Ashish Bhasin of Dentsu Aegis on how digital will solidify its position as an important medium in 2020

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Updated: January 03, 2020 10:08 AM

In 2020 digital is expected to become bigger than print

 Ashish Bhasin, CEO, APAC, and Chairman, India, Dentsu Aegis NetworkAshish Bhasin, CEO, APAC, and chairman, India, Dentsu Aegis Network

The Indian advertising industry merely registered 9% growth in 2019, much lower than the optimistic estimates made at the beginning of the year. Ashish Bhasin tells Venkata Susmita Biswas that 2020 could mark a major shift in advertising, with digital becoming a bigger medium, surpassing print. Edited excerpts:

What have been your focus areas as the CEO for the APAC region?
Earlier, I was involved in the Greater South markets, and had relatively less exposure to markets like Australia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. I am working on building a good team to streamline all the operations going into 2020. One of our strengths is that we have one P&L, and we have done well in markets where this model has worked for us. I want to make sure we utilise this strength in every possible market.

How does India compare to markets like China, Singapore and South Korea?
Compared to the size of our economy and population, our advertising industry is still very under invested. Part of the reason is that we have largely been a TV and traditional media market. The cost per spot on TV is probably the lowest in India, compared to any other market. India should at least be double its current size; China is probably seven to eight times bigger than us. So, amongst all the major markets in the world, India has the maximum headroom for growth in the next 10 years.

The past year has been a tough one for the ad industry. What do you think 2020 has in store?
The next year is going to be the first year when digital will become the second largest medium in India and overtake print as a medium. By 2022, the reach of digital and the reach of TV will come very close to each other. In markets that have been ahead of the curve compared to India, like South Korea and China, that inflection point has led to a huge shift in advertising. It will be interesting to see whether India also follows that path.

DAN hasn’t made acquisitions since two years. Have you hit the pause button on inorganic growth?
Earlier, we were coming from a small base and therefore, there was a need to quickly build skill sets. Now, with a robust client offering, the need for inorganic growth is relatively lesser.

The perception in the industry is that agencies have lost their place at the table as business partners. What’s your view?
Yes, we have gone down the value chain and become vendors in many cases, rather than strategic partners; and therein lies the big opportunity. Digital is offering that to us because in the case of digital transformation, we are able to lead the way for the client.

Read Also: Priti Nair on how 2019 lacked great advertising

Consultancies are very good at strategy, but they are not going to be able to implement at scale and at a price that we can. It will be much easier for us (agencies) to move up the food chain, than for them to be able to move down and work at the cost structure, speed and implementation capabilities that we do.

Is the advertising industry losing talent to consultancies and tech companies?
The biggest problem this industry faces is attracting and retaining talent. Today, the options available are significantly more, and as an industry, we are concentrating more on poaching from each other rather than increasing the universe. We have defaulted in our responsibility of creating fresher, high-quality talent.

How long before a consensus is reached on issues such as pitch-fee and undercutting?
Media agencies that are known to undercut each other now have a good general understanding and alignment. We have all come to an agreement that unhealthy business practices will not be followed. There is a need to do the same in the creative agency arena as well. Some initial steps have been taken, but I think we have a long way to go still.

Will a standardised digital video measurement system be reality soon?
Not having uniform digital video measurement is a big weakness for the Indian digital industry. Today, we are at a stage where it’s not enough to have a measurement for digital alone, but to also have measurement systems that can measure across multiple screens. It will take one to two years before this project sees the light of day.

Read Also: Prashant Panday of Radio Mirchi on how he unwinds on weekends 

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