The new CEO talks about the India team's growing prowess, balancing purpose with business, and changing rivals, among other things.
Ogilvy is one of those rare creatures which embraces Ben Franklin's thoughts on writing something worth reading or doing something worth writing to its fullest.
The advertising and marketing behemoth writes some of the best ads in the business and, in turn, sees its work being written about in the world’s media every time.
In the past two years, Ogilvy India has seen its work described as spectacular use of technological creativity. Its 2021 campaign for Cadbury, where it used artificial intelligence to make actor Shah Rukh Khan the face of countless small stores, won a Titanium Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Present-year campaigns for Cadbury and Coca-Cola, which mix technology and creative storytelling, are drawing rave reviews.
“The India office does stunning storytelling,” feels Devika Seth Bulchandani, CEO, Ogilvy. She was promoted to the post in September 2022 and choose India as her first international office to visit after her elevation.
In a press briefing, the new CEO described Ogilvy India as the “crown jewel”. When asked afterwards what influenced her to say these words, she told afaqs!, the India office resembled “a rock band high on unison and with a common ambition to do the most cutting-edge creative work, and an obsession of caring for clients and their businesses.”
She went on to add that the India office, from a business perspective, has been growing faster than most of the other Ogilvy offices worldwide with its “growth rate in the top three.”
Ogilvy, however, would not dare rest on its laurels. It, for starters, is considered a legacy brand in the advertising and business world. Many would term it a handicap when it comes to moving forward, keeping up or staying ahead of the changing times.
Bulchandani is unfazed. “When you have a legacy, you have a perception,” she says and states the best way to deal with it is to keep doing things.
While it battles the weight of legacy on one side, Ogilvy, especially the India unit, is up against young boutique agencies which have cornered the market on building brands out of young start-ups, and piling on the pressure are the creators who are signing deals directly with brands.
She chooses Ogilvy’s content force and influencer marketing solution as sharp tools to cut these pressures down to size.
The former is an 85-member strong team helping build brands from a variety of pillars, the latter is a global offering which will make its India debut in 2023.
GroupM INCA’s India Influencer Marketing Report in 2021 expected the market to grow at an annual compound rate of 25% to reach a size of Rs 2,200 crore.
Once launched, Ogilvy India will take on young influencer marketing agencies such as One Digital Entertainment, Monk Entertainment, and Only Much Louder, among others.
And at some point, says the CEO, “you may need a big audacious idea like what we did not just with Mondelez but Coke,” referencing a fresh campaign where the cola beverage’s bottle lid can only be unlocked via Bluetooth.
She says the work Ogilvy India does, even if it is technology, is always being used for some human benefit.
When asked if the continuous use of technology in creative storytelling may lead to the latter taking a backseat, she admits that while she does not know if it will take a backseat, she is certain of a tide of ideas which are active and can enable something.
When asked about what marketers demand during global pitches, she reveals they are most concerned with your level of excellence in the market and your culture fit.
About the Coca-Cola account win for WPP, Bulchandani says it wanted an end-to-end solution to connect with its consumers in a simple manner. The ideas shined on WPP’s scale and culture fit to the beverage giant worked in the network’s favour.
Ideas have and will always remain an advertising person’s bread and butter. However, the person, in large numbers, has left this industry for more greener and creative pastures like production houses and streaming platforms in India and technology firms have become the go-to place for ad folks in the west.
“There is no magic bullet” when it comes to holding on to people admits Bulchandani. She, however, touches on a few aspects of people management which could stem the said outflow.
For starters, people want a job which aligns with how they want to live their life and “how they want to live their life is not a work-life balance thing.” Second, young people want to work at a place where they feel they are making a difference and not just being paid. And lastly, fair pay matters.
“They are leaving for the tech industry because they want to be at the cutting-edge, the only way to keep them is we should be doing cutting-edge work.”
Advertising folks are always the keenest observers of pop-culture trends, biases, discrimination, and zeitgeists, and it reflects in their work.
Over the past few years, some of the best work has been social-driven and around purpose. However, the purpose may not fulfil business goals all the time making it a tough act to balance.
“If you are going to put purpose at the centre of your brand when you have no right to do it, it will not work and nor should you do it,” states the Ogilvy CEO and revealing they had a lot of candid conversations with clients who wanted to put their thoughts out into the world after the murder of George Floyd in the United States.
While big purpose-driven campaigns have emerged mainly out of ad agencies, they were once worried about a possible takeover of their work from consultancies.
Says Bulchandani, “Consultants didn't put us out of business, we are thriving. Google and Facebook did not put us out of business, they are partners… the truth is we've grown in the last few years as an industry.”
And while the industry grows, an old issue decided to rear its head in Indian adland. It was on the issue of who owns the creative idea, is it the client or the agency?
While there have been varied responses, the Ogilvy CEO was clear. “The reality is that we work on behalf of our clients. I get that clients own the ideas unless we start the conversation differently with our clients to say we are going to partner, that conversation has to happen upfront, the way it exists right now is they own the idea.”
She, however, stated that agencies should get credit for the work they do. “We have to be allowed to talk about the work we do because that is our pride and how our business grows…”