“We’re now India’s only lifestyle and luxury communications company, besides corporate branding and communications. We approach them through design or branding services or something else, but that’s the market in which we operate,” explains Nanda.
Along the journey, the company’s founder believes the people at ANC have ‘truly arrived at who we are’ – which is the lifestyle and luxury positioning. He could possibly speak for the team of less than 35 people in the agency’s only office, in Mumbai. Many of them have stayed for 10 to 15 years, making them company veterans. While many have stayed, Nanda is also paranoid about quality, meaning it would not have been easy to replace them, as he confesses. And as the single office suggests, ANC has been in no rush to expand, making the potential Dubai foray noteworthy.
The creative cum CEO adds, “When you are operating in the luxury or lifestyle space, the quality of execution and craft is supremely important. Even when you attempt to do advertising in this category, design plays a great role. We are absolutely paranoid about quality control, which explains the small team and the single office. What happens here (in Dubai) is something we’ll have to see.”
What eventually happens in Dubai will depend on meetings with potential partners. “If there is a soul-fit, that would be a nice way to kick off. In parallel, we are also thinking about whether should set up a small beachhead on our own. That really depends on how our conversations go. The other thing is, in Dubai, we’d really like to focus on our branding expertise rather than the advertising part,” discloses the Indian veteran.
So while talks are on with some potential clients, the route to market could be either – with a set up or through another established group in Dubai, with ANC’s talent from Mumbai lending branding expertise.
“I know we’ll get business here. Whether that merits setting up here, we’re yet to see. It depends on the partnership and the scale of opportunity. I am quite optimistic, but you can never really be sure until you have the business,” he says.
What has nudged ANC towards Dubai is the resurgence in the market since the economic crisis. Irrespective of the foray, Nanda is clear that while the team of 35 will grow, there is no desire to ‘be massive’.
Looking back, looking out
So does Nanda miss the world of advertising, of which ANC is still a part albeit with lesser reliance? Or is he having a good laugh at what the industry is going through, having branched out early?
“In all honesty, we have not looked back or looked at the ad industry. We’re a bit of an anomaly. We are essentially a group of people who opted out of the ad industry. I’m not trying to be arrogant about it, but I really don’t track the ad industry. We’ve found our space and we’re quite comfortable with that. We work as much with architects and light engineers as we do with brand managers,” he adds.
Nanda explains that staying true to the lifestyle and luxury positioning has paid off for ANC: “The ‘premiumisation’ of India has come back to us in a very beneficial way. We stayed in a small space, and that space is now exploding. There are clients doing projects with us and not their mainstream agencies. There are clients in FMCG that work with global agencies, but when they need to upgrade, they are coming to us.”
The company head notes that ANC’s sharp positioning, focused on lifestyle and luxury, has helped the agency. He reminds us that a narrow niche is not something agencies like to position themselves in, mandated as they are to go after all kinds of business.
He is also quick to add that when it comes to mainstream advertising, ANC is ‘very much there’; it’s just that it’s not the only thing they do.
But then, couldn’t that be said of ad agencies today too, with their many spe-cialist units including ones focused on design? And to add to that, there are specialists like Wolff Olins, Landor and Fitch, in ANC’s home and current market India. How does the differentiation work?
When it comes to corporate identity, ANC does compete with Landor and other specialists, cedes Nanda. For luxury or lifestyle branding, some of them would be called in alongside. Fitch would be called when there is retail design involved, he offers by way of explanation.
And adds, “I am sure all of them are different in their own way. But all these companies bring to the table only a visual vocabulary. Even in branding, we bring to the table a verbal and a visual vocabulary, and we leverage words in design as against leveraging them only in advertising. So that’s our space – but yes, I am sure each of us treads on each other’s toes once in a while.”
Shops like Landor and Fitch coming in, he acknowledges, has expanded the market, by creating an understanding among marketers that ad agencies are incapable of doing the things specialists do.
“In the early days, what Landor or Fitch or ANC was doing would have been expected of the ad agency. They would probably make a pretense of doing that work but they were not capable of it. The more the players, the more we are establishing the need for identity specialists. The opportunity is big; so one should be large-hearted about it,” he notes.
Nanda contends that while a large part of the marketing universe would not find a need to work with design and branding specialists, a large part of marketers who matter to the specialists do appreciate the differentiation today.
Prodded on whether the argument that the ad agencies ‘don’t get it’ is valid anymore, in the context of a global campaign run by an ad agency for an India-based luxury brand, he clarifies: “If we are talking about an advertising campaign for a luxury brand, sometimes an ad agency is able to do a very decent job. When it comes to true premium branding or communication, I think it’s terrible in India. Some of it… if you see the new Jaguar work in India, or what Audi is doing, it just mind-boggles me. It shows a complete lack of understanding of what a luxury brand should be behaving like. But I view it positively. Those are the opportunities.”
Besides initiating its Dubai foray, ANC has also bagged the business of its client, Indian real estate player Lodha, for the latter’s foray into the London market. There are opportunities within India for growth too.
“I see the premiumisation opportunity in India a little differently. To me, the big opportunity in premiumisation is in education. When you have to pay a little more than the cost of a Patek Philippe watch for your child’s annual education fee, you are talking luxury. People don’t get it – that’s the huge opportunity in this sector,” says Nanda.
Services like private wealth management on the other hand are beginning to get recognised, according to the ANC founder. And these categories demand much more than design in the graphic sense, he points out. The creators need to figure out and design the ‘language’ and ‘speak’.
ANC is working with an upcoming school chain in India. He points to an organic milk brand that the company helped create, Sarda Farms, which sells at a substantial premium, citing more categories opening up.