle market to Indonesia, Vietnam and some parts of Latin America, its agency Ogilvy Mumbai was assigned the mandate for creative and strategic communication to crack the foreign markets.

Looking beyond India
Similarly, Domino's Pizza, which is part of Jubliant FoodWorks, asked its existing Indian agency to help relaunch the brand in Sri Lanka a few years ago.

According to Sukumar Menon, founder, Black Swan Life, Domino's Sri Lanka wasn't doing very well. When the agency was brought on board, it was briefed to reinvigorate the brand based on the work the agency had done for the brand's India operations.

"Though the brand wasn't doing very well in Sri Lanka, people knew that internationally it was a great brand with great products. We played on that and re-launched the brand with a campaign titled 'Domino's Reloaded', where we demonstrated how all the good things that Domino's is known for all over the world is now back in Sri Lanka, too," Menon explains.

The campaign was a mix of print, outdoor, BTL and catchment area communication. And, the agency went on to clinch an Effie Gold for this campaign. In India, the agency was handling Domino's direct marketing requirements, which helped the brand gain around 34 per cent redemptions.


While all the agencies rely on technology (like Skype, video and conference calls) to keep in touch with the brands, they also believe that physically surveying and tracking consumer behaviour is extremely important.

Looking beyond India
Inner Circle conducts monthly visits of the markets and bi-monthly retail studies to garner real time market insights. Cultural and social insights, though, are not an area of concern, as it claims it understands "the pulse of Bengal".

Similarly, the Ogilvy Mumbai team, while working on Bajaj's campaign for Indonesia, took the help of its local office to understand the cultural nuances, traffic and biking culture of the country. "We got to these places to understand the cultural milieu. Social media makes it easier to do research and local offices are a treasure trove of cultural milieu, so we leverage that," says Navin Talreja, president, Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai.

Ogilvy Bengaluru's Malani recalls the initial challenges the team faced when setting up a structure for Lenovo's global hub. The team had to take into account local ways of working, getting the right inputs, creating a personal service rather than a back office, minimising disruption at the client end, and creating a unique personality and agency culture.

The forte...

With the world becoming a global village, is it true that cultural and local nuances are no more a hindrance for a "non local" agency?

Ogilvy's Talreja says that he was not surprised to see that the agencies in the fray for the Home Centre account were all from India. "Home Centre could have easily gotten a creative agency in Dubai as well. However, it wanted long term sustainable brand ideas and more strategic partnerships when it grows; the ability to carry brand ideas across markets," Talreja adds.

Awards apart, there is a realisation across the world that culturally relevant work that leverages specific insights and is emotionally powerful works a lot. "If that's true, we (as Indians) do exactly that. We are powerful story tellers and that's our forte," he says. Besides, work seems to be moving from the West to the East, Talreja opines. So, more clients will leverage agencies based in India. "However, this model will not work if we don't collaborate with our local agencies. And, it would be foolish not to do it in partnership," Talreja points out.

Black Swan Life's Menon has a pragmatic outlook. "Increasingly, in a global village, brands are tapping into universal insights. If we can get a foot in the door, I think the talent is there to deliver world class work," he says confidently.

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