Aishwarya Ramesh

"Ad fraud is a moving battlefield": Mastercard's marketing head, Manasi Narasimhan

Mastercard recently tweaked its logo - the brand name was dropped. We profile Manasi Narasimhan, vice president of marketing and communications, Mastercard South Asia. We also spoke to her about the digital advertising ecosystem.

Manasi Narasimhan, vice president of marketing and communications, Mastercard South Asia, has had a long and eventful journey getting here. Her career began with Hindustan Unilever in 2005 post which she worked with Turner International for almost three years before joining Godrej in 2013. Her stint at Godrej saw her occupy the vice president's chair and she continued to work in that position when she joined Mastercard in 2017.

"Ad fraud is a moving battlefield": Mastercard's marketing head, Manasi Narasimhan

Manasi Narasimhan

She bore witness to a changing world, pre and post digital marketing and tells us how the basic rules of marketing don't change, irrespective of the medium you're working with. "Your consumer is a human being; irrespective of what you're selling, you need to understand what his desires and aspirations are."

She explains that the digital medium allows many levels of personalisation, but she is wary of brand conversations on the digital front, "Earlier customers would physically talk to whomever they met. Now, with social media, you can air your opinions to the whole world..."

Narasimhan follows and reads up on social media to stay abreast with what's happening, including attending conferences and forums. "But that's also the beauty of marketing because you always work with an agency ecosystem. Part of it is for them, to also keep you updated. There's always more to learn," she states.

Mastercard is scaling up its digital presence with a newly opened Instagram page and Narasimhan tells us that its ability to create content on digital, with bloggers and influencers, is incredible. "We take our influencers seriously because they are an extension of the brand. We don't pick them exclusively based on their reach; we also review the content that they've published. It's partly art and partly a gut feeling," she explains.

Being very conscious of the brand image, ad fraud is something they are vigilant about. "Ad fraud is a moving battlefield. One of the benefits we have as a global organisation is our standard agencies that we work with. Our media is bought across the world with Carat, a part of the Dentsu Aegis group. Because we buy on such a scale worldwide, we can engage with very specific programmatic buyers and detection tools. It's also my team's job and mine, to be extremely vigilant and track the publishers and influencers we are engaging with. It's a combination of our global scale, the kind of tools and techniques that we have access to, constant training, and complete vigilance both on the part of our media agency and ourselves. One of my worst nightmares is landing on a fraudulent site. We've even blacklisted some publishers; we don't work with them unless safety and fraud prevention measures are in place. It takes years of effort to build a brand; it takes one fraud to potentially damage that reputation," she elaborates.

Beyond digital, Mastercard is also looking at creating awareness among both consumers and SME merchants from Tier II and Tier III cities about going cashless. "Digital transactions have doubled after demonetisation, but 90 per cent of India's transactions are still in cash," Narasimhan points out. She also states that the most common reason for this is the misconceptions that surround digital payments. India is where the brand does a lot of B2C work. "Our first customers are the banks and merchants. But in India, you ultimately have to change consumer behaviour to move away from cash. We used ads that were targeted at mass audiences, using only vernacular channels with eight languages across India and we reached almost over 400 million people with our messages," she says.

"Ad fraud is a moving battlefield": Mastercard's marketing head, Manasi Narasimhan

Irrfan Khan starred in MasterCard's ads for cashless transactions in 2018

To create awareness the brand signed on Irrfan Khan and M.S. Dhoni as brand ambassadors because of the appeal they have in small-town India and the high impact they have on audiences. She also tells us that e-commerce and mobile commerce are opening up in India in a big way. "We work with a lot of the major e-commerce players to substitute cash-on-delivery with online payments. As a brand and a leader in the space, it is our job to keep educating them. So, continuous communication, education, busting myths, growing the acceptance universe - these are some of the ways through which we believe the opportunity to create awareness is massive," Narasimhan adds.

"Ad fraud is a moving battlefield": Mastercard's marketing head, Manasi Narasimhan

M.S. Dhoni starred in MasterCard ads that busted myths about digital payments

Mastercard is also a partner in the Digital India initiative. "We share with them the work that we're doing in consumer and merchant education. For example, last year, we ran a campaign using WhatsApp where we disseminated videos to merchants through our partner organisation - the Confederation of All India Traders. We work with them extensively and they spread the message to 63 million merchants to go digital," she outlines.

"Ad fraud is a moving battlefield": Mastercard's marketing head, Manasi Narasimhan

This ad was about how MasterCard is accepted at all stores, irrespective of size

Narasimhan talks about sonic branding as a defining mnemonic and says it is something she's excited about, adding, "In the whole transition to digital payments, there's a huge opportunity to insert the sonic brand at every stage. Imagine, if every time you tap your Mastercard, you get that signature sonic tune and it's the same when you "check out" from a website."

The company changed its logo recently and we asked her why. She says, "Research revealed that 80 per cent of consumers recognised the intersecting circles. The world is increasingly moving to digital screens where real estate is limited. The logo change will be selectively rolled out in mass-market advertising."

We asked Narasimhan about briefs that were close to her heart. "The first campaign with Irrfan was big because most of it in India was making a fundamental shift in its communication strategy. Primarily, we had been only a B2B2C. This is the first time we decided to put big money behind TV. We work with McCann and Prasoon Joshi is personally involved, it's just incredible," she says.

"The other thing I push my team on constantly is integrated content. We did an integration on Indian Idol. 9XM had a show called 'Bakwaas bandh kar' with two animated characters - they aired a full episode talking about using cards. These are things I'm very passionate about because they move the needle for the brand. It's tough to do it right, but I've learned over the years, that it's extremely effective," Narasimhan signs off.