MullenLowe Lintas Group, a legacy advertising agency network, is reinventing itself. Virat Tandon speaks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about developing new areas of expertise within the group, revival of the advertising business, and how brands must be cautious and consistent when making a social statement. Edited excerpts:
Has business been able to return to pre-Covid levels in 2021?
During the second wave lockdown, conversations with clients slowed down. Otherwise, it’s been very good from a new business point of view. We won business from AkzoNobel, Whirlpool, Cleartrip, GSK’s vaccine business, OLX Auto, MFine, and OkCredit. We are now very close to pre-Covid levels. If it were not for the second wave this year, we would have crossed 2019 levels. By the end of CY2022, we expect to exceed pre-pandemic levels of business.
Two years ago, you spoke about unifying teams and offering hyper-bundled solutions. How has this strategy helped?
We executed several hyper-bundled campaigns in 2020 and 2021. The Main Bhi India Police campaign, which encouraged people to do self-policing at home, was one such. We have executed others for brands like Tata Motors and Ampere, too. In fact, about 15% of our new wins are hyper-bundled mandates. These include services like consulting for brand architecture and identity, design strategy, advertising solutions, earned media and buzz marketing. Sometimes, we can also provide experiential services. We have a creative technology unit that creates websites, apps, voice, and gaming experiences. In fact, gaming-led experiential creative to drive the brand proposition is gaining popularity. We are creating gamified content for brands like Tata Motors and Tata CLiQ.
The latest division you have launched is one for content and IP creation. What’s the intention?
After launching our ad production house in January, 2020, it was a no-brainer. The idea was to create a seamless experience for clients. Clients are increasingly looking for branded content as OTT platforms continue to attract eyeballs. Further, OTT audiences are developing an aversion towards ads. We are challenging the definition of an advertising agency. This is an experiment to see if we are poised to do more. This foray made sense from the talent, client business, and capability points of view. We are now going to approach platforms to collaborate and even conceive content for them.
Brands are now directly collaborating with content creators like TVF and Tanmay Bhat. Where does the ad agency stand in the new creator-led ecosystem?
On many occasions, we have taken content ideas to clients, but have not been taken seriously because they think we cannot execute the ideas we propose. Clients would then go to content creators and executors. Therefore, we decided that if we are going down this path, we will do it seriously. So, we brought on Yogesh Manwani, who was heading the revenue and marketing teams at Applause Entertainment, to head the content vertical. We can now have those conversations with clients as experts who won’t just give them the idea, but also a business case, a distribution plan, and take full responsibility for the project. The big difference between a content writer and an advertising agency is that we are about strategy first.
Several brands have received hate online for hurting sentiments with their ads. How can these situations be avoided?
We believe that brands should have a point of view and purpose. The response from consumers is unpredictable to an extent, which is why a purpose-led strategy involves a three-month-long process. This includes, consumer work, stakeholder interviews, followed by a two- or three-day workshop with clients. Consumer research is to understand the various sensitivities of people so that we don’t get carried away by an idea. Further, we have a team that reviews the work done by the core team with fresh eyes to identify areas of concern that might have been missed.
It is important that when a brand takes a stand, the CEO and the team that is fronting the customers is fully invested in that point of view. Otherwise, a brand may have to back down and that could hurt the brand. The approach also needs to be consistent and sustainable.