Sanjeev Kotnala: Decoding the D-Code 2019

14 Aug,2019

By Sanjeev Kotnala


The Advertising Club completed the trilogy of Media, Creative and Digital review by introducing ‘D-Code’ in 2018. ‘D-Code’ has a definitive promise.

1. Industry experts expected to focus and share “One Best Work of Theirs”, the genesis, strategic intent, logic, and the result of the successful digital intervention.

2. Share ‘3 Tips On How To Break The Digital Code’, like trends, expectations or tips to maximise outcome.

3. As a bonus, the format promised dhtat industry experts will boldly walk into the not so comfortable arena outside their ecosystem. They will pick ‘One Best Work Of Another Brand’, and share their take on.

The industry experts are expected to do justice to all this in 10 minutes each.


D-Code 2018 Raised Expectations.

2018 proved that the D-Code format was excellent. The speakers were engaging. It was a ‘Paisa Vasool’ event. The audience was hungry with expectations raised bt the   D-Code 2018 edition.

D-Code promised to be a quickie with multiple orgasms. Who won’t fall for it?

Unfortunately, D-Code 2019 edition did not raise the bar. It once again endorsed Content is King, and content more than the speakers is the secret ingredient essential to carry forward a successful format.


D-Code 2019

The organising team at the Advertising Club did an incredible work behind the scene. You cannot fault them as all speakers turned up and surprising them.  The audience was ready for a long session with 13 speakers. They expected the speakers to engage and weave magic with their content and the passion for sharing.

Few speakers made futile attempts to test the Einstein Gravitational Time Dilation theory. In the process, they messed with the concept of relativity in time. It is a known fact that for the audience, time moves fast when the content is relevant and engaging. Sorry, there were hardly examples to talk about in the 2019 edition of D-Code.


D-Code Format Needs Tweaking And Disicpline.

No, the format was brilliant. What was needed is additional guidelines and strict adherence to the code of 2+4+3 format.

1. Two minutes for the ‘Who Am I?’ plugin and the tips.

2. Four minutes, for ‘One Great Work of Theirs’.

3. Three minutes for ‘One Good Work From Other Brand’.

More than a few speakers managed to bring in a superficial reference to the work outside their area of influence and control. The ‘One Good Work From Other Brand’ dissected to add to the audience knowledge. This is what an expert is required to do. Share the ‘Fly on the wall’, an outsider perspective not restricted to the title of the work title as ‘Inspiring’ and move on.


No Decoding Digital Code.

Maybe the ‘Tip’ business, decoding the digital code forced organisers to select the Speaker by name, brand and designation, not necessarily in that order. It placed additional pressure. Many came back with the most used escape route of ‘There is no code in digital’. Wow, so much for the experts and D-Code.

Here, is a silly suggestion: Maybe the organising team can consider doing away with this Digital code-tips business.  It is anyway inferred and part of the other two subjects. Perhaps, we could have one speaker focussing and summarising all the tips and trends that other speakers contribute. It will surely save time and repetition.


D-Code Speakers.

We miss the truth that all industry experts are not best presenters. The Bell Curve is omnipresent. I bet the organising team knows it. What I may be suggesting could be highly impractical but worth considering. I know the names matter in such a format. Pre-select the work, which most likely been done. And then let the associated organisation ask their best presenters to be on the stage. Who may or may not be the CxO.

D-Code is a colossal event. A speaker must respect the opportunity. It is silly for anyone to share working on the presentation until 2am last night. The audience sees that as a last-minute compiling of factsheets. No speaker should take the captive audience through their resume substantiating and justifying what they share and where they come from.

More importantly, in digital, where a quarter is like a decade, stop presenting dated work or meandering and rumbling through the allotted time. These are digital experts. Having done scores of successful presentations, adhering to time should be least to expect. Yes, the speakers spoke of an alarming drop in attention span of consumers. However, they choose to ignore this vital truth while delivering the talk!


The Digital Code Shared @ D-Code 2019.

Everything is not lost. The industry experts and in the process D-Code did not let down the audience. There were some gems of collective wisdom shared in the event. Few presentations were right at the target. And if the gems from D-Code I share below seem cryptic and tough to understand, maybe you should have attended the event.

1. Digital is not about the output; it’s about the outcome. It is valid for any and every initiative, engagement or interruption across media. It is a brilliant observation.

2. Don’t expect the consumer to be perfect, do allow for and/or exploit the spelling errors and exploit it in the search business.

