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Rethink: Does the world really need another advertising agency, asks Nirmalya Sen

Sen, in his previous roles, was the former CEO of Havas Worldwide India, and former president of TBWA India

Nirmalya Sen

Nirmalya Sen, former CEO of Havas Worldwide India, and former president of TBWA India has announced the launch of his agency, The Rethink Company -  which is a new-model creative company that lies at the cusp of business consulting and brand building. “It is our belief that, in this ever-changing world of technology and its impact on how people live, for brands to be buoyant and constantly in-the-game, momentum is everything,” he said in a press note.

Talking about the agency, Sen said, “We are not out to change the world. But, this company is definitely an attempt to do two things – work with marketers to bring brands back at the center of everything we do and rethink advertising to help it continue to hold the influence it had on consumer thinking and behavior. And while we are at it, as people permanently infatuated with advertising, rethink some of the ways of this business that irk us.”

What is the agency’s reason-to-be? “To work with marketers to create challenger brands with momentum (think Liverpool this season J). We call them Surge Brands. Surge Brands outperform their categories in terms of sensed momentum, increase in Share of Heart and rate of growth,” pointed out Sen.

How are Surge Brands created? He replied, “Momentum is mass in motion. Which means, for a brand to have momentum, it needs to build mass and generate velocity. More so than ever before, ‘mass’ comes from the number of believers/followers/advocates a brand has, multiplied by the strength of their belief in the brand’s purpose. And secondly, what determines a brand’s velocity are the intensity and the frequency with which the brand ‘travels’ from timeline to timeline. From mouth to ear.”

How does that translate to action at Rethink? “Firstly, working with clients to ensure every action of the brand has the brand’s inspiring purpose at its heart. And second of all, harnessing the emotive power of ‘shareable brand experiences’ – opportunities for consumers to ‘experience’ the brand’s purpose, across touchpoints, in ways so delightful and unexpected, that they can’t help but share them with the world. For us, these ‘shared experiences’ is the new advertising. Advertising that is trusted. Advertising rethought for the new world of the consumer,”  specified Sen.

In an extended discussion in the note, Sen’s premise is that - does the world really need another advertising agency? Don’t we already have the large networks and their many large and medium-sized agencies? And about a million ‘creative’ start-ups, independent agencies and creative shops? Is there room for improvement? Goes without saying. But, the incremental improvements aside, is there room for more advertising companies as we have known them? Not really.

But consider this. Whether you are 50, 30 or 15, chances are you haven’t watched television (and advertising?) in a while. In fact, it is becoming easier to avoid advertising with every passing day.

“A ‘first world problem’, do I hear you say,” questions Sen. Not really when you consider the proliferation of smartphones and tending-to-zero data costs. The amount of time spent with advertising is under attack. Everywhere. And that is a minor problem.

We have two whole generations of young consumers in play who have little to do with mass advertising. Who will watch it if that is the only way to keep the cost of quality content low. They also have little trust in most advertising. Unless it is hyper-relevant – both in terms of the message and the messenger.

Talking about millennials and Gen Z, also consider this. Over the next decade, these two generations will take a lion’s share of buying decisions. And decide the fortunes of most categories and brands in them. Just like these young consumers have been the driving force behind the ‘overnight’ success of several companies that did not even exist 5 years ago.

In fact, there has never been a better time to be a young, unknown brand. Equally, the well-established ones have never had more cause for concern. For these young people have little regard for your brand’s legacy. Or its size. What they do care about, however, are the purpose, authenticity and dynamism of the people they follow and the brands they buy. And who they trust is each other.

Clearly, what advertising can do for brands to help them thrive in this new environment needs a rethink. And, equally, what it can’t. Yes, advertising as we know, it will continue to help generate mass awareness, but its role in helping brands stay a step ahead of consumers, in shaping the way consumers think and behave or in forging a relationship with consumers is today under threat.

In this dynamic environment, marketers need to rethink how they define objectives and success for their brands. And as their partners, we need to rethink the role that advertising can play in achieving them.

And that is hardly all that we need to rethink as advertising agencies. We need to rethink our superficial, scratch-the-surface approach to brand strategy. We need to rethink our time-tested assumptions about consumers. Just as we need to rethink the one-size-fits-all approach that many brands still indulge in. We need to embrace the power of technology and design to rethink brand experience across touch-points. Because, positive brand experience creates advocates who are believed a lot more than paid endorsers.

We need to rethink the same old ploys and platforms from yesterday for our consumer has lost interest in them already. Equally, we need to rethink rigid agency models that were designed for a far less dynamic past. Or rigid team structures that slow them down and, of course, cost clients more.

“I could go on,” Sen concludes.

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