Shreyas Kulkarni

60-65% of our revenue comes from digital work: Aditya Kanthy and Rahul Mathew, DDB Mudra Group

The chief executive and chief creative talk post-COVID business, rise in project work, and the difference in Indian and international awards.

A pencil is the most important thing for advertising agency folks. You use it to flesh out your earliest thoughts after receiving a brief.

Then comes your proud smile when you receive another (pencil) from The One Show in 2022. CEO and MD Aditya Kanthy and CCO Rahul Mathew (left to right in the cover image) wore such a smile when DDB Mudra Group won a bronze pencil for its EatQual work for QSR giant McDonald’s and four pencils for the Game Responsibly campaign for gaming giant Battlegrounds Mobile India at the D&AD Awards this year.

The duo are the two main faces of DDB Mudra Group, which, Kanthy tells afaqs!, registered double-digit revenue growth in 2021. It will register similar growth in 2022 too. As per the company, it registered in excess of 25% between 2020 – 2022.

DDB Mudra Group is a creative services firm and that is where most of its revenues originate. “60-65% of our revenue comes from digital work,” reveals Kanthy, and credits the company’s “fairly diversified group of clients from different categories” that helped it hedge some risk in the past two years.

The Group has won over 100 new assignments between 2020 and 2022 and counts the likes of McDonald's (QSR), Stayfree (personal care), 7Up (beverage), Meesho (e-commerce) and Battlegrounds Mobile India (gaming) as its clients.

In 2022 itself, the group welcomed over 50 new clients such as Airtel, Instagram, Facebook, Meesho, Rupay, Hayu, Parle Platina, Tata Cliq, Infosys, Xiaomi, H&M, Porter, Life Insurance Council, IIFL Wealth, Rajasthan Tourism.

The techvertising age

Speaking of new clients and their campaigns, we recently saw actor Shah Rukh Khan’s voice read multiple scripts for Cadbury, while deepfake technology cast a youngster and Salman Khan together in a Pepsi ad. Is technology slowly becoming the first ask of a client over creativity?

Kanthy and Mathew disagree. Kanthy states that even the best work in the world that involves technology, is meaningless without insight, idea, creativity or craft. “You can’t use emotion without creativity, technology without creativity…,” remarks Mathew.

India versus international awards

Creativity is the bedrock on which most work and brands are built. Mathew, who was a jury member at this year’s Abby One Show and D&AD Awards, reveals “context” as the big difference between Indian and international advertising awards shows.

“Everyone is trying to understand the local context. I found international jurors going deeper, finding context...When work from India turns up, there are nuances people aren't getting and you're sitting there being the voice, the nuance for the piece of work, it makes you very nervous.”

Mathew feels India is a land of strong ideas, but we need to package our entries better. The best case studies are exceptionally good at saying only what’s needed. Kanthy chimes in, saying Indian entries are getting quite better every single day.

“A big chunk of our work is on social issues, the work we are doing on brands… we need to catch up on more of the work we do for business versus the work we do for purpose,” says Mathew.

The rise of project work

Are brands focusing or talking about their purpose-led work more now than before? Not really. The shift towards baking purpose into organisation design started some time ago, says Kanthy. It accelerated post-COVID.

“I don't think this conversation is a result of COVID. This kind of stuff was being discussed in boardrooms and conversations over a good part of the last decade.”

When asked about project work, Kanthy says there is most certainly more of it. One is seeing proportionate growth in project-led revenues. “Our focus is on doing great work and building long-term relationships with clients, even if it comes on the back of a series of projects.”

The clients, whether on retainer or project basis, were made accustomed to Unexpected Works, DDB Mudra Group's new brand positioning launched in 2021.

Its global press release quoted DDB Worldwide CCO Ari Weiss as saying, “The formula for creating breakthrough creative work that drives business results, is timeless. It's how we bring that formula to life that changes on a daily basis. We're not reinventing the wheel here. We're simply putting more focussed language around a truth that anyone who has ever worked at DDB can feel in their bones: Unexpected Works.”

However, deep down, the client knows DDB Mudra Group, the people, why he/she has signed up in the first place. So, what has changed?

Mathew explains that sometimes, while doing work, “we forget DDB Mudra is a brand as well, and brand values don't change, but articulation changes to be more relevant to the time. Unexpected Works is the articulation of our values from (co-founder) William Bernbach.”

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