3. Stop attempting to do ‘something cool’. This should guide or kill few discussions.

4. ‘Authenticity’ is an essential ingredient. So is follow-through and amplification.

5. Content needn’t be paid, or a minute long, or 10 seconds short. The idea and the message needs to resonate, and the story need to be told- if it’s a bad idea, 10 minutes isn’t enough. We all know but rarely follow it.

6. Ideas can come from anywhere. Spirit of innovation and ideas must be fostered- whether internal creative, or creative agency / brand partner , or social agency. It is immaterial. Global truth-I.

.Be comfortable with having a couple of ideas that don’t work. If you are not failing a all. You’re not pushing the boundares hard enough. Global truth-II.

8. Brand relevance must be intrinsic to the idea.

9. Organisations have been slow in embracing technology and digital into their core competencies. What was science fiction at a point of time has become a part of real life? Technology is powering our ecosystem. No one will dispute it.

10. Every medium has its own grammar. Build the idea according to the grammar of the media. Do not cut-copy-paste or just make adaptations. It may be worthwhile to spend more on production than media. I seriously endorse it.

11. No matter what the agencies tell you, there is no code for cracking viral communication. If it is timely, apt, relevant, innovative, engaging, and the audience is tempted to share, it becomes viral. Keep listening and latch on the opportunity as and when it comes.

12. Mass marketing is essential to brand marketing and growth. Okay, go and debate it.

13. Deep dive and use consumer data. Listen to the consumer.

14. The biggest truth. The consumer is still a human being. Now we call it being analogue. There is no difference in ‘brand building’ in an offline and online environment. The most important learning.


My Take From D-Code 2019.

Thank god the industry still finds it reasonable to refer to the consumer as an analogue and not some AI-based algorithm.  Emotion and irrationality is still part of the package. Even with big-data and implicit research, consumer reaction cannot be easily predicted. Triggers and levers, as well as right positioning, still matters.

The brand ownership is moving to consumers, and the brand teams now remain just the custodian like the bank manager where you have a locker. Meanwhile, the brands are dying to stay relevant by searching for the elusive cause.


D-Code Special mention Kenny Sabastian.

I suspect that the audience missed the seriousness in stand-up comedian Kenny Sabastian’s presentation. He used his tradecraft to deliver his insightful observations in the garb of humour.

Kenny Sabastian almost single-handily raised the mood. His mantra had a deeper meaning and direction. Be authentic, consistent, intellegent and fearless. Stop boardroom masturbation when you discuss ideas, brands and executions. Stop seeking answers in the numeric led matrices for self-pleasure. Stop taking yourself too seriously. Just be alive, do your best and keep moving forward.

His three wonderful tips for you to decode and imbibe.

1. Learn to create before you sell.

2. Technology chnages, people don’t.

3. Make fun of yourself. ( Don’t take yourself seriously).


D-Code 2020.

D-Code also reintroduced me (and hopefully to a large section of audience) to few o campaigns I have otherwise missed taking note of. I personally loved revisiting Ask Nestle, HaggleBot, Kingfisher’s Instant Beer mix prank, Pepsi Swiggy Swag, Omnipresent Radhika by Netflix, Swiggy’s voice of hunger campaign and the pirated URI implant.

I love the format and the efforts put in the advertising club team, moderator Vikram Sakuja, narrator Punitha Arumugam and the speakers. With minor tweaks and some more discipline, it is bound to a great event. I am in for D-Code 2020.




List Of ‘D-Code 2019’ Speakers In Alphabetical Order. (1) Amarjit Singh Batra, MD, Spotify (2) Jogesh Lulla, COO, Cornerstone Sport & Entertainment (3) Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player (4) Mustafa Ghouse, COO, JSW Sports Pvt Ltd (5) Nirmal Pulickal, Head–Facebook Creative Shop (6) Partha Sinha, VC& MD, McCann Worldgroup (7) Rashi Goel, VP- Consumer Communication Media, CRM & NHW, Nestle (8) Sachin Sharma, Director – Sales & Partnerships; Bytedance (Tik Tok) (9) Sidharth Rao, CEO & Co-Founder, Dentsu Webchutney (10) Srivats TS, VP Marketing, Swiggy (11) Sumeet Narang, Vice-President – Marketing, Bajaj Auto (12) Vikas Agnihotri, Country Director, Google (13) Kenny Sabastian Standup Comedian


 Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior business strategy consultant and educator. His views here are personal



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