Gokul Krishnamurthy
Jul 16, 2013

‘Masterminding the brand is very important’

Prasoon Joshi, the craftsman who has scripted ‘Bhaag Milka Bhaag’ which hits screens on 12 July 2013, got into conversation with Gokul Krishnamurthy at Goafest. The executive chairman and CEO, McCann Worldgroup India, and president – South Asia, reflected on the blending of craft and science for brand communication, content and formats, data (and the acquisition of End To End Marketing Solutions), co-existence of craftsman and marketer as one, and more. He was just out of a debate, speaking on relevance of creative agencies with fragmentation of media. No marks for guessing which side he was on. Edited excerpts.

‘Masterminding the brand is very important’

You’re working on many formats of content, even as content has become everyone’s game. And there is the view that advertising content has become less interesting. Your thoughts…

Creativity is creativity. Content is content. And the compartmentalisation is reducing now.
Earlier, when someone like me did so many things, in addition to advertising, people would say, “Oh! You are going to do this now? So you are shifting to doing content? You are shifting to doing films or television?” And I said ‘No’. It’s all part of the same thing. We manifest ourselves in various ways and that’s exactly what brands are doing today. Brands are manifesting in various ways. It could be through music, through poetry, through content in films. And people are seeking them out.

A lot of clients are talking about the Doordarshan era, about how advertising was very entertaining then, and how nobody finds it entertaining now - about how they are finding it intrusive now and how they don’t want to look at it.

Yeah, but the content in that era was not that great. Today the challenges are more, because the consumer has many more choices.

But it doesn’t mean that the role of creativity has gone down. Actually it has gone up. You have to find more ways to entice, to engage the consumer. And for that you would always require ideas. And in today’s time, it is a lot more important that the brand’s intent is to add value to people’s life, because the consumer is connected today.

The consumer knows; they are talking to each other. As I said, today you are not going to sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo, because Eskimos are connected and they can find out that they have been sold something they don’t need. I will pose the question to marketers, to manufacturers: Are you creating something which is adding value to life? Because if the consumer doesn’t see that, he basically questions your intent and then he finds you very intrusive and doesn’t want you to be a part of his or her life.

Even if you are getting into his life through content of popular culture, tomorrow he is going to reject that content also - because he is going to begin expecting more transparency than ever before.

Companies which will do well are those which will create value for people. And in doing that and communicating that, companies are reaching out to creative people for help. So the role of creativity has increased. Whether it is media which has creative people or creative agencies that have media people is irrelevant and inconsequential to the consumer. What is important to the consumer is that are you engaging the consumer, if you are interesting to the consumer. That value needs to be created through ideas and role of ideas have become very important.

Let’s take two steps back to an announcement that happened yesterday or day before on the acquisition in Bengaluru – McCann announced the acquisition of End to End Marketing Services. What is your take on data, and how do you handle the business side of McCann?

I am a creative person and I know the business I am in. I have also gone to a business school (smiles).

I am never against data, I am never against analysis, I am never against finding where I am going and that’s the reason we have invested in End To End, which is a data company which is going to make sure that we hit the target much better. Combining it with great ideas makes your strength double.

I am not interested in silos; I am more interested in collaboration. I am more interested in a symbiotic relationship and that’s what clients are also interested in. I met a manufacturer on a flight. He said, “I have never advertised and I want to advertise. I have heard about you. Would you be interested in my business?” Now he does not know that media planning will be done by someone else or buying will be done by someone else and there will be a planner and so on - he is not interested. He is interested in solutions.

Solutions are required by the client and those are required by consumer. In between, we should not make a mess of it and we should not make it seem like rocket science. It’s common sense. We can solve it with common sense, but there has to be some sort of large heartedness and ability to accommodate. We have to have statesmanship to be able to take such large decisions, because nothing is sacrosanct. We have created this industry and we have created the silos - we can absolutely finish them as well. It is up to us.

Does the data company work better aligned with the creative agency? What was the thought process for End To End and how will it work within McCann Worldgroup?


We have a CRM agency call MRM which is a very well known company worldwide. And we have a big client roster. They needed the support of data analysis. We felt that they will become much better, if they have the support of a company like End To End, so we combined it. It’s going to help them more. Even for us, B2B is also a very big business opportunity. It’s growing everyday and people are interested in more focused efforts. And for that, you need certainty and you need database, you need tools and you need experts. So that’s the reason we have invested in it.

I am never interested in hiring a couple of people; I am always interested in hiring skill sets. I am always interested in hiring tools and patented tools which they have developed and that’s what has made us invest in this company.

You spoke about this sometime back - talent from other realms. People are doing it in some places, experimenting with it in markets like Singapore. We haven’t seen it really take off in India, right? And what about digital talent?

In my agency we do it a lot, because of the kind of person I am. I deal with a lot of creative fields. I deal with theatre, I write songs, I write film scripts and I have just finished writing a film ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’. Now that film is much awaited and a lot of clients have shown interest - I am trying to integrate a lot of products there as well. Since people know my interests and my profile, and how discerning I am towards creative people and how I see creativity, a lot of people approached me from various backgrounds. I hired a scriptwriter from a stand up comedian’s team. I went to a show and saw the acts and I asked who the writer was. And the guy was introduced to me. I offered him a job. He works with me.

