Commentary: 2017 a roller-coaster ride for the ad world

2017 was an important year for the advertising fraternity. Consolidation and collaboration were the buzz words and digital became the focus area. The industry also had a tough time recovering from the impact of demonetisation and GST rollout

Akansha Srivastava
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Commentary: 2017 a roller-coaster ride for the ad world

The year 2017 was nothing less than a roller-coaster ride for the advertising industry.

The industry saw major mergers and restructuring to maintain profitability levels in the time of muted growth. The rise of digital and other content platforms was unparalleled. Indian agencies did well at the award circuit. The high and mighty of ad world moved agencies or launched their own creative shops. And one of the best creative minds in the country, Prasoon Joshi, went on to become the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) chairperson.

Here's a wrap of 2017.

Consolidation to maintain profitability

The most important aspect of 2017 was consolidation. Agencies working under different P/Ls under larger networks were aligned together to form one P/L. Dentsu’s agencies were already working under one P/L. WPP and Publicis aligned their agencies under one P/L.

Saurabh Varma of Publicis Communications once told this writer, “One should stop cribbing about marketers not spending money on their agency partners.” It’s all in our hands. Clients are spending more and more money on the content platforms as that is where the consumers are moving. Creative agencies should buckle up and actually see where clients want to spend money.

Following the one P/L bandwagon and to build a single strong sister agency, Ogilvy merged Bates operations with Soho Square with Sumanto Bhattacharya as its CCO and Chairman.

All this reflects that 2018 will be the year for collaboration. With P/Ls coming together, one would get to see more collaborative efforts by the agencies. The media, digital, design, creative, content arms will work in further collaboration to uplift and benefit each other.

Strengthening digital play and the surge of content

Taking heed of clients’ money flow, Publicis launched Prodigious in India. Creativeland Asia also launched its digital ready content arm Baaash Digital to fulfil their clients’ content needs.

Dentsu Aegis Network and Publicis Communications already claim to play the game around digital. FCB Ulka also upped its stance in the digital space by merging its digital services with the mainline and diluting the thin line between its creative and the digital services.

We could also name 2017 as the year for Ogilvy & Mather India. When a traditional creative agency, heavily relying on TV commercials, decides to transform itself for the digital needs of the world, it is something worth paying attention. Ogilvy claims that its digital services will grow at 30 per cent in 2018. To catch up with the digital expectations, Ogilvy launched OgilvyRed to help build brands in the digital economy.

However, McCann believes everybody in the agency should be abreast with technology and the digital era and there is no need for specialised setups or teams for digital services.

People's movement

Sonal Dabral first announced his departure from DDB Mudra this year. While people were still talking about the restructuring at Ogilvy, there were rumours about Dabral joining Ogilvy, which eventually happened, leading people to question Rajiv Rao’s role at the agency. Things started falling into place when Piyush Pandey wrote a public letter announcing Rao’s departure.

The grapevine did not end there. People started talking that all this restructuring could be on the back of Piyush Pandey’s departure from Ogilvy. But shunning all the rumours, Pandey in an interview with BestMediaInfo said that he was here to stay.

The creative fraternity also saw exits of their favourites from the industry—Praveen Kenneth from L&K Saatchi and Saatchi, Joseph George from Lowe Lintas and Ogilvy’s favourite Rajiv Rao left the creative industry altogether. But as the saying goes, ‘Life must go on’, Anil Nair took over the mantle from Kenneth. In case of Lowe Lintas, industry people say there is no one in the industry who can replace George’s role in the agency and it is well to do without anybody new joining the agency. While Rao will be missed at Ogilvy, the team is self-sufficient to maintain its creative standards.

Major accounts moved hands

The year also brought cheers to FCB Ulka as GSK’s Horlicks shifted its creative base, ending years of relationship with JWT. Industry sources pegged this win at around Rs 15 crore for FCB and a single big account loss for JWT. When reported about Horlicks’ creative pitch, industry had already guessed the winner as FCB because of Swati Bhattacharya’s joining the agency, who had handled the account for long at JWT. Since then, the agency has been hiring people on Horlicks account. Only time will tell if this was a good move by Horlicks.

Mega merger talks

One big development of the year was talks around technology companies such as Accenture and Capgemini trying to buy out networks like Publicis and WPP. As Kate Stanners, Global Chief Creative Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, told this writer that it would be a big one movement that would in the end make creativity more powerful. Technology will bring to us the way in which we can make the work more powerful like never before.

2017 also witnessed the fall and rise of ADK Fortune Communications in India. ADK was launched in India in 2008 as JWT’s sister agency to take care of the Japanese clients. Lately, the team was shrunk to a seven-member one when JWT was thinking about shutting shop in India. But Akashneel Dasgupta’s return to the agency and revival of clients with much path-breaking work for Ghadi, Preganews and Manforce instilled fresh air into the agency. In less than a year’s time, the agency won around 15 clients and the team size increased to more than 50. But in a tiff between WPP and ADK, the ties broke and ADK was acquired by Bain Capital.

The festival circuit enthusiasm

The year was also the best for India’s performance at Cannes. India won a record of 40 Lions to its accolades with McCann topping the list followed by Ogilvy. Unlike the previous years, the attendance of the Indian crowd was far less at the festival of creativity. Only Piyush Pandey of Ogilvy was there to represent the agency. The Leo Burnett team went to Cannes in full strength.

This year was equally stressful for Cannes. The biggest news out of Cannes Lions Festival didn’t concern any path-breaking campaigns but, rather, Publicis Groupe’s announcement that it would forbid all its agencies from entering Cannes or any other awards shows next year and would shift its investment in the company’s much-hyped AI-powered technology Marcel. I wonder how different it is from WPP’s already running AI-powered technology Pangea.

The times are tough ahead for Cannes Lions. WPP also put forward its reservations in sending entries to Cannes in the wake of the rising cost of participation followed by Cannes Chairman Terry Savage’s retirement from the Festival after spending 33 years with the festival. One can only wait and watch what will happen in the 2018 Cannes Lions Festival with Publicis staying away and WPP threatening to stay away from the world’s No.1 awards that celebrate creativity and advertising.

Goafest 2017 was a success with the highest number of entries amid gossip around its credibility among the industry people. India’s top agencies such as Ogilvy, McCann, Leo Burnett, Rediffusion and others did not participate in the Goafest, pointing at credibility issues with the judging criteria. While Goafest is to judge creativity, Effies is held to judge the effectiveness of the campaign. The Mullenlowe Lintas Group won big at Effies in 2017 and was a heavy supporter of the awards. In 2018, it decided to refrain itself from the Effies.