Indian ad industry needs to be more outward-looking: Sanjay Nazerali

03 Aug,2017


By A Correspondent


We interviewed Sanjay Nazeraliat Goafest this year. That’s way back in April. And for some reason, we couldn’t use this interview then, because we had a bigger big story coming up every day, and this one deserved that status. Nazerali is Global Chief Strategy Officer at the Dentsu Aegis Network where he “works with account teams to collect, nurture and explode ideas that deliver outstanding business value”. He also co-ordinates with DAN strategists across the the world to ensure they “deliver original, ground-breaking insight and strategy for all our clients”.

Following an MBA at INSEAD, he was appointed Senior VP, Marketing, at MTV Europe.  Sanjay then founded a Top 50 media insights agency, The Depot, before joining BBC News as Global Director of Marketing, Communications, and Audiences. Excerpts from an interview (do note:this was conducted in April 2017):


The Indian marketplace has been going through a fair number of changes over the last few years, and since 1991 when liberalisation happened, and over the years with the start-up culture, consumerism has touched a new high. As you look at India from a global point of view, where do you see us versus the rest of the world?

India is growing faster than Google. India has growth rates that are quite extraordinary and particularly giventhat it is a relatively liberal environment and it’s a democracy, that’s really powerful. However, within the advertising community I do not believe that the rest of the world is yet seeing the power of the work that comes out of India. One tiny little example which I accidentally stumbled across in an awards show was the Tata Tiago, and how very quickly that was rebranded from Zica, and how it was rebranded from Zica by asking people’s opinions. It was in a very very short space of time, and then essentially turning what was a problem to an advantage. Now, there are many major brands that operate globally which I have not seen react with that kind of agility and so I don’t believe that our work in India is necessarily showcased appropriately internationally.


And why do you see this happening? Is it because people don’t take India seriously or is it because a Tata brand is inconsequential in the world order?

I thinkIndia doesn’t think of itself as being globally consequential in the same way. I really don’t. When I judge awards, I rarely see campaigns coming in from India. Why? Why does the industry here not submit more to Cannes? Why doesn’t it submit more to Festival of Media?It should be doing it, because India is delivering some of the most exciting work that I’ve seen. I’ll give you one small example of this; the world is talking about brands moving from positioning to purpose, and the world of brands within society.Well, I watched some awards recently in which every single campaign was pretty much about a social purpose. Why is none of that work being showcased around the world? India seems to be leading the way in that sense.


But is it possible that because of the kind of the fees that come with the awards, is that one of the reasons why people may be kind of weary?

I’m not sure that I can answer the question around fees. What I can say is, my experience of the Indian advertising industry is that it’s very powerful but it’s also quite inward-looking. And I would love to see it become more outward-looking.


We’ve read various articles of yours and your views that the modern marketer should be bracing itself forthe current tide. If you look at the Indian circumstance and the Indian environment, whether it is the homegrown advertiser competing on the world stage, or somebody who’s coming from outside, who’s getting set to conquer the country – are there any special traits that you think people should look at for India? On how to be successful in India. In terms ofmarket spends, use of media…

I don’t think there’sa rule as such. I do know one thing, which is that the adoption of social media here is vast, and if you are not going to be part of the conversation, then you’re in a difficult place already. So I think that certainly one thing to consider is the sheer volume and power of the Indian consumer conversation. But I think there are otherspecific things within this market which are really important; something that I’ve seen happen through my lifetime is the difference in India saying “Oh my God, that’s wonderful, it’s imported, it’s foreign goods” and today the sheer level of pride in Indian produce and Indian-owned products. So I think nationalism – and I don’t mean this in a protectionist Donald Trump-type way, but I mean genuine pride in India – is something people do need to understand.


Is there a sentiment that what is produced in India is not on the same level quality-wise as MNC-produced, because of the R&D and QC gaps? A case in point being Patanjali? Because along with the nationalism and pride, there is also the view that some people don’t really have faith in the quality of the product and the kind of research that goes into making of the product vis-a-vis what is produced by a transnational corporation.

In certain Indian software, that is not true. I’m going to to tell you a story which really shocked me.Last November, I was kindly invited by Google to go and visit their campus in Silicon Valley.Beautifully warm, I was sitting outside and I looked around and I said to my host, Google is an Indian company; every single face here is Indian! There are Indian couples sitting on the benches eating tiffins together at lunchtime. You go into the canteen there and there are five types of food – you have Punjabi, you have Gujarati, you have South Indian food… So I don’t think that is true in terms of digital product at all. I think it’s probably true in terms of physical product, but I think India, as the gravity of perception moves towards soft products rather than hard products, I think that perception changes.


You have a strong Indian armas far as Carat is concerned,on the back of the Mondelez win, and now you have the Marutiwin. Is there any specific agenda that you have for your team here to look at things differently from theexisting big dads?

Yes, and its one I’m absolutely passionate about, which is simply this; today, we need more specialists than we’ve ever had before in marketing, you know once upon a time, life was easier where the client funded everything, the ad agency who made it and the medium where it played out. You now have a hundred and fifty people on any given campaign, you’ve got the paid social specialist, you’ve got the organic social specialist, the paid search specialist, the data stack developer, you have everyone. How are you going to get them to work together? And that to me is the single-biggest agenda point that I have, which is in one word – love. If you do not love, respect and collaborate across various disciplines, you will never deliver an integrated campaign for clients in today’s world. And I know I’m using a fruity word like love but fundamentally, this is about collaboration.


But people do work in fiefdoms, especially in the creative world.

Yes and that is absolutely my agenda, which is, smash down the fiefdoms, make it in everybody’s interest, for everybody else to win. Make that win collaborative because you can get 90% of the campaign right, you’ll then fall down on paid social and the entire campaign will disappear.


But do you think the existing people, because they come with their own baggage, can implement that change, or do you need some outsiders to infuse a fresh deal of…

Well, I think it’s a little bit of both. I’m using fruity words like love and respect and all this, but you can look at this in respect of hard commercial terms.How can I incentivise you financially to work with that person over there? Can part of your bonus beactually based on the extent to which you will or won’t collaborate as judged by them? Now the moment you start getting into those sorts of hardcore rate chart matrix, you start to drive a different kind of behaviour. If I know my bonus is contingent on you appreciating that I’ve collaborated with you, hey I’m going to collaborate with you.


Do you think that’ll happen?

So withinDentsu Aegis’ network we’ve taken one step towards it; we were the first group to do that, which is we have a single country P&L across all ofDentsu Aegis. Now that I think is an incredibly important move and you know, two decades later or a decade later [Martin] Sorrellhas his version of thisthat he’s trying to do. If we are going to work best for our clients, and we have to think about clients, the hand that feeds us, you have to collaborate, and to me that is my biggest agenda point, which is to change the behaviour of agency groups.


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