Going global

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Aug 2 2007, 06:26am hrs
* Afghanistan-based GSM mobile service provider, Afghan Wireless Communication, has roped in TBWA India to handle its integrated communication chores. This is second time in a row that an Indian advertising agency will spearhead the creative work for a company in that country. In 2006 Ogilvy bagged the advertising account for Afghan Telecom;

* Lenovo, the worlds third largest PC maker, announced last month that it will base its global advertising hub in India, with Ogilvy & Mather India spearheading the show;

* Last month itself, Lowe Worldwide, which is part of the Interpublic Group Plc, announced it will set up a 24-hour production studio in the country to serve clients across the globe;

* Adaptations of Leo Burnetts what-do-you-get-for-Rs-20-these-days campaign for McDonalds is running in about half-a-dozen markets in Asia.

From the looks of it, India is no longer a short-lived blip on the global advertising firmament. After putting up consistent performances at international awards functions such as the Cannes, One Show and the NY Fest over the last three years or so, Indian advertising is in the arc lights more than ever before. Little wonder, Indian softwareand here we are talking of the advertising kindis slowly finding way beyond homeland borders.

Time to ask the obvious question: Is the Indian creative product export quality yet Of course, if two years back someone popped this question, it would have been dismissed as a case of too much time in the sun or in the cellardepending on the hosts own fanciful predilection. But make no mistake, as we talk the first faint stirrings of the movement are becoming are all too apparent. The buzz is getting louder.

To be honest, this business of exporting made-in-India ideas is not fantastically new. Earlier instances of such an exchange are not difficult to come by. If industry banter is anything to go by, Lowes ads for Surf Excel (the hidden-camera-anonymous-brand concept), Dove (the testimonial ads), or for that matter Ariels mother-in-law/daughter-in-law advertising, and Aquafinas launch campaign, that generated a lot of buzz locally were considered for adaptation in other markets in the sub-continent. It has also been documented how Perfetti Van Melle, one of the top confectionery manufacturers in the world, adapted successful Indian advertising campaigns for brands like Alpenliebe and Big Babol for markets in Europe.

But yes, what has happened lately is that the trend has picked up momentum. Earlier, the request (from a client or a network agency) was something along the lines of can you help us. Now its like you are responsible for the regionif not the rest of the world, points out Lowe India president and COO Pranesh Misra. In other words, what has been a more ad hoc practice earlier, has become more formalised over the last three years. For many brands with a footprint in the Asia Pacific region, Indian agencies are becoming the centres for creating ads or even generating ideas. In some cases, some of our ideas traveled all the way to Europe.

Not bad at all. So whats helping India establish itself as the hub of pan-regional advertising More importantly, what are the larger implications for Indian advertising, in general

For starters, cost savings. The advantage of centralising work in India (like Lenovo has done) is that the per dollar revenue goes up, says Ashutosh Khanna, a partner in Korn/Ferry International, who was till recently chief operating officer at Grey Worldwide India. Thats at the basic level, which is also why many companies are outsourcing other kinds of tasks to India.

Take Lenovo for instance, which is looking at a huge 40% reduction in its global marketing costs post consolidation, according to industry estimates. Cost, however, is not our primary concern, Rahul Agarwal, vice-president, marketing, Lenovo India, told FE in a recent interview. The idea is to build a uniform brand identity and improve the average quality of work.

Mark his words: improve the average quality of work. Indeed. At another level, this is also a recognition of the kind of creative work coming out of India, the fact that we have a certain stand-ard and vitality. At the end of the day,it is also an acceptance of the fact that consumer expectations really dont change a lot across markets, points out Khanna. What you expect from your laptop is not much different from what another consumer will expect somewhere else in Asia.

So yes, round one to India. But what next The next rung up the value chain will be when we see India contributing to the strategy development process, that is, get involved right at the beginning of the communication continuum rather than somewhere down the line. That will also happen, Khanna is optimistic, but over the next three to five years.

Arvind Sharma, Leo Burnett chairman, India sub-continent, however, believes we are quite a bit further away. While it is great to celebrate our awards, truth is, we havent won a Grand Prix (at an international awards festival) yet, and while the world is celebrating Titanium, we are focused on television. (The Cannes International Advertising Festival relaunched its Titanium Lion Award in 2005 to recognise the worlds top integ-rated advertising campaign; the award is open to campaigns that can demonstrate creative excellence across a range of communication and media channels.)

His prescription: First and foremost, we have to find a way to attract and retain talent. We are losing talent to other industry because we have not found an answer to the agency compensation issue that really work for the agency, its talent and, of course, the client.