India’s digital agencies have been known for their path-breaking creative work globally. The agencies not only have won accolades at international awards but increased India's creative barometer at a time when TV and print advertising had been doing hardly anything new.
But is the pressure of delivering (read driving sales) taking a toll on their creativity as clients today are only willing to put their money behind campaigns that deliver instant results instead of building brand affinity or the perception curve?
“In the pursuit of numbers, innovation has occurred largely in performance technology. Creativity has become that foster child who can be ignored or is expected to do well on its own merit without marketing dollars behind it. If it doesn't work, which it rarely does, brands prefer compromising on the taste of creativity over a target to increase its reach,” said Yashraj Vakil, CEO, Buzzinga Digital.
According to Raj Kamble, founder and CCO, Famous Innovations, 99% digital agencies today are only digital media buying companies. “Only 1% digital agencies are actually doing creative work. Being creative is not a priority for them and they don't invest in it. Their livelihood runs on media buying. They are just creating space fillers so that they can buy more and more media. Ask these digital agencies to stop media buying and run just on creative, and then we'll know.”
Experts also say that the nature of creativity changes quite fast on digital and it becomes difficult for agencies to keep pace. The format and duration of videos, the most consumed content on the internet, changes every few months.
“The nature and style of creativity is changing, it’s a shift from a centralised brand message to a decentralised brand narrative. Everyone is learning the new shift, whether it be a digital agency or a creative agency,” said Subramanian Krishnan, Chief Strategy Officer, TBWA.
According to Vakil, agencies working under the aegis of digital are much better positioned to make creative campaigns that can attribute to sales for the brand as the core purpose of digital is measurability.
Rajiv Darshi, General Manager, MediaCom, said, “Media agencies are investing in talent and therefore are capable of giving integrated solutions to client demands. This is about integrating a creative route using a tech /digital platform to drive business output where specialist functions come together to drive a cohesive solution.”
The agency of future
Harikrishnan Pillai, co-founder and CEO, TheSmallBigIdea, said, “The agency of the future is a well-integrated machinery of creativity and performance. Today, agencies are working in all accords to build capacities. From hiring creative heads to up-skilling in-house talent, both creative and media-first agencies are expanding their service bouquet, thereby positioning itself as an end-to-end digital solutions provider.”
The ultra-fast, ever-changing and pressure to compete in today’s connected world has given rise to a situation where agencies have to create communication and campaigns at a lightning speed with limited creativity, which is entirely attached to performance.
“The ones accepting the change will keep doing highly creative work in times to come. But I think both creativity and delivering reach and numbers can go hand in hand,” said Amandeep Singh, Director, VMLY&R India.
“When you have clarity on end goal, which in this case is the business result, everything falls in place. Digital-first agencies are inherently extremely agile. They know they are creating a personalised experience for the consumer and the real-time feedback that they get gives them a high level of motivation. When an agency’s creative idea or a piece of content is working well in connected consumer’s world – the leads, downloads, increased DAU or conversion to walk INS to store or sales are working with their skin in the game,” Singh added.
Anish Varghese, Chief Creative Officer, Isobar India, suggested a way how performance and creativity can go hand in hand. “Tactics is the big idea, agencies should play with tactics which have a conversion attached to it,” he said.
“Agencies are coming up with tactics which have a creative play, a kind of new-age engagement ideas to involve our audience, which eventually closes the loop for the task in hand,” said Varghese.
But it’s not just about the focus on performance marketing by brands and agencies. Experience design is a new science which added with creative ideation can churn out winning creatives. “Service design or experience design, in my opinion, is a new science and neither existing creative agencies nor existing digital agencies truly understand this science. I am seeing some digital agencies now going into this area and also specialised agencies coming up whose only expertise is experience design,” said Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO, Mirum India.
“To give business and sales to a brand, it is equally critical to ensure all these multiple digital assets are true to a singular brand voice to create increased consumer preference. When this evolution happens, the marketing and communication fraternity would realise that digital agencies and creative agencies need to be one and the same,” Tibrewala added.
Singh of VMLY&R India said, “There has been a compromise in the level of creativity in many cases but at the same time there has been work which has been clutter-breaking, insight-driven and extremely creative,” he said.
“Many argue that sales attribution is easily possible on e-commerce but majority of businesses or sales are still happening offline. But look at brands successfully leveraging creative thinking in their strategy to drive online consumers to the brand stores. Big Bazaar and Pantaloons are two of them. It’s all about how creatively can you use data, insights and commerce together in this connected world to give consumers a highly personalised experience,” Singh said.