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You should just forget the word ‘digital’. People who think it is new will ruin it: Amer Jaleel of MullenLintas

MullenLintas has just turned a year old. Amer Jaleel, Chairman and COO, MullenLintas, takes BestMediaInfo through the year that went by and talks about the future of the agency and his views on advertising

Roshni Nair & Akanksha Mihir Mota  | Mumbai | September 19, 2016

Amer Jaleel Amer Jaleel

MullenLintas, born on August 1, 2015, was envisaged to be different not just from its parent body MullenLowe Lintas Group but also from the industry in general. The agency that just celebrated its first birthday has had a successful albeit a somewhat bumpy ride. Amer Jaleel takes us through the journey. Excerpts:

MullenLintas just celebrated its first anniversary. How has the journey been so far?

Difficult. Not difficult to do but difficult to sell. We find that people still don’t know us. People still don’t know that we are a part of Lintas and that we are a completely new agency. We did a very big job of informing the world. We did a huge launch and got covered in many places. I am now realising that while we have done a stupendous job of informing the world of other people’s brands, somewhere we made a big boo-boo when it came to informing about our own selves and letting the world know we are new and different and available. In that way it was difficult, otherwise it has been very refreshing. It is very refreshing to be give birth to something with the full confidence and security that you still have a great brand like Lintas behind you.

Also, it is refreshing to gather everybody around you who you want. Just like you are born into a family and circumstances and friends, you are born into an office in the same way. You enter some place and there are a lot of people. You like some and you don’t like some. Now there is this opportunity to single-mindedly dictate who you want and who you don’t. Advertising and brands are zero without chemistry. If you are knocking your heads trying to come up with an idea with a person you don’t have chemistry with, you are finished; it becomes an uphill task. The conversation is electric with someone you have chemistry with and it brings great value to work.

“There are no martyrs in advertising and marketing. You have to connect to people. And if those people are going to make a ruckus because they don’t like your point of view, then why are you even in business? You might as well be in the social sphere”

How is the business doing? How many new clients have you acquired?

Except for three, all our clients are new. I can say that we are doing very well. We are attracting a lot of new things, new projects and a lot of new launches.

When you became the CCO here, a few clients migrated to MullenLintas with you. Did it help as you didn’t have to start completely anew? Also, were there any repercussions on Lowe’s performance due to the shift?

Amer Jaleel-220No, it didn’t, because overall the group is one. Whether it is there or here, in business terms it is great for the group. It wasn’t that we took a few brands because they were our favourites or we just picked a few. It was a conscious decision. We just wanted some reassurance, some feeling that let’s not start from zero. Of course, assurances had to be made on both sides. Assurances had to be made to the clients that stayed with Lowe and assurances had to be made to the clients who came with us. It is our job to be a new business agency and if we started with a lot of old businesses and old brands with us, we would not be fulfilling the intention of the agency.

How has the process been in terms of moving people? How did you decide who to retain from within and whom to hire externally?

We have already filled up this office and will probably need bigger offices in Mumbai and Delhi. We have just acquired a new office in Bangalore so we still have room for growth in that office but Mumbai and Delhi are choc-a-bloc with people. We picked the people with whom we had the best chemistry. Unfortunately I could not bring along a few people I would have really loved to have with me because of larger business reasons. But otherwise everybody who really mattered and I thought can work amazingly with me is here.

How do you make sure that MullenLintas does not loom in the shadow of its principal agency?

We are not doing a great job. Maybe because we chose a name very close to the corporate name, we frequently get mixed up. People don’t realise that a lot of the work that we are putting up are ours, although we are trying our best. We have the whole marketing department behind this but we still get mixed up.

“The power investors are putting behind brands and the competitive battle that is happening between e-com and telecom brands have created media dust that is everywhere.

What is MullenLintas’s core philosophy? Is it different or similar to that of Lowe Lintas?

We were not born to be different from Lintas; we were born to be different from the industry. Our mother is the same. We have grown up inside the same womb. We are the same in terms of our culture. I guess the difference is always between how you interact with the various challenges you face. There is an atmosphere that is developing today, which people call social media. In that atmosphere, you come across a brand or a brand manager or a marketing head and his/her version of a challenge that they throw at you. Your interaction with all that will dictate what you are all about. I can only say that the way we do work will look different over time. Our work will eventually get defined and emerge as different from not just Lintas but from the industry as well.

What would you say is the working model of the agency?

For example, if I had been in Lowe Lintas and there wouldn’t have been two agencies, my philosophy and the way I approach work within that place would have been exactly what it is now because you are reacting to and predicting an environment that is emerging outside. My response to this environment would have been the same if I had been there. We have to constantly keep ahead of the developments around us. So I think of it exactly like that -- what is the atmosphere, what is emerging, how can we pre-empt what is emerging out of that, how the culture is going to change, how we are going to stay ahead of people’s expectations. For me it is not very differently defining from what it would have been. It is how I have built my brand of work.

“We did a stupendous job of informing the world of other people’s brands, but somewhere we made a big boo-boo when it came to informing about our own selves that we are new and different and available”

What is the latest trend in advertising?

