afaqs! news bureau

Newsmakers: An exhaustive recap of Indian advertising in 2023

The good, the bad, the weird, and the ones to remember.

India’s advertising industry was quite the busy bee this year. Not because they were busy cutting 10-second bites from their master ads – well that is there – but the industry was buzzing with the launch of one independent agency after the other, it was fixated on seeing some big names move around, and Dentsu was still trying to find its feet, of course. 

Here's the download on all the major stuff that transpired in ad land in 2023. 

JWT’s merger into oblivion

All it took was one press release to announce the demise of three agency brands after WPP said it would merge Wunderman Thompson (WT) with VMLY&R to form a new agency christened VML. 

WT was born in 1864 as J Walter Thompson (JWT) and made its India debut in the ‘30s as Hindustan Thompson Associates. In 2002, the agency’s Indian arm was rebranded as JWT, and then as Wunderman Thompson in 2019.  

The agency was the ‘IT’ place in advertising having created some of India’s most iconic communication pieces – Air India, Shah Ruk Khan in Lux, Oye Bubbly for Pepsi, and winning India’s first Cannes Lions Grand Prix. 

JWT or WT won the Indigo creative account before departing for the skies forever.

Dentsu’s hope for stability is no longer a mirage 

Dentsu India, for the past two years, saw turmoil more than anything else – yes, there were the Cannes Lions metals – but now things have begun to take shape, for the better. But, there were pains before this mirage began to give way to reality. Here are the dizzying details.

  • OLX CMO Sapna Arora joined the agency network in January 2023 to take over as chief client officer from Narayan Devanathan who quit in 2022.

  • Dentsu India promoted Carat chief Anita Kotwani to CEO of media, South Asia in March after Divya Karani quit the organisation. 

  • The agency network finally got a CEO under Harsha Razdan in March 2023; the post was vacant since the sudden exit of Anand Bhadkamkar in September 2021. “We are a client-obsessed marketing tech consultancy,” the CEO told afaqs! in October.

  • Narayan Devanathan rejoined Dentsu India in June 2023 as its group chief strategic officer in a consulting role. 

  • Joining the list of people leaving Dentsu was Aalap Desai, chief creative officer - Dentsu Creative West and Dentsu Creative Experience, India in July. He started his own agency called tgthr.

  • Dentsu X CEO Roopam Garg quit in June and the agency network in July, announced the appointment of Jose Leon as the new chief executive officer. 

Ogilvy rejigs its leadership, Piyush Pandey retires

Ogilvy India, in September 2023, announced one of the most important leadership rejigs in its recent history. 

  • Piyush Pandey gave up his role as executive chairman of the agency and moved into an advisory role. 

  • Hephzibah Pathak took on the role of executive chairperson of Ogilvy India making her the first ever woman from the India office in this role.

  • Group president VR Rajesh became the agency’s new CEO. 

  • Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Kainaz Karmakar and Sukesh Nayak, the agency’s chief creative officer trio, became members of the board. 

  • The agency’s chief strategy officer (CSO), Prem Narayan joined the board too.

  • SN Rane, group executive co-chairman India and chief operating officer, South Asia, turned business advisor to Ogilvy Asia Pacific. 

Leo Burnett chief Dheeraj Sinha helms FCB Group India’s leadership

Dheeraj Sinha led Leo Burnett as South Asia CEO to a bouquet of Cannes Lions and other advertising awards, along with winning creative accounts of giants such as PepsiCo India, Meta, and IKEA, among others. 

To the surprise of many, he left the Publicis-owned agency, in September 2023, to join FCB Group India as CEO, South Asia. FCB chief Rohit Ohri, whom Dheeraj replaced, had accepted a global role as an FCB Global Partner.

Sandeep Goyal took over from Diwan Arun Nanad as Rediffusion’s chairperson 

50 years after helming the role as Rediffusion’s chairperson, Diwan Arun Nanda stepped down, in July 2023, due to health reasons making way for managing director Sandeep Goyal to take over the leadership role who will hold both the positions. 

Goyal, who was the agency’s president from 1997 to 2001, acquired it in 2021 under Mogae Media, his integrated marketing and communications agency. 

Ad land’s one-sided love for controversy continued 

Online mobs and trolls continued to lead boycott calls against brands they found deviating from their idea of how society should function. On the other hand, some brands were found guilty of not doing enough work on their ads before releasing them to the public. It’s a mixed bag, here are some of the biggest ad controversies of 2023. 

MakeMyTrip’s unpleasant delivery of an ad 

MakeMyTrip was criticised for its print ad on the day of the India-Pakistan match during the World Cup. It used phrases uttered by former Pakistani cricketers as an instrument of mocking while offering discount codes to Pakistani fans if they chose to stay at its homestays and villas after India won the match. 

Newsmakers: An exhaustive recap of Indian advertising in 2023

“It is good-natured ribbing,” defended Ashish Khazanchi whose agency Enormous was behind the ad. 

Rival Cleartrip tried to capitalise on the affair while Homestays & Villas took civility down a notch after it used nationalism to promote itself by saying it wouldn’t offer its hospitality to any Pakistani nationals.

Starbucks shamed for its pride ad 

Coffee giant Starbucks suffered the wrath of many hardliners and conservatives who deemed its trans-inclusive pride ad a Western imposition on the country’s culture, and a result of a brand focusing on being woke rather than on doing business. 

The ad showed a couple meeting their transgender daughter after a seemingly long time. We see the father’s acceptance of his transgender daughter after he orders three coffees for ‘Arpita’, the name of their transitioned daughter.

Boycott calls followed the ad right after it was released, and soon enough, the coffee giant bowed down to the trolls and took down the ad. 

Zomato’s Kachra ad debacle 

Zomato, to tout its recycling cred, cast Lagaan’s Kachra character as common recycled products in an ad for World Environment Day. It faced severe backlash because viewers felt the ad compared a member of an already marginalised community with plastic waste, further degrading him. 

Aditya Lakhia who played Kachra in Lagaan reprised his role in the ad. Seeing the backlash, Zomato apologised and took down the video.

A Hinduphobic Swiggy Instamart?

The festival of colours was considered stained because the offended found a Swiggy Instamart billboard – it spoke about ordering eggs for food and not throwing at anyone – as Hinduphobic. 

Newsmakers: An exhaustive recap of Indian advertising in 2023

Many disgruntled netizens criticised Swiggy for bias because they’d not seen the brand give out gyaan on other festivals. On seeing the amount of trolling not decrease, the quick-commerce took down the billboard.

An unholy Holi ad from Bharat Matrimony 

Many netizens spewed hate against Bharat Matrimony because it highlighted the violence women suffer on Holi. After all, men try to pass it off saying, “Bura na maano Holi hai.” 

The trolls called out the brand for picking out Holi to portray violence against women when it could have done it on any other and Women’s Day. 

Boycott calls for the brand trended on Twitter (now X) raged. Some of the online mercenaries found out the person who made the ad and used his religion as a tool to further their hate against not just the brand, but the agency which made the ad. 

Bharat Matrimony did not bow down to the trolls and did not take down the ad. 

Agencies went public 

Until 2023, ad land had network agencies and independent agencies. Come February, there were public agencies. 

Advertising agencies going public was an unexpected trend one witnessed this year. Agencies like Crayons, RK Swamy, and Bright Outdoor Media announced their IPOs in 2023. 

  • Crayons Advertising, a homegrown integrated advertising agency, announced its IPO in May 2023 becoming the first major homegrown integrated advertising agency to go public. 

  • RK Swamy filed its draft papers with SEBI to launch an IPO in August a year (July '22) after parting ways with BBDO, a partnership that lasted for 37 years. Its name changed from RK Swamy BBDO to RK Swamy Hansa Group. 

  • Out Of Home (OOH) agency giant Bright Outdoor Media went public in March, a first for an OOH company. 

  • According to several reports, LS Digital will also be announcing its IPO in the next few months.

Omnicom, using DDB, BBDO, and TBWA, launched Omnicom Advertising services

To bring the power of three of the group’s big individual agencies - DDB, BBDO, TBWA – together, Omnicom Group announced the launch of ‘Omnicom Advertising Services’ or OAS

DDB, BBDO and TBWA while maintaining their current branding in the Indian market would actively focus on talent, cross-agency collaboration, and innovation to drive growth in the Indian market through Omnicom Advertising Services. 

Aditya Kanthy was appointed as the CEO of the newly formed agency to head these operations. 

The group further announced that OAS would capitalise on the top talent housed within its network and work in partnership with other Omnicom agencies, such as Omnicom Media Group, to further strengthen the group’s offering in India.

Rise of independent agencies

Call it dissatisfaction with the present agency culture or the urge to do something different and of your own, the year saw an interesting and sharp rise in the launch of independent agencies from senior and mid-senior talent of the Indian advertising industry.


Former DDB leaders Pallavi Chakravarti, Anand Murty, and Nishant Saurabh together launched Fundamental, a creative agency, in February 2023. 

“We felt that we were hitting our prime time with respect to our careers. If you had to take a shot at doing something for ourselves, the time was now,” told Saurabh to afaqs!. 

The launch of the Indian cricket teams’ jerseys across all formats from Adidas India was the agency’s first-ever work. 


MullenLowe Lintas CEO Virat Tandon and CCO Amer Jaleel decided ad land needed a marketplace for talent and the result, in August, was Curativity. Within a year of its launch, the agency has bagged clients, like Pfizer, PhonePe and Tata Consumer Products.


In December, news broke that Aalap Desai had launched his full-funnel ad agency called tgthr. A press note read the agency wanted to combine exceptional work with an unparalleled culture. 

News soon poured in of the agency’s founding partners and it comprised of Dentsu's old hands: 

  • Anadi Sah, national creative director and chief innovation officer 

  • Vibhor Yadav, regional creative officer, north and south

  • Pragati Rana, regional creative officer, west, and head of originals

  • Anirudh Venugopal, senior creative director, head of culture

A two-ad film campaign for BattleGrounds Mobile India (BGMI) was the first work from the agency. 

Steve Priya

This is not the name of the agency but of an about-to-be-announced creative shop from JWT’s famed creative duo Steve Mathias and Priya Pardiwalla. 

Acquisitions and mergers took centre stage

Havas, the Vivendi-owned advertising group, acquired two companies this year, consolidated its existing offerings, and yes, revealed a new brand architecture and visual identity. 

  1. In March, Havas revealed it was going to rebrand its ‘Sports and Entertainment’, ‘Content’, and ‘Cake India’ as Havas Play. 

  2. Come July, Havas said it would integrate digital marketing agency PivotRoots into its network. 

  3. In November, Havas announced it had acquired PR agency PR Pundit and would rebrand it as PR Pundit Havas Red. Archana Jain, PR Pundit’s founder and CEO would lead the new organisation and report to Havas Group chief Rana Barua. 

LS Digital completes its third acquisition: LS Digital, the agency that wishes to replicate TCS’s approach to the digital creative world announced its third acquisition - Social Panga. The integrated creative agency will become part of LS Digital's 6-pillar framework, which comprises Media, UI/UX, Creative & Communication, CX (MarTech), Data and insights, and Tech Innovations. The agency has been on an acquisition spree; it acquired Langoor Digital and F1 Studioz in 2022.

Goozoop Group and Puretech Digital entered into a strategic collaboration to form GZPure. Both companies would operate independently while working on their joint core strengths of brand and media capabilities. 

In 2021, FCB picked up a stake in Kinnect, an independent digital marketing agency. Two years later, it acquired a majority stake in the agency and rebranded it FCB Kinnect which boasted over 1,200 employees and 500+ digital specialists.

The accounts that moved

Consumer goods giant Reckitt, in May, after a multi-agency chose Wavemaker as its media agency to service its account worth approximately Rs 1,600 crore. Dentsu X had handled the account since 2020.

Maruti Suzuki tapped GroupM to handle its media duties in March, after it had called for a pitch in November 2022. The account size is believed to be between Rs 900 to Rs 1,000 crore and was earlier serviced by Dentsu India. 

Air India chose McCann Worldgroup to handle its creative and rebranding duties. 

Domino’s Pizza selected McCann Worldgroup as its creative agency, and GroupM as its media agency. 

 Agencies’ tryst with generative AI 

The Indian ad world saw an increase in creative agencies incorporating Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT and Midjourney, into their advertising workflows. 

Some see the tools as the beginning of a new era, using ChatGPT4 and Midjourney to generate images from language descriptions as a starting point for his digital marketing and content work. 

  • Agencies like Media.Monk and Schbang have been documented using these tools as a kickstart for overcoming writer's block or handling last-minute client requests. Schbang, for instance, combines ChatGPT outputs with human expertise to adapt content to the brand's personality and the client's tone of voice. 

  • Meanwhile, Talented, a Bangalore-based agency, employs various generative AI tools to streamline internal processes, utilizing visual A.I. models and language learning models like ChatGPT and to enhance efficiency in research, idea generation, and visual work description.

  • Omnicom in November announced a collaboration with Getty Images, receiving sole access to the platform’s gen-AI tech. The tool offered combines Getty Images’ creative content with the new AI tech.

  • Wavemaker India conceptualised a Halloween-themed campaign for Chupa Chups in October. The campaign put together augmented reality technology and AI to create a spooky ambience for the consumers.

  • Marketing agency Tagglabs helped boAt create a music video that went along with the brand’s ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup anthem this year. It uses AI-generated visuals to paint a vivid picture of India: bustling roads filled with the hum of daily life, passionate fans with painted faces cheering from stadium stands, families gathered around TVs, and individuals in quiet corners, hands folded in prayer, hoping for India's victory. 

De-influencing became in vogue 

The art of influencing took a sharp reverse when the trend of de-influencing took off in 2023. Creators were not influencing people on what not to use or whose service not to avail. In India, two big de-influeuncing incidents highlighted the rise of this trend:

Revant Himatsingka (aka Foodpharmer) claimed malted beverage Cadbury Bournvita’s sugar levels are unhealthy for consumers. The brand responded with a lawsuit and asked him to take down the video. The battle took off and, only a couple of days ago, he claimed the brand had reduced its sugar levels because of him.

Instagram Zervaan Bunshah's rant against the lack of spice in Lay’s Magic Masala caught many eyes and prompted a response from the brand saying the original flavour would return soon.

The year of ASCI’s announcements 

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) made a lot of announcements in 2023. 

  • Green claims by any advertisers should be accurate and evidence-based. For this, ASCI's proposed guidelines aimed to bring transparency and accountability to environmental-based ads. They put forth a comprehensive plan that is open for public discussion until December 31, 2023. 

  • ASCI, in August, broadened its definition of celebrities to include influencers having over 5 lakh followers or earning more than Rs 40 lakh per year. 

  • ASCI and Khaitan & Co released a whitepaper delving into Gen-AI and its implications in ad space. It sheds light on potential, legal considerations, and challenges surrounding the use of AI in creating ads.

  • New guidelines were introduced for ads for charitable causes including avoiding using images or themes that cause unjustified distress to consumers and more. 

  • Education was among the top violators of ASCI’s guidelines in 2023. To curb it, ASCI updated its guidelines to ensure that advertisers should be mindful of students’ mental and physical well-being while creating ads. 

  • ASCI lays down a framework for ed-tech advertising and urged the industry to correct the bias, as one of the reports revealed that 49% of parents chose ed-tech platforms based on ads.

  • ASCI revised its influencer guidelines, first introduced in 2021. It wants health influencers to endorse health and nutrition, only if they hold relevant qualifications. Finfluencers (financial influencers) operating in the BFSI realm can offer investment-related advice only after being registered with SEBI. 

  • The government said celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers must give a ‘disclosure or disclaimer’ while endorsing as health experts or medical practitioners.  

  • It launched the ‘ASCI Academy’ through which it intends to train students, and young and old marketers on responsible advertising, and that self-regulation is best practised right at the ideation level of an ad.

  • ASCI has mandated that the advertising budget for genuine brand extensions of restricted master brands has to be commensurate with the extension’s sales turnover.

  • The proportions for the ad budgets are capped at 200% of the turnover in the first two years of the launch of the extension, followed by 100% of revenue in the third year, 50% in the fourth year and 30% thereafter.

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