Abhinav Anand
Planner's Journal

"Bill Bernbach said it’s fashionable to focus on changing behaviours, but we forget what stays unchanged"

In a new series Planner's Journal, we explore what the world looks like from the perspective of those in charge of mining consumer insights every day.

Here’s what Narayan Devanathan, CEO, DAN Solutions, India; chairperson, creative line of business, DAN India; and group executive & strategy officer, Dentsu Aegis Network - South Asia, had to say.

If there’s one piece of advice you could give all brand marketers now, what would that be?

Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Remember, everything is cyclical. Every big crisis feels unprecedented, but situations have a way of correcting themselves, perhaps, not to how they were before the crisis, but to a new normal. Here’s a little secret. Dentsu has endured for 119 years, through two world wars and many natural and industrial disasters, (by) innovating, but also never forgetting the fundamentals. Which is to grow by doing what is right by the consumer, and by society.

What are the top 3 ways in which the Indian consumer has changed? And, how will these changes affect the way brand managers will sell to them (the consumers) in the days ahead?

Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO) once put this very tellingly. We keep asking what’s going to change, but we forget to focus on what remains unchanged. Sixty years back, Bill Bernbach said the same thing even more eloquently, that it’s fashionable to focus on changing behaviours, but we forget that for millennia, we have remain unchanged, that we’re driven by the same base motivations of love, anger, jealousy, affection, envy, ambition, desire, sorrow, fear, and so on. If we learn to focus on these base motivations, rather than fleeting behavioural expressions, then brand managers will know the best thing they can do is (to) not sell to consumers, but make a meaningful difference in their lives (even if it’s with a candy, or a toy).

"I don’t think consumerism will become a bad word. However, we might (I hope) see a new capitalism emerging—a more empathetic capitalism that consciously contributes to equitable progress."

Which product segments will have the toughest road to recovery? And, which categories will bounce back faster than others?

People are irrational creatures, so, it’s tough to predict this. But, one just has to look at the cyclical nature of financial markets to know that many things will bounce back to their original state, a lot will become redundant, or take on a completely new shape altogether. I imagine a few categories that are the most deeply impacted – such as travel and eating out – will bounce back the fastest. A category like automobiles, which was dealing with the impact of the likes of Uber, may see a temporary bounce-back due to people’s need to be sure of their personal space being safe (and not shared).

Are we headed towards a world in which consumerism will become a bad word? What will happen to marketing in such a world?

I don’t think consumerism will become a bad word. However, we might (I hope) see a new capitalism emerging – a more empathetic capitalism that consciously contributes to equitable progress. And that will require marketing that is imbued with the same conscience. That’s not to say we will stop consuming, or marketing `frivolous’ products and brands. But, we will have to become more conscious of the interconnectedness between commerce, society, environment and politics.

Do you see purpose-led brand communication increase, or decrease, in the days ahead?

I hope to see an increase in purpose-led behaviour by brands and businesses, and a decrease in purpose-led brand communication.