Shreyas Kulkarni

More ‘brand love’ work is going to indies say tgthr co-founders fresh off a Glass Lion win

Aalap Desai and Rahul Vengalil reveal how Harpic’s 'Loocator' came to be, and how the win affects the 11-month-old agency.

Right after 11-month-old independent agency tgthr scored a shortlist in the Cannes Lions Glass for Change category, chief creative officer and co-founder Aalap Desai got his agency’s name tattooed on his arm.  

“I believe in marking moments, it was the apt time to get the tattoo,” he says.

It took his agency around nine months to execute Harpic’s Loocator app. It lets people upload, rate, and describe public toilets around them – the work is aimed at women because in India a clean public toilet that women can visit is as common as a pink elephant.

tgthr, a couple of weeks after the shortlist's reveal, was awarded a Silver Glass Lion; evidence that the agency’s work mattered.

The ‘Glass: The Lion For Change’ recognises work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising, states the Cannes Lions website.

CEO and co-founder Rahul Vengalil says the win now helps them with “the first meeting” and has put them on the map. “Before Cannes Lions, I was doing a lot of cold calls. Even now, I am doing a lot of cold calls,” he states.

Also, a change which Desai noticed was that increasingly brand love i.e. work where one doesn’t sell a brand's stuff or service but tries to make the viewer fall in love with the brand itself, is being given to independent agencies over network agencies that are on the brand's retainer.

The duo talks about these, and why the independent agency is focusing on thinking, and not just execution, and expects remuneration to reflect it.

Edited Excerpts.

When did Reckitt come on board?

Vengalil: When we started tgthr, many old clients returned to us saying, ‘Hey, we had that great campaign 10 years ago, we would love to do it again.’ Reckitt was one of them. It is a long association going back five to ten years so the relationship exists.

Desai: Many clients don’t get this kind of attention from network agencies because of the agencies’ scale and that is why they look to independent agencies.

TGTHR at Cannes Lions
TGTHR at Cannes Lions

A client sees a network agency’s superstar creative folks during a pitch but they do not do the everyday execution, is that the reason?

Desai: It is not only that. The number of things that an independent agency's leadership does, in a day, to that of a network agency is vastly different.

Network agency folks have to be on far more things, sometimes fruitful, sometimes not, and that takes a lot of the time. If they were not doing it, they'd dedicate the time to clients and their work; it is a complication that comes with scale. Independent agencies can manage it without the scale.

Also, I feel there is an understaffing issue networks face today which increases the pressure on the senior leadership; they are so tied up with filling up the remaining gap that when they get a brief in the retainer, they cannot give it the time it needs.

Maybe this is why clients are going to independent agencies because then they can have the senior leadership sit and think on the brief.

More ‘brand love’ work is going to indies say tgthr co-founders fresh off a Glass Lion win

tgthr has, on a project basis, worked on Reckitt brands like Colin, Harpic, and Robin. Do you prefer the project system or would you love a retainer?

Vengalil: Projects make planning difficult because it needs a consistent funnel - ‘We should always be in the hunt for business’. But projects also allow us to think of the larger things.

We want retainers too. They come with certain committed deliveries, and they take up a lot of the mind space. Then those out-of-the-box or the larger projects may not become a big priority either at the agency side or at the client side.

But, what we are trying to do, even in a retainer, is put into place a structure which values the thinking part of it and not just the execution. We believe thinking is important and the remuneration should not be just for the execution.

To put ‘thinking’ first. Is it because many people are saying advertising is no longer fun?

Desai: There are three things you can do in advertising. One is tactical, the other is brand love, and the third is the top funnel. Brand love is, ‘you don't want to sell something, you want to sell the brand. And tactical is basically 'buy two, get four.’’

"It is certainly helping us with the first meeting but will it convert into a brief, we are not too worried right now."
Rahul Vengalil on the impact of Cannes win

I think pre-COVID, brand love and top funnel were picking up in India. Then COVID happened, and suddenly everyone was running for numbers, everyone turned to sales, and everyone started to be tactical. The briefs became so hardworking that the fun in work decreased.

A lot of the projects we are getting are more on brand love.

The intent, the brief, is only that it should be fun. Such briefs used to come to us in our network agencies but not too much. Clients have left the tactical work to their retainer agencies, and choose independent agencies for brand love.

It's become a trend with clients where when they want to do something different, they will go out of their retainer and do a project.

Vengalil: The brand love and top-funnel campaigns have multiple touchpoints and not one ad. So, the reason why thinking is important for us is when we are thinking of an idea, we come up with media and digital expertise. In digital, we understand how influencers work, how social media works, and how technology works. So, the way we think is this idea has to go on to any platform.

It has to go into whatever scale that the client would like. In doing this, we invariably end up spending a lot more time thinking of such an idea. So, that's why thinking is important.

Sticking with thinking, was it you who thought of Loocator or was it Harpic?

Vengalil: Harpic has created a Hygiene Index for the Government of India and one of its observations was, that women do not have access to hygienic or usable loos. The brand said this is a good insight and let us find a solution. And that's how it all got started rolling.

"You should not pay attention to a brief because it can win at Cannes, you should pay attention to it because it is your job."
Aalap Desai on approaching a brief

But why leave the app for the users to fill in the data because people will invariably procrastinate

Desai: How a man interacts with a restroom, versus how a woman interacts with a restroom, is vastly different. Why the Loocator lets users add data is because we want women rating loos for women, and the number will be smaller because of how India functions. The ratio of women to men on the street will always be lower. We want women to rate because it helps the next woman find a clean loo.

How are you measuring the effectiveness of the campaign?

Desai: By use cases. Like how many times you have used it. App download is the second priority and the third one is how many ratings are there. 

Vengalil: One campaign is not enough. If you look at the e-commerce journey or the Uber, and Ola journey in India, the first, three to four years were all about changing behaviour, which is, ‘try this, try this, try this.’ We are right now at that stage. We are making mistakes. We will make improvements to the app. Multiple campaigns will be launched.

Desai: Reckitt is committed to Loocator till it solves the problem.

To stay committed is important or people will believe it’s a one-off and has lent purpose a bad name.

Desai: This Loocator will target women for a long time. What will happen is in women's minds, a clean bathroom then becomes Harpic. With more and more women using public toilets, the first thing will be Harpic encouraging people to use public loos, first and foremost. Then, once that behaviour changes and you see a clean public toilet, which is from the Loocator, then, bathroom cleaning becomes synonymous with Harpic.

How has life changed after the win?

Vengalil: Our process is not going to change. We put the same rigour into every brief be it creative, film, or media. It is certainly helping us with the first meeting but will it convert into a brief, we are not too worried right now.

Desai: You should not pay attention to a brief because it can win at Cannes, you should pay attention to it because it is your job. What has changed is it is easier for us to convince good clients to become great with braver ideas because they now have proof of concept.

We are also attracting a lot of new talent. People want to join tgthr. Earlier, they wanted to join the agency because of the people. Now, they want to because of the place. It is an important shift.

Have news to share? Write to us