1. Face off: ‘We’re not a ‘TV spot’ agency’, says Philip Brett, President, TBWA Asia

Face off: ‘We’re not a ‘TV spot’ agency’, says Philip Brett, President, TBWA Asia

After spending a decade in India, TBWA still finds itself among agencies which are looking to find a firm footing in the country. But now, with a new India CEO — Govind Pandey — and new solutions platforms called Disruption and Disruption Live, the agency is geared up to finally make its mark in the Indian market.

By: | Updated: March 1, 2016 1:44 PM

After spending a decade in India, TBWA still finds itself among agencies which are looking to find a firm footing in the country. But now, with a new India CEO — Govind Pandey — and new solutions platforms called Disruption and Disruption Live, the agency is geared up to finally make its mark in the Indian market. BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali speaks to Philip Brett of TBWA Asia about plans for India and where the focus of the agency lies. Excerpts:

TBWA chooses to position itself as a disruptive agency. Do you see advertising and disruption as one and the same thing?

There are disruptive agencies but we’re the disruption agency. It is something that has defined TBWA forever. Jean-Marie Dru developed the idea of disruption some 25-30 years ago. In the current language, the best way to explain it is that it is our operating system. It is a tool that we use externally according to a client’s plan.

We’re not an agency that believes in maintaining the status quo. Look at our founding clients, like Apple… they are brands that have challenged the norm. So, we’ve always lived with that.

Disruption looks at the convention of a marketplace. Everything we do as people, brands or companies, is driven by conventions. There are unwritten rules of life which you follow without challenging. What disruption tries to do is to identify which one of those conventions needs to be challenged. Disruption is figuring out how to reach your audiences in a different way, and that doesn’t always mean a 30-second TV spot. It could be a 30-minute movie.

But would you say that disruption doesn’t necessarily equal digital?

It can be anything. For example, if you take sports brands that talk about performance, there are Nike and Adidas which claim what you wear is what makes you an athlete. If you add disruption in that category, the message will change to: it isn’t what you wear but what you are on the inside that makes you a better athlete. Going ahead with this, the message can then be taken across different directions but it doesn’t always have to mean communication through a TV commercial.

When you look at conventions, sometimes it can be a packaging problem; it could be that the advertising is wrong or the target audience is wrong. When you have found the key convention, what you need to do is challenge it and when you do that it will lead you to some form of disruption.

TBWA then is open to developing brands via solutions in packaging, design, etc, and not just through advertising. Correct?

What we have always tried to do is develop great brand ideas and they could be around product, packaging, positioning, audience or communication; we are not a TV agency.

Govind Pandey joined recently. What are the changes we can look forward to?

We have a goal instead of a prescribed series of outcomes. We want this office to become a genuine TBWA India office, a quintessentially India company. We are not the network that shapes from the top down. Govind will set the template for that. A lot will come down to him choosing the path for the agency.

What we don’t want is to be big. That might be a side benefit one day. Big has never been at the core of what we do. In a market like India, the goal would be for every client and every employee to know why they work with or for TBWA. If they know that, then everything is working. If we are living up to our promise of delivering disruption, we are delivering an environment for great talent. From there on, size and performance will follow.

Job number one is to make sure that we continue to look after our existing clients of whom there are some pretty important brands in the Indian context. A lot of agencies pull the growth lever and the clients start to leave. The order should be client retention, client focus and then growth. What Govind will spend time on is get his team set, get the product and people aligned, cater to current clients and only then focus on new business. Govind hasn’t come into this job to create a mini McCann. The TBWA brand gives him an opportunity to be something different in this market.

TBWA’s global image is far edgier than its Indian counterpart. What learnings can be applied here?

India often operates in a bit of a vacuum. For the last 18 months, we had a slightly different leadership profile. What you will see from now is a lot more involvement in the network. We’re not a prescriptive network so we won’t say this is what one should expect. Govind is driving this agency and we’re all here to help him as and when he needs it.

What is the scope for Disruption in India?

India is absolutely perfect for Disruption. It is one of the only markets where you’re seeing power brands in a domestic context fighting international brands. People here have to do things differently. Jugaad is that belief of constant improvisation, constantly having to make sense of things. How do you take Disruption to a disruptive market? India is one of the most culturally dense countries. People talk about China and India as if they are comparing but China has one language and broadly has a few religions. But India needs to be approached in a completely different way.

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