Sometimes, you know, people come with scripts and I tell them, “Listen, you have written a script but you can do a great job in advertising. There is a great requirement for people like you”. And I have hired such people. The girl who has written this film ‘Vicky Donor’,  Juhi: she used to work me. We have a lot of those people actually.

It will be unfair to say that we are not conscious of people who are good at digital. In fact, I have got people who design games now, in-house. I have people who can design apps. It’s about finding talent and I think we are assuming that agencies like us are not aware of that. We are definitely aware of that.

Someone like me should be the last one to be asked that question because I have always dabbled into many fields myself.

We spoke with people from McCann Health recently. Are specialist divisions becoming more significant in the emerging scheme of things than the main creative agency?


No. We feel that there are specialists and generalists and they should work together. And there is a special skill set which our healthcare people have. They come from pharma backgrounds. They understand the needs of pharma clients much better. As a result, they can design solutions for them which are tailor-made.

But at the same time, we should not forget that they are also talking to consumers. So they have to align themselves with people who are specialists in understanding of consumers. On the one hand, you need an understanding of clients’ product and the nature of client. On the other hand, you can never not have understanding of consumers which is always required. So when these people come together, I think you have a great solution.

So we have the divisions like MRM or Momentum or Healthcare or Craft, but at the same time they are aligned with McCann Erickson - and then comes the great solution.

If specialised content is getting consumed, wouldn’t specialists be better creating it?

Yes and no. The brand is very important to understand. You might be a great game designer, but you might not know what is required for this particular business or client. It could be a great game, but if it is not manifesting the brand values then it is just a suspended game which could be enjoyed - but it does not help the brand. We have to do subliminal messaging with what we are doing.

So even if you get the specialists, you have to train them. You have to make them understand what the brand strategies are, what the positioning is, what the brand’s DNA is, how to manifest it correctly, how to adhere to a certain guidelines and not go haywire. That’s very important. That’s why masterminding the brand is very important.

In many cases, it seems that the same content is working all across, in different formats. So why are we looking at different kinds of content, and not just split it by format and duration?


It’s a debatable question because sometimes you require a very specific kind of content for a specific medium.

When I did this commercial for Happydent, I remember getting that as a viral. Somebody had sent it to me but they did not know that I had done it. And they said, “Have you seen this commercial? It’s quite funny.” It came to me through a tweet and e-mail.

Would you call it a television commercial or would you call it viral? The line is blurring there. If the content is infectious, it becomes viral. It’s about the quality of content. As I said, Anna Hazare being such an old man resonates with the youngsters of the country. Why? Because his idea is young. His idea is something which is infectious. And as a result it becomes multimedia. It becomes 360. It gets manifested in content form, people write songs about corruption with him, people make posters, masks and stuff.

In today’s time, people also want to contribute. Co-creation is also going to happen. The consumer is going to contribute if he likes an idea. And that’s the dream of a marketer or an advertising agency - to create an idea, which on its own starts traveling. That’s the masterpiece. That’s what Coca-Cola often calls, you know, ‘Liquid and Linked’. An infectious idea is liquid, it flows from one field to another.

If you look at it, it’s not something which has happened today. Look at Walt Disney work. You have theme parks around those characters today, you have toys around them now. And what not! Those characters are so infectious that they start manifesting themselves in other forms.

You have to have something which can be expressed in various forms. Sometimes people just do tick-marking: I have done digital, I have done a game, I have done an app, I have done a commercial. That’s tick-marking. The core idea has to have the potential to travel.

I was very fortunate to spend some time with Mr. Spielberg when he was here (in India). And, you know, I asked him, “You make films and I have seen your personal belief reflecting in the films.”  For example, I told him about ET. He praised me for this question. I asked him the questions based on whatever I had heard.

At the time in the United States, most people were worried that aliens will come and do something. And those were the themes for the films – that aliens will destroy. He had said somewhere that his father used to be very fond of astronomy, and used to tell him, “Look at these stars. How can someone come from there and destroy us? They are so beautiful. If someone who will come, they will come to share or to love us.”

He had the guts and courage to take the child’s belief to a mega blockbuster film. I said, “How do you get so much of courage?” Because I see very few people with so much of personal conviction who come out and do it. One thing is to share it with people. It’s another thing to spend multi million dollars on the project.

That’s exactly where the truth is. If it strikes a chord with you then it will strike a chord with millions. That’s what your belief is. And that’s what you have to go with. That’s what your gut feel is. And I think that’s where we need to invest. After a point you have to rest the data and you have to believe in your gut feel. Believe in dreams. That’s where brands have to go.

One last thing on research – testing of ads. Where is that headed?

The best of my clients use data to test the negatives, to see if they are going grossly wrong somewhere. But they trust their gut, and they have a gut feeling. They say, “Somehow it feels right.”
You know what Einstein said. And it was Einstein telling us - that the most valuable thing in the world, is intuition.

Also read: VIDEO: Campaign India 1-on-1 with Prasoon Joshi


Campaign India