afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

"The world is becoming too logic driven – we need people who can create magic too"

An interview with Kartik Sharma, CEO, Omnicom Media Group India. This is part of a special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 27 of 31.

In 2020, what is that big trend that ought to concern or excite media agencies?

The last few years have seen a lot of interest and investment around owning consumer data, particularly the kind that’s enabled through digital media. While data is important, marketers are losing the art of delivering a great message. Though super-targeting excites marketers, if this ‘personalisation at scale’ is not backed by creativity, then it won’t solve problems. Targeting and personalisation have been embraced to such an extent that good old creativity has taken a backseat. It needs to be brought to the forefront again.

In many categories, as consistently evidenced by good research, it's clear that light buyers are more critical for brand growth. Therefore over-targeting might be harmful. Also, relevant messages need to be crafted using the right context. The big opportunity is to understand how context impacts behaviour. In sum, take more risks, be creative, don’t over-target, and try to understand the context before delivering any message.

In the context of media planning/buying, what's the one global practice/trend India will do well to catch up with fast?

One of the best global practices is measuring the marketing investment and understanding its impact on business. While large clients and brands tend to do this as a matter of routine, many Indian companies don’t. Regular measurement unlocks great value and helps optimise marketing investments.

From a media spend perspective, which product groups do you suppose will be most affected by the economic slowdown that has crept up on us - and least?

The current slowdown has two components - one is linked to our economy and the other, to the corona virus epidemic which is impacting all sectors that have some level of dependency on China. Categories that contribute heavily to the ad-ex and are driven by the economy, such as FMCG, auto and BFSI, will be affected. However, the impact will not be uniform at the company level.

And within that, what consumption trends are you seeing in rural versus urban markets?

For the first time in many years, we have observed low growth in rural FMCG. The rural economy is dependent on many factors, like rural income - which is now stagnating, crop prices - which are falling, and the income of wage workers - which is under pressure as many of them are landless. However, being an optimist, I do expect things to bounce back over the next few quarters. Consumption will grow again.

In the next 12 months, the solution to the digital ad fraud menace will come from...

…technology companies, many of which will be startups. Solutions will also come from countries like Israel that are extremely advanced when it comes to technology, including ad tech.

What kind of specialisation/talent is missing in media agencies today?

In the media business, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand technological changes. The industry, in general, has been low on attracting experts from fields like tech, data science and coding, to name a few. We need people who can blend logic and magic to weave great brand media strategies for clients. The world is becoming too logic driven – we need people who can create magic too.

I wish clients would...

Firstly, pay a fair price to agencies for good quality thinking and execution. Secondly, focus more on understanding marketing effectiveness rather than obsessing over efficiency just because it’s easy to measure. And thirdly, prioritise long-term effects, as opposed to short-term results which lead to frequent changes to campaign designs.

Note: This interview was conducted for the mid-March edition of our magazine afaqs!Reporter. It is a special issue dedicated to the top media planning and buying executives, who service some of India's largest advertisers. Market conditions have changed dramatically since this interview was first written and any apparent obsoletion therein must be seen in that context. To read/download all 31 interviews, please click here.