afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

“There’s no economic slowdown – it’s temporary sluggishness"

An interview with Ashish Bhasin, CEO APAC and chairman India, Dentsu Aegis Network. This is part of a special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 19 of 31.

What, in your view, was your agency's best campaign of 2019? What about it impressed you?

Our biggest delight was Dentsu Webchutney’s victory at Cannes Lions. They were way ahead of their competitors – established, old world creative agencies included. To me, that’s a watershed moment because we’ve reached a stage where there’s no distinction between a creative agency, a digital agency and other kinds of agencies. We also swept the awards at Goafest, Kyoorius and others. I’m not referring to just one campaign; the work includes campaigns like Flipkart’s ‘Hagglebot’ and Swiggy’s ‘Voice of Hunger’, that combined creativity and technology.

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

2020 is going to be a landmark year because it’s the first time we, as an industry, will cross the $10 billion mark. It’s also the first time digital will become bigger than print. In India, we never thought this would happen. For the first time, more than 30 per cent of all digital advertising spends will be on mobile. Voice, video and vernacular are the three thrust areas for Indian advertising.

I’m concerned that we’re not attracting and retaining the right kind of talent. The quality of people coming in is worse than the quality of people going out. As agencies, our focus has always been on poaching talent from each other, instead of attracting the right type of talent into the industry in the first place.

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

Accountability. Nowadays, clients are interested in performance metrics and ROI. But in India, we don’t even have our key metrics and measures in place. Also, we’re ‘silo-ising’ our customers by thinking of ‘TV only’ or ‘print only’. We tend to see consumers uni-dimensionally. We need to use big data to target consumers more effectively, minimise media wastage, and personalise our advertising.

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?

There is no economic slowdown. That’s a bit of a myth. Sure, there’s been an overall drop in growth rate, but there’s no need to panic. India is still one of the fastest growing markets in the world. When there’s double digit growth in a $10 billion market, it’s not a slowdown. Yes, we are used to seeing 15-20 per cent growth and that's not going to happen this year, because there is general sluggishness in the economy, but it is temporary.

Every year, there are some sectors that do well and some that don't. But some sectors are evergreen advertisers, like FMCG and e-commerce.

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

Rural markets are going to be very important because in many categories, urban markets have nearly 100 per cent penetration and have reached a point of saturation. A mega-trend today is the urbanisation of rural markets - with electrification and the availability of internet connections, there’s reason to be bullish. People across tier IV markets are coming out and becoming a consuming class. This is why vernacular communication and localisation of media is so important - a person in Meerut can't get the same message as a person in Mumbai. Also, a good monsoon will spur rural demand, which, in turn, will be good for advertisers and the economy.

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

I don't think digital ad fraud is that big an issue in India. Yes, it's something we need to watch out for, but there are bigger issues to deal with – we don’t even have a standardised way of measuring views; one medium might count a three second watch as a view whereas for another medium it could be ten seconds. If you don't even have standardised measurement, what are you measuring the fraud against?

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

Specialised talent is being attracted, but the overall quality of people entering the advertising industry has come down.

I wish clients would…

…take more risks. In India, clients are relatively conservative. In a dynamic market like ours, we should be experimenting more, taking more risks, and pushing the envelope.

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.