Thursday, June 21, 2007


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri checks out this contentious issue...

The friendly neighbourhood cynic is unstoppable. It’s the return of the East India Company, folks! The multinational juggernaut blitzes ahead, full steam, with most (all?) of our hot-shot shops aligned, associated or in partnership with any one of the global (WPP, Dentsu, Publicis, Interpublic, Omnicom...) giants. In this backdrop, where do the ‘local’ pipsqueaks feature? Further, with globalisation a frightening reality, prompting even some die-hards, traditional, conservative sarkari PSUs to hit the ‘firang’ button, is it the beginning of the end for the desi players? Is it time for them to quickly pull back, see the big picture and re-invent themselves to this new-age environment with a work ethic designed to deliver real, palpable, tangible value... transition from a 24x7 glorified supplier mode to a solid, professionally-driven, service provider of result-oriented communication solution? Hey, this is really hot! Let’s see what the ad-frat has to say...

Rajiv Nayyar, CEO of the Delhi- based Perfect 10 advertising agency, is unfazed, but a trifle piqued. “I really don’t think it’s fair to label all non-multinational ad agencies as glorified suppliers! Fact is, we all operate in the service sector, right? Can any single multinational agency, anywhere in the world, touch their hearts and swear they have never ever conceded, given-in or compromised with a tough, rigid and impossible client when crunch time arrived? It is important to remember that advertising is, first and last, a business. Ego, aesthetics, personal belief, vision and everything else, takes a back seat.” Moving to the issue at hand, Nayyar confidently confesses that his agency has never really faced any heat because “We operate in two different spheres. Multinationals (mostly) are comfortable dealing with multinationals, but India is a vast and complex market and there is life beyond multinationals.” While he agrees in principle that these agencies definitely bring a very high level of sophisticated expertise to the table, the point is, most of it is usually not required for the Indian corporates. Besides, many times, this hi-funda mindset acts as a roadblock in probing and understanding real insights that could provide solutions, “As for Indian clients opting for global agencies, mostly, it’s to attain snob value... proudly tell their peers that they are aligned to a hot global name!”
Newfields Advertising’s Managing Director, Raman Gupta, takes the case forward. A second generation adman – the agency was started by his (late) father, fifty years ago – whose organisation deals only with PSUs and government agencies, he reinforces Nayyar’s argument in his own special way. “There was, and continues to exist, a sense of fear within some agencies regarding an imminent and inevitable takeover by the multinational agencies. I think it’s all bullshit!” Gupta goes on to explain the rationale behind his colourfully descriptive adjective. India is neither a small place nor a uniform, one-size-fits-all country. It is a vast and complex terrain where every region and state lives in its very own special universe. The primary task of a professional communicator is firstly to understand this basic premise and then sensitively decode the complex sub-text that defines the psychographics and demographics of this space. You don’t have to be either a PC Sarkar or Einstein to figure out that an Indian, rooted and home-grown agency is more likely to crack it than a hi-fi global name. Why? “Because without fuss or frippery, we get to the essence straightaway and come out with the desired solution.”

Gupta confides that many of his clients (tempted by others), did hire multinational agencies only to kick themselves later. “Their attitude and arrogance really shook them up!” At the end of the day, he believes, both can co-exist harmoniously because the “India” and “Bharat” divide is real and globalisation has only re-affirmed it in no uncertain terms. Lloyd Mathias, the affable and dynamic Marketing Director of Motorola is amused, “I think it is a huge misconception on the part of some Indian ad agencies to believe that multinational agencies are out of sync with the Indian reality. Apart from top-of-the-line global perspective, alignment and shared experience of similar forays played out in other countries, relating to the product advertised, they are fully capable of bringing outstanding insights to the table embracing local colours that make a difference.” He speaks with pride and confidence about his agency (Ogilvy’s) campaign for Motorola (the Abhisekh Bachchan TVC) and states that “it is a classic example of global perspective wedded to local roots.”

Cyrus Batliwala, Director, Corporate Comm. of a large multinational, joins the party with all cylinders firing, “Let’s cut out the crap and cut to the chase! Indian agencies neither have the attitude, aptitude, resources (people), infrastructure or dynamism to match their global counterparts. An Ogilvy, Lowe, Bates, JWT, McCann or Saatchi & Saatchi can never be compared to the local agencies because of the solid value-addition they bring to the table. Their entire focus is about delivering value that will make a difference. They bring knowledge, expertise, passion and purpose in a seamless fuse. The Indian agencies (in most cases) continue to live in a time-warp and play their pathetic yes-sir, no-sir games with their unprofessional clients, terrified of rocking the boat in case the account is lost.”

He adds that the funny part is that if you have courage and conviction backed by solid knowledge – the toughest clients anywhere, will always listen to you and respect your perspective.“ In most cases, these guys are not ad practitioners; they are halwais!!” he says and alleges that, for them, advertising is a dhanda, not a vocation, profession or calling that is engaged in marketing creativity to benefit the manufacturer, brand and the customer.

Rahul Jauhari, the Executive Director of Rediffusion DYR, concludes this debate on a saner and a more tranquil note, “It is a question of who does better work and comes up with brighter ideas. An MNC is essentially a bigger setup – more organised and with wider reach. A client who needs a bigger setup will prefer an MNC but the critical differentiator is quality of work.”

Eventually, it’s not so much about value judgement or which kind of agency is going to score more brownie points. It’s really about what each individual agency believes in, stands for and the direction they wish to pursue... After all, India Inc. is full of stories about the rise and rise of the desi entrepreneur, in the face of intense competition from their multinational brethren, right? What say Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma, the Dhoot family of Videocon and a dozen others? 


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