Two big things have been happening over time. One is pure money. The amount of money needed today for a brand to be just visible, just to make a little impact, has changed dramatically. This is because the power investors are putting behind brands and the competitive battle that is happening between e-com and telecom brands have created this media dust that is everywhere. Now let’s say you are a candy brand. There is so much media dust around. How will the candy be seen in that battleground where so many horses are kicking up so much dust? One, you will need more money. The other thing is you need to be that much sharper, cleverer and more impactful as a candy. The second big thing is audience response, and is actually very enjoyable as we no longer need to wait for it. It kills you also and you enjoy it also. Audience response is like a theatre now and not like cinema anymore.

People are becoming too critical on digital platforms nowadays. Is it cramping creativity?

That has always been the case. It hasn’t changed for me. A brand needs to speak in a certain voice. There are brands that choose to participate in the debate and there are brands that choose not to participate in the debate. If you are participating in the debate, you will have to say something that gets you attention but cannot hurt you. There are no martyrs in advertising and marketing. You have to connect to people. And if those people are going to make a ruckus because they don’t like your point of view, then why are you even in business? You might as well be in the social sphere doing some social work! You are in business to make money, to succeed to make your brand succeed. Why will you do something to harm your brand?

“We have already filled up our office and will probably need bigger offices in Mumbai and Delhi. We have just acquired a new office in Bangalore. But Mumbai and Delhi are choc-a-bloc with people”

How important is it for agencies today to create communication that serves a higher purpose rather than just selling products? For instance, the ‘help a child reach the age of five’ campaign for Lifebuoy…

Amer-Jaleel-220We almost gave birth to this whole category of advertising which is now called advertising with conscience or advertising for a social cause. It started way back with Lintas when we did Tata Tea’s ‘Jaago re’ campaign. That actually sort of gave birth to this concept. But the conversation today has shifted and shifted in a wrong way. If the brand has a higher purpose, it should be served by the brand or the company through its CSR initiatives or by individuals at an individual level. When you are working for the brand, you only serve the brand, you don’t serve anybody else. If in the brand’s interest you give something little social or higher purpose twist, it is to only help the brand and nobody else. When we did the ‘help a child reach the age of five’ campaign, the reason was that the brand is concerned about health. Our focus was only on the brand. We wanted to show people a side of the brand that was never known. The brand was going to villages in Africa, Brazil and in India and contributing to education. People did not know it and that is why we were doing it. In doing so, people felt emotional about the brand. But the brand didn’t have a social purpose, it had a commercial purpose. It is up to you to decide whether your brand needs a social purpose.

Most of the ads today have a social bent. What is your take?

It is like a trend now and I hate trends. If you are participating in a trend, you are not doing anything new. Trend means a lot of people have got onto something, new is what is just before that or after that.

A lot of people are talking about digital. What do you think?

I think you should just forget the word ‘digital’ because something like that happened earlier with television but who remembers television now? Digital is exactly the same, it is nothing. People who think it is new will ruin it. The media child that was in bed started sitting, the same media child that was sitting has now started walking, in the future that child will start running, that is all that digital is and nothing else. It is just human development.

“We picked people with whom we had the best chemistry. Unfortunately I could not bring along a few people I would have really loved to have with me because of larger business reasons”

How important are awards for you and the agency?

Awards are actually finished. We had a sort of attitude towards awards. This happened due to some history in Lintas, because Balki had a certain view about awards. He was right in many ways but all that is passé. The response and conversation to your work is so immediate and quick that I don’t know what we are going to do with awards.

How did you enter advertising?

Slowly. I think I wasted my early time because I didn’t have the confidence to reach the bigger agencies and tell them I want to be in the business. I worked a lot with smaller agencies. My journey in advertising was sort of excruciating,. My first agency was very small with only two people. From there I moved to an agency with five people, then to 50 people, then 100 people and to 700. Now I am back to 80 people in the agency.

Did you always want to be in advertising?

Yes. Right from my school days, I was clear that I wanted to be in advertising. I was, since the beginning, interested in advertising and used to read about it. I used to talk to people about it. I was standing in the queue at Poddar College after my Xth. At that time, Poddar was asking for 75 per cent at the entry level and I had scored 73 per cent. I was there with my dad. He asked me to wait in the queue and went to see what could be done. He came back a little later, saying there was a shorter queue for something called vocational courses. I needed to drop one subject from the mainstream course and had two optional subjects to choose from. One of those subjects was advertising and salesmanship. Needless to say I chose that!

“Awards are actually finished. We had a sort of attitude towards awards. This happened due to some history in Lintas, because Balki had a certain view about awards. He was right in many ways”

If not advertising, then what?

I am tempted to say cricket but I think I would have been a writer.

What are your hobbies?

I have nothing specific to mention. I watch movies in free time.

What is advertising for you?

Advertising to me is life.

A word of advice to young advertisers and aspirants…

Advertising is an amazing thing to do in the early part of your life. Work really hard in your early years of your career. You can turn to any side in advertising and you will see something new. You get exposed to technology, communication, media, automation, sports and science. It exposes you to everything in the world. So, as a young person, you’ll be in a fantastic position of seeing so much and deciding what you like or not. I tell a lot of young people to spend their earlier part of career in advertising and they will learn so much about the world through this industry. If you chose to remain in this industry, you won’t make that much money. But if you choose to take advantage and go somewhere else, and you can start defining your life in any industry, then you can make a lot of money.

Any campaign you are particularly proud of?

I hate all of them. You only see what you could have done better after you have done it.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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