Toxic content is a worry for everyone, says Omnicom's Kartik Sharma

In a conversation with, the Group CEO of Omnicom Media Group India says the media agency is keeping a close eye on the debate around the need to curb hateful content on TV news and explains if brands should boycott such channels

Shradha Mishra
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Toxic content is a worry for everyone, says Omnicom's Kartik Sharma

The rise in toxic content is a worry for everyone, says Kartik Sharma, Group CEO of Omnicom Media Group India, at the same time adding they are keeping a close eye on the debate.

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Sharma said that while a lot of conversations are happening around the issue, agencies and brands together need to focus more on facts than opinions. He also stated that brands are taking the final call on advertising on certain platforms.

“Focusing on the integrity of content and platforms has been a priority for years. Certain brands have clear guidelines on content they should avoid,” Sharma said. “We put client needs, expectations and best interests first. If a brand believes that there is a certain type of context (content) that should be avoided, then we will avoid it.”


A lot of brands told us they are concerned about the rise in toxic content on news channels. Some said they won’t advertise on such channels. What’s your view as the head of a leading media agency?

We make sure to guide our client brands in a way that ensures the best, most secure outcome for them. However, the ultimate responsibility and decision to choose certain types of content lies with the brand. focusing on the integrity of content and platforms has been a priority for years. Certain brands have clear guidelines on what content to use and what to avoid. We put client needs, expectations and best interests first. If a brand believes that there is a certain type of context (content) that should be avoided, then we will avoid it. As far as the current situation around news is concerned, certain issues are still under legal examination or are being considered by central authorities, so it's not proper for any of us to comment on it at this stage. We should wait and see what the legal system has to say.

Do you think it is time for the TV news industry to undergo a course correction?

All of these channels are profit-making ventures. They assess and read the market and put certain content in place. There is a moral side and a business side to it. From the agency perspective, we look at viewership and various other aspects and, of course, the context of the brand. For example, if any content on any channel has a bit of violence, we will not advertise. As a media agency, we are responsible for the marketing investment of brands. Ultimately, we have to deliver the ROI. If everything is qualitative, then it’s a totally different ball game.

Are you seeing brands shifting monies from TV news to other genres and mediums?

Within TV itself, there are so many channels and genres, so if brands do want a shift, then those options are available as well. Outside TV, there is a plethora of options to consider. It can be print, radio, social media and all forms of digital. With so many avenues to consider, there is bound to be a level of branching out, if not a shift altogether.

You’ve just launched a report on ‘Covid 19, gearing up for the festive season’. What does the report reveal about the recovery?

Our report is primarily based on consumer research. Consumer sentiments are understandably a mixed bag, and so certain product categories are doing better than others. And because these aspects tend to be a mixed bag, consumers also tend to surprise marketers with behavior that is different from what they have said. So, it’ll be interesting to witness how that dynamism pans out in the festive season. There is a certain level of caution in terms of spending on non-essential goods but gradual optimism is building. In the report, we have included insights from 15-16 key markets which most marketers look for, so it’s not confined to one geography. That’s what makes this report holistic in nature. We are making consistent and continued efforts to see what our consumers feel as their perception towards issues changes over time.

The pandemic has impacted the influence of advertising mediums. What change do you see?

TV, which is a high reach media, is still holding its ground on one end. On the other end, there is digital media, notably including OTT content. Some of the signals are from the social media chatter that we are picking up across new shows. It gives us an early indication that the popularity and consumption of OTT is very much on the rise.  So, while TV does continue to get the maximum share of advertising, some of it is diverted towards OTT due to Connected TV and digital viewing mediums. Social media has also become a very important component of the media mix as it provides a degree of interaction between the consumer and the brand.

It's also interesting to note the mediums strongly impacted by the pandemic. In the initial months of the lockdown, print faced distribution issues. Other mediums that have been deeply affected are outdoor and cinema. A lot of their deliveries are slowly and steadily shifting to digital. For instance, you’ll notice that digital subscriptions in print are going up, and we are even seeing direct OTT releases of so many films.

Soon after you took over your new role at OMG, the global economy crashed due to Covid. Being a completely new place, how challenging was it for you to handle the world’s biggest crisis ever?

It's not just me! The entire world has been affected by the pandemic. Having said that, I must note that I have received the warmest welcome from the Omnicom group, and it feels like I have been working here for a long time. Right from the beginning, they have been friendly and supportive, and not for a single day have I felt like an outsider. It's a challenging time for everyone, but we have strong organizational and leadership maturity to deal with the crisis. We have adjusted ourselves to new ways of working and new methods of interacting with our clients. And through it all, we have been ensuring that our people have the time and opportunity to keep their physical and mental energies up.

What makes OMG stand apart when compared to other agencies? Do you see any scope of major changes in the operations, technology, content or collaborations?

OMG is a global media power-house, and we have been growing very well year on year. For us, the client's needs are top priority. If our clients do well, we will do well. We give our people great opportunities to shine professionally and that has always been a part of our focus. On the data side, we have Omni, which is the huge investment we have made globally. Unlike other companies controlled by the agency's own data stack, we work with multiple partners. We want to give that option to the client. We have strong specialization across the board, right from content to influencer marketing and tech. If a brand has a specific requirement, we have the right solution for that.

In coming times, we will see a lot of content being churned out in the industry, but the key point is whether the insight for the consumer is interesting and whether the need is appropriately addressed. The principles of understanding consumers through insights will always remain primary. For the type of format and who the communicator is, there are enough options. it is quality and credibility that matter more. Even micro and nano influencers need to be credible because the consumer is savvier than ever before and can see right through anything which is not authentic. If you know how to provide the right messaging, then content marketing is a great place to be.

Many industry leaders have spoken about different shapes of recovery and various new normal. How do you see things unfolding at this stage?

People have spoken about the V, W and S shapes of recovery, but honestly, nobody really knows how it's going to pan out. Seeing clients, I can say that there are signals of improvement in the business. The current month is doing better than the previous month and next month will do better than this month. The building optimism in clients and consumers is making an uptick in agencies’ business.