‘We are not focussed on in-housing of skills’
FCB India, which turned 60 this year, has been partnering with agencies to add digital capabilities to its offerings. Rohit Ohri tells Venkata Susmita Biswas how the second wave has impacted the advertising industry, and how brands can stay relevant, albeit sensitive, in these times.
Before the second wave hit and IPL was postponed, it looked like brands were gearing up to splurge on advertising this year. What is the sentiment among advertisers now?
This time, the deaths are hitting close to home; people are feeling despondent and are in shock. Helplessness of this nature depresses demand in a big way. People are keeping cash liquid, and not spending it on big-ticket items like cars and electronics. Right now, being cautious is going to be the key behaviour for consumers, marketers and advertising agencies.
Brands are looking at how they should be talking to consumers when different states begin relaxing lockdown norms. Broadly, I am hopeful that in the second half of the year, we will be able to recover some losses. We were seeing a big uptick in sectors like four-wheelers, two-wheelers, FMCG (home care), e-commerce and household appliances. The recovery of the advertising agency business depends on the recovery of these sectors, and these are expected to recover faster than sectors like tourism and hospitality.
Over the past year, how have you equipped the agency to serve the digital needs of clients?
Earlier, when agencies used to ‘innovate’, it was in anticipation of change. Now, we are in the middle of change and what we are doing is necessary, not something that is simply good to have. In the retail space, we have attempted to find a solution to the problem with last-mile closure in the absence of the offline retail channel. We have partnered with Networkbay, a retail experience specialist, to replicate the offline experience online. This could be used for make-up brands to provide simulation of trying on different products. We have partnered with XP&D to build customised offline-to-online OTT platforms for brands. This tool can be used for brands that typically conduct dealer meets, organise large showcases of products or brand launches. We have also partnered with Kinnect, a social media and digital agency.
Our proprietary tool People and Patterns helps brands see how the customer journey has changed, and what they need to do to connect with customers in the new world. When we launched this tool last year, we did a complete training and reorientation of the company globally.
Any plans to add these capabilities to FCB India?
This is a fundamental change in thinking for us. Given the rapid pace at which the environment is changing, we will not be able to scale up and build capabilities to catch the wave by in-housing services. A better way is to create an ecosystem that brands can tap into and get the best quality output. We are not focussed on the acquisition or in-housing of skills.
Are these digital verticals going to bring you the most growth?
We want to keep the focus on creative work and the creative product. Often, during challenging times, one loses sight of what is the most important piece of the business. However, we have modified our creative ambition. Now, it is not just about the best creative work, but about making such outstanding work for every new touchpoint of the consumer journey. And understanding the new consumer journey and using our creative skill to amplify new opportunities is the big bet for us. Retail, offline-online experiences and digital are some of the other key areas.
Brands are coming under fire for being tone-deaf. How can brands continue to advertise in the current times without appearing insensitive?
Consumers have been through a huge emotional upheaval. Brands need to partner with consumers now. They must identify areas where consumers need assistance and help them on the ground. For instance, ITC, a client of ours, has helped set up oxygen beds and imported oxygen concentrators. These efforts will be remembered when the good times come.
Brands that genuinely help and do not offer lip-service will stand out. People are seeing through temporal advertising solutions. And if brands do not have anything to say, they should at least sell their products in a tone-sensitive manner.