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AI and content will drive the growth of advertising: Atika Malik, COO, Cheil India

In an interview with, Malik talks about Cheil India’s plan to harness big data, AI and power of ideas to enhance its digital capabilities. She feels gaining a consumer’s attention and maintaining brand loyalty, especially for traditional names, has become challenging in the digital era

Atika Malik

Cheil is among the very few agencies in the country that is taking the digital challenge head-on by developing in-house capabilities to provide business solutions through new-age and futuristic tools.

The agency, which until recently was a creative shop with focus on Samsung, now wants to be a step ahead in the digital game. It is now exploring various partnerships to strengthen artificial intelligence (AI) and develop content capabilities.

“It will be our next growth engine as we aim to continue to drive our digital capabilities,” said Atika Mali, COO, Cheil India. Digital advertising in India is likely to grow at 30% in 2018.

The agency has already integrated its operations for both traditional and digital advertising platforms and has an interesting and diverse mix of talent to lead its different verticals.

“Our ATL and digital planners work in teams and that gives us a powerful edge. One thing that we are not going to change is the way of telling stories. The format, place or the medium might change, but creative power of ideas will continue,” Malik told in an interview.

Malik feels that in the digital era, different types of content, defined by languages and different technologies such as AR and VR, will play a big role. “Programmatic advertising will soon shoot through the roof in India,” she said.

She said it was about time for traditional brands to up their digital ad game if they wanted to compete with the new-age brands, which were using digital ad platforms very effectively.


How has growth been this year?

For us, growth depends on three different parameters — capability and specialisation, diverse talent and effective business impact and awards. 2018 has been great because we have managed to rapidly grow our specialisms and digital has taken a lead there. Along with existing strong capability in social, we have added a strong capability in e-commerce, CDM-DMP (data management platforms) and influencer marketing. These are the big growth drivers and specialisms and capability.

In terms of talent, it has been an interesting year. Advertising is no longer the same kind of talent pool. So, our retail practice, which is very large and significant, has a former head of a big telecom major. Our e-commerce vertical is headed by someone who has been a marketing head in an e-commerce company. Our digital lead comes with the e-commerce background. That’s the depth of talent quality that our clients look forward to.

What is going to be the growth engine for the agency next year?

Looking into partnerships to strengthen artificial intelligence (AI) and developing content capabilities will be our next growth engine as we aim to continue to drive our digital capabilities.

What goals have you set aside for Cheil?

Adding more capabilities and specialism is our goal. We will continue to strengthen our design capability, which goes beyond brand manuals, guidelines and retail design. We are looking forward to add more specialism in the digital area. We will look at the next level of business solutions with big data and how AI can be harnessed. Talent with domain expertise will be on our goal list. We will continue to build our planning capability with insight mining from not just conventional research or ethnography but from big data analytics. As of now, our ATL and digital planners work in teams and that gives us a powerful edge. One thing that we are not going to change is the way of telling stories. The format, place or the medium might change but creative power of ideas will be continued.

How much does digital contribute to your overall revenues?

Unlike other agencies, we are completely integrated. As far as revenue is concerned, it is one number for us. The overall communication and marketing industry’s growth in digital in 2018 is supposed to be 30% against 11-12% in traditional advertising. Considering digital will be a very important growth driver and our focus on digital capabilities is larger.

You won over 50 global awards this year. Has it given Cheil an edge when it comes to winning mandates?

We are otherwise a low-key agency and focus on building capability in retail, activation and e-commerce to provide end-to-end business solutions to our clients. We are gaining at two levels. First is talent quality as more and more people want to work for a company that is doing digital creativity and technology-combined work. Secondly, as we are gaining expertise, more and more clients are looking forward to work with us. But we want to keep strong focus on Samsung as well.

What challenge is the industry facing?

The first challenge is attention deficit. So, advertising needs to find more and more interesting formats and quality of content and the context. But I think it as an opportunity to find how to capture consumer attention and build brand loyalty.

With communication becoming personalised in the digital era, content expectations from consumers and programmatic advertising are on the rise.

The third challenge is the birth of new brands. The number of brands that have come up in the last five years is perhaps higher than the past. The new brands created in this era are using the digital platform effectively. These brands are getting a lot of loyalty and love. It is a challenge for the traditional brands to speed up and use creativity and technology to try and protect their diminishing loyalty.

Isn’t clients changing agencies more frequently now a challenge?

According to me, it is a double-edged sword. Clients tend to lose consistency because people are moving on fast at their end too. They lose the value of all the knowledge with an agency partner. Now from a client’s point of view, the agency is not being able to do justice to their need and hence clients are forced to move. No marketing head wants to work with different agencies for different platforms. There are only a few agencies that do integrated work. The industry has not evolved as fast as the needs of clients. Clients are forced to change as they fail to find that holistic answer.

What major trends will shape the future of the Indian advertising industry?

It couldn’t be any exciting time to be in the industry of marketing communication business. Firstly, we see a massive growth in mobile-based content consumption. There is an upsurge in interactive content, AR-based content and gaming content. Video content will definitely be the growth rider.

The second thing is the AI revolution. We at Cheil are trying to find out how we can use AI for more predictive content and for service platforms for brands. Programmatic advertising is going through the roof globally with India following suit.

While more and more content will be personalised, vernacular content growth is going to be huge. Content simply is a one big word but under it comes vernacular, personalised, artificial intelligence-based predictive, VR, AR, interactive content. The time is just around the corner when voice assistance will become powerful in two-way interactive communication as well.

How prepared are you to meet the growing need of content of brands?

Simplistically, the term content is a very superficial. We need to dive deeper and have the capability to produce large volumes of personalised and quick content. The forms and shape of content capability have to be on the basis of consumer insights. Where and what kind of personalised content do I need to serve different consumers who are comfortable in their vernacular languages or what do I need to do for the absolute cutting-edge millennial who is looking for totally new experiences? Does he want more gamified content or does he want more interactive content? Can I have commercials or video content where I can use voice assistance to talk back and forth to my content. Can I have different endings to the same piece of content? Is it going to be Game of Thrones kind of mythopia content that brand will create? These are not classic styles of advertising and that is what is going under the skin.

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