Chennai@375: How the metrop can Rise and Shine in advertising

25 Aug,2014


Srinivasan Swamy: Chennai deserves a loyal set of advertisers!


Srinivasan Swamy

By Srinivasan Swamy


“Chennai is not a market for ‘creatives’. The action has moved to Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi”

“All big brands have moved out of Chennai”

“Chennai is still an outgrown village”

“Chennaiites are traditionalists”


The dumbing down of the Chennai advertising market is discussed perhaps in all forums – in workshops, in seminars and in the media and internet. But is Chennai really a doggone market? Perhaps Chennai does not offer many opportunities for high adrenaline creative activity these days. But is it the advertiser’s fault or that of the agencies? I will blame it on the advertisers really!


Let’s go back 60 years of the 375 years of the city. There was very little of the advertising industry that was present when J Walter Thompson set its shop in 1955. This was its first venture in the South. JWT then helped build competency by developing art directors, illustrators, scraperboardartists, block-makers as well as printers- the ecosystem that was essential to run the advertising agency business. TI Cycles, Amrutanjan, Madras Motor Insurance and Parry’s Confectionery were perhaps the only notable business then. And capital goods businesses like Ashok Leyland, Massey Ferguson, MRF and Simpson. Even the TVS-promoted manufacturing units came up only in the early 1960s, thanks to TT Krishnamachari, the then Union Minster who encouraged industrial development in the Madras State (which included Tamil Nadu, Coastal Andhra, Rayalseema, the Malabar region, South Canara and Udipi Districts etc.). Some PSUs like the Integral Coach Factory and Neyveli Lignite were in existence then, and many factories like BHEL, Madras Fertilizers and Madras Refineries came up in the ’60s.



Chennai@375: The East and West Shall Meet in the South


Chennai@175: Madras to Chennai – Evolution of media in the last 150 years


With the spate of liberalization, from mid-1990s, Chennai evolved as the Automotive Capital of India with Hyundai, Ford, Renault, Nissan, BMW and Daimler setting up shops one after the other. Consumer products companies like Ponds India was set up in the 60s while Cavinkare came about in the early 1980s, followed by Henkel and Kaleesuwari (Gold winner) from the mid-1990s.


Chennai is on the top of the charts as far as the retail industry and its advertising is concerned.  The groundwork of the concept of the mall and organized retail was laid down in Chennai in the eighties much before it became what it is today. Spencer Plaza and Alsa Mall were the first malls to arrive in the country. Today, any national marketer cannot ignore the business territory of T Nagar. Textile retail brands Nalli, Kumaran, Chennai Silks, Pothy’s, RMKV as do jewelers like GRT, Khazana, Vummidis, Prince et al have been in the vanguard of very clever and innovative marketing to tell the rest of the country how they have captured the imagination of the Chennai and its consumers. Saravana Stores is the first of its kind very successful discount retailer in the world.


Simultaneous to this development, the film industry in Chennai produced more films than even Bollywood. And produced more hits that got re-shot as Hindi films. Many TV commercial producers like Jayendra, Rajiv Menon and Bharat Bala were not just making a mark in Chennai but across India for their high quality productions.


Chennai was also the first regional market to storm the satellite channels. In fact Sun TV was the first private satellite channel to establish uplinking facilities from India, which even Zee and Sony had not done.


Yes, so much was going in favour of Chennai. Advertising was also booming till about two decades ago and from thereon one major advertiser after the other started shifting its base for a variety of reasons. Initially it was not for lack of talent, but for being closer to the larger markets like in automobiles. But over time, Chennai lost its sheen to Bangalore in South and of course to Mumbai, which always was considered the mecca of Indian advertising. Not that Bangalore is doing any better today, but it does have perhaps a few companies like Titan, ITC and UB Group who spend handsomely compared to Chennai-based advertisers. Today many advertisers from Chennai have moved out – Ponds India merged with HUL, Hyundai and Ford went to Delhi/Gurgaon, Henkel got bought and moved to Bangalore and Cavincare shifted out to Mumbai.


It is really the story of the ‘chicken or the egg first’ story. Talent follows work. When work moves out, can talent stay behind? Advertisers deserted Chennai for unsubstantiated reasons. Doesn’t Chennai deserve better!


Srinivasan Swamy is Chairman, R K Swamy Hansa Group


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