During a chat with Campaign India in October 2020, Tarun Rai, former CEO, Wunderman Thompson South Asia, (currently executive director, strategic initiatives, Apac), stated that a goal for the agency was to become ‘digital ready’ and take on businesses outside the traditional advertising space.
A year later, the agency announced the appointment of Shamsuddin Jasani as CEO. Jasani who spent 13 years with dentsu, most of which were as managing director of the group’s digital entity, Isobar, was one big step towards the stated target.
Now that he is on board, in a conversation with Campaign India, Jasani explained his short and medium-term plans.
Revealing the plans, he said, “We will always be a creative agency first, so creative will power all the changes. But the changes will be based on a technology and commerce sphere. That’s the framework of where I think we will be moving. We can’t think about planning beyond two years because everything is changing so fast. My short-term target is how we can be the best in the communications part of our business. We are doing well in this aspect and just need to up our game.”
Jasani added that when the agency is talking to brands, it is offering them solutions across all mediums. “We have Mirum that does a great job as far as digital goes. We need to leverage all the capabilities we have. In some cases we need to enhance existing capabilities, in some cases, we need to add a few,” he added.
On the agency’s one-year plan, Jasani stated that it’s looking to evolve from offering brand experiences to customer experiences.
He believed that Wunderman Thompson’s understanding of consumers has made the agency tick in advertising for the last nine decades and now a natural evolution for the agency would be how it can help brands find solutions over the consumer journey.
“The solutions have been around brand experience using creativity and communications. The natural evolution for us is how we can now use the understanding of consumers to help brands find solutions across the consumer journey. This is what brands and businesses are looking forward to. They want solutions across the entire consumer experience chain including the post-purchase experience,” he said.
Over time when we’ve seen innovations in the advertising space using digital, we’ve always wondered what came first, the creative idea of the technology.
Now, according to Jasani, the duo has been replaced with platforms.
“Earlier creativity was expressed through storytelling. It was more about beautiful artwork, design, and beautification. The platforms and the way they were used were standardised. Now, the creativity comes through how we use platforms and technology,” said Jasani.
He further explained, “Storytelling remains important, but an understanding of technology is imperative. How you express your creativity on each platform is the challenge. Yes, the overall creative thinking comes first but you need technology to understand what’s possible. The challenge now is in how you use new technology that comes up.”
Jasani also believed that brands and agencies need to understand how a lot of the consumer journey is touched by digital.
“The automobile industry is one category which is majorly touched by digital. From an advertising perspective, at every touchpoint digital will play a role. How you drive people from online to offline (O2O) will be extremely essential. You need to make this seamless for the consumer because the consumer doesn’t segregate between online and offline and is just living his/her life,” he said.
No chat with a person who understands digital is complete without a mention of the latest buzzword – Metaverse.
Revealing that these are still early days in terms of marketing using the Metaverse, Jasani stated that brands that take to it will not only get the first-mover advantage but also be able to experiment on it.
“From a consumer perspective, it’s about how they can adapt to this. It has to be enabled with the right technology. AR and VR, and especially the latter, are going to play big roles. From a brand’s perspective, early mover advantage is important. People are going to have an entire life on the Metaverse which is completely different from what they will have in the physical world. The interactions with brands will be completely online,” he said.
Explaining how brands need to tackle the Metaverse, he added, “Right now it’s about building the Metaverse infrastructure as a brand because it’s coming. The speed of adopting it will be different for different markets. Where the technology is available in mass, the growth will happen. Perhaps, a player like Jio, will come in and make it cheap for everyone. Or tech players like Facebook or Google could invest because technology players need to make it accessible for everyone.”
Taking note of the Government of India’s taxation policy on cryptocurrencies during the Union Budget last week, Jasani added, “The Government has also technically (because of the 30% taxation) has given a yes to cryptocurrencies. The Metaverse will transact in digital currencies. So you need to be ready for it. Now is the time to understand it, build it and be prepared."
Wunderman Thompson’s growth
In terms of growth from new business, Wunderman Thompson ended 2021 with 57 new account wins amassing a total of Rs 58.6 crore.
When asked about whether the agency will be looking to more account wins or consolidate the account wins, Jasani said, “We need to consolidate a lot of our offerings and work with existing brands we are working on and offer them our entire services. We want to offer the brand everything under communications. I still call that a new business win when we get to work on other aspects of an existing client’s business. And then of course there’s hunting for new clients which will be critical.”
Jasani further revealed that Wunderman Thompson is looking at inorganic growth which could come its way through acquisitions, as well as the launch of a new health vertical.
Currently, the agency has a revenue split of 65:35 (mainline versus digital) and is looking to move to 60:40 by 2023 as it aspires a 50:50 split in the coming years.
“With Mirum and Wunderman Thompson Commerce, there’s a lot of space to improve. We are also looking at acquisitions in the space of data, technology, commerce, experience design. These are the spaces we are looking at and will fuel the growth agenda of 2x in three years. This will be a part of our growth. We already have so many pieces at play and will be launching something in the health space in India very soon,” he revealed.
Projects versus retainers
A recent trend has seen brands picking agencies for projects rather than getting them on record on a retainer for a long-term basis. While we at Campaign India and many experts have questioned this approach, Jasani explained why he likes this with past experiences.
“There are two parts to this. A lot of it was to do with the last two years and was business-driven. Hopefully, some sort of normalcy will return soon. With the project business, if you have the right kind of relationships with the clients, the business keeps coming back. I have worked with clients like that during my time with dentsu and have seen it work,” he said.
He added that they also allow agencies to do ‘hero work’ and explained, “If you can do great work, it’s as good as a retainer business. Projects are a great opportunity to go up the value chain. For large agencies, it’s important to do that big work and projects allow the hero work. It allows you to do some 'beyond the regular work'."
Trends during Covid
While there have been many changes the pandemic has caused, Jasani picked two and stated that they are here to stay.
“The growth in e-commerce has been phenomenal. The biggest change happened in the 50-plus category because till the pandemic hit, the adoption of commerce and digital was more by the younger audience, up to about 45. The lockdown made sure that consumers in the 50-plus segment started experimenting a lot on their own,” said Jasani.
The second trend he picked was about the way content was consumed on digital, and added that the true result of this will be seen during the auctions for the IPL media rights.
“One of the big things that will happen when the new tender for IPL’s broadcasting for 2023-2028 comes out, it will show how much more important digital has become. From being valued at around Rs 4,000 crores (before the bundled offering by Star India), we will see 2-3x of that number. Premium content on OTT has also boomed. So, for advertisers, the entire content strategy will also be important and not just the advertising strategy,” he said.
According to Jasani, the biggest challenge the advertising industry faces is talent. While many have linked this to remuneration, Jasani disagreed with that being the reason, and explained, “How do you build a sense of culture and belonging when you’ve not actually met people? Advertising is about meeting people and creating stories out of nothing. The vibe that we get from going to the office is missing. We have to excite people and make sure that they’re connected. We need to find instances as an industry to appreciate talent. We need to back the talent too at an industry level. When we were meeting physically, it was easy.”
He concluded with a take on why people need to get back to working from offices, albeit in a hybrid manner. “I’m tilted towards working from office, but not in the traditional sense. It’s about getting people to work together and brainstorm,” he said.