Akshit Pushkarna

AI and sustainability drive Tonic Worldwide's 30% FY24 growth goal

Chetan Asher, founder & CEO, and Sudish Balan, co-founder & CCO, credit A.I., sustainability, and interface development for the company's growth.

Many digital agencies have worked on AI-helmed creatives for campaigns of companies like Baskin Robbins, Oreo, and Burger King. While AI-led campaigns have brought in more eyeballs, thus more business, for Indian digital advertising agencies, a few agencies have been keeping a watchful eye on the growth in AI for a while now. 

For Tonic Worldwide, a digital agency turning 16 this year, AI has been on the radar before the emergence of new tools. Chetan Asher, founder and CEO, Tonic Worldwide, shares with afaqs! that from its outset, the agency's priority has been to distance itself from the ‘execution agency’ stereotype that has dogged digital agencies over the years. 

For this, they have been working on imbibing the ability to spot trends and disseminate work around them quickly in their DNA. “Our AI+HI research arm, Gipsi, has been instrumental for us to move away from the perception of being just an ‘execution only’ agency. While AI is the talk of the town now, we have been able to gauge the use of AI tools to mine data and then groom human intelligence to bring forth actionable insights on it,” he says.

Asher attributes this understanding of AI to the agency’s work outside of India. He set up the agency with Samir Asher, co-founder & COO, Tonic Worldwide back in India in 2007. “At that time, the digital space was at a very nascent stage in India,” he observes. Tonic then focused its operations on the UAE market and worked with clients such as Al Futtaim, Al Maya, and Apparel Group, amongst others in UAE. 

AI and sustainability drive Tonic Worldwide's 30% FY24 growth goal

This foray into the swiftly evolving digital terrain outside India enabled Tonic to work on the more rapidly growing digital space in the western world where, according to Asher, trends rapidly evolve and dissolve. Subsequently, the agency’s ability to gauge the rapidness with which trends change in the digital space helped it grow its business in India. 

Rebranded to 'Tonic Worldwide,' the agency went on to provide its services to ‘Tonic Worldwide’ while focusing on India. It has served as the digital agency to ITC's Aashirvaad, Sony Pictures Network , Glucon-D, Kotak Mahindra Bank, So Good, Zydus, L'Oreal India, AU Bank, and SBI General.

“We are expecting to grow our revenue at 30% for FY24. This growth will be driven by a combination of our agency and tech business. Agency business is seeing good growth helmed by a combination of AI and sustainability theme campaigns.”
Chetan Asher, founder and CEO, Tonic Worldwide

The company’s tech business is driven by brands’ need to revamp the front end of their digital business. UI/UX services focusing on conversion rate optimisation, and analytics, are also key drivers for its tech business

Tonic's divisions include Yellow Labs, which delves into emerging technologies like AR filters and interactive videos, Tonic Worldwide Intuitive Programming (TWIP), focusing on personalised, data-driven brand stories, and Gipsi whose role has been instrumental in, driving significant business growth with campaigns for clients like L'Oreal India and Parachute Advansed Baby.

Asher shares that the company’s Gipsi-driven work has substantially boosted their business, as they were able to rope in L'Oreal India, Parachute Advansed Baby, Bajaj Finance Ltd., and  Brita India this year. The agency is growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 32% year-on-year, paralleled by a 20% increase in employee strength.

Is Tonic banking on the amalgamation of AI and Sustainability in its campaigns?

The experimentation with AI has also led to several debates about its efficacy as well. While some see AI as a valuable tool for guiding strategies and enhancing campaigns, others deem it to be fragile in its analysis of sentiments. Asher ascertains that a combination of AI tools with human intelligence is paramount to drive efficient results. 

“AI can be a powerful tool in driving deeper campaign strategies. We've used AI-driven data mining to great effect, such as in creating new product categories based on insights gathered. AI can support campaigns, product launches, and even budgeting. Our agency is industry-agnostic and adapts AI across different sectors, like FMCG and others,” he asserts. 

Asher underscores that AI-based tools helped Tonic identify gaps in the denim trouser market, resulting in new product categories like "Power Pockets" for Flying Machine.

AI and sustainability drive Tonic Worldwide's 30% FY24 growth goal

While the agency is bullish on its use of AI under Gipsi, Sudish Balan, Co-founder & CCO, Tonic Worldwide, places significance on the irreplaceable value of empathy in the creative process. 

He believes that while AI can offer suggestions and generate content, it lacks the innate human ability to deeply understand emotions and respond with genuine empathy. Thus, human intervention remains pivotal in imbuing campaigns with authentic emotional connections.

Interestingly, Asher also points out that ‘sustainability’ has emerged as a common theme in Tonic’s work. Balan says that the agency is looking to set up a division dedicated to sustainability in the near future.

Asher believes that the reason behind this is the growing emphasis of brands on playing meaningful roles in consumers' lives. He states that campaigns now transcend mere product promotion.

Also Read: SoGood launches a new campaign #FeelsSoGood for health-conscious individuals

"The idea behind campaigns has evolved now to taking a stand and being a part of positive change. We ensure that sustainability campaigns align with the brand's values and have a genuine purpose, avoiding gimmicks. Our campaigns often have a larger purpose and aim to raise awareness and drive change," he opines. 

He cites the #RhymeForEarth campaign that Tonic worked on for premium real estate developer House of Hiranandani as an example. The underlying thought behind the campaign was to show that the brand is cognisant of environmental challenges and how it is addressing them.

Balan shares that Tonic Worldwide's interest in sustainability-themed campaigns is a dedicated commitment. The agency's focus on such campaigns arises from a genuine desire to heighten awareness about critical issues. While acknowledging the challenge of translating awareness into action, the agency's approach is rooted in offering actionable steps that individuals can take to make a tangible difference in sustainability efforts.

He shares that data mined by AI can often be centric in driving campaigns based on sustainability. Without sharing specifics, Balan shares that the agency is working on a campaign which will be addressing plastic waste. The campaign aims to provide consumers with tangible insights into their individual contributions to plastic waste and how they can make meaningful changes. These insights are derived by AI-based tools. 

Balan explains, "AI can certainly contribute to emotionally driven campaigns by utilising historical data to provide suggestions. However, the distinction lies in AI's inability to authentically replicate human emotional intelligence. AI excels in its data-driven approach and predictive capabilities, which aid in optimising campaign elements. However, resonating on an emotional level with audiences requires the nuanced touch of human intuition and empathy” 

Tonic's campaign for MTV's Woofer show
Tonic's campaign for MTV's Woofer show

Balan goes on to assert that while AI can certainly assist in providing data-driven insights and refining strategies, the fundamental messages and emotional bonds still rely on the involvement of humans and their creative capacities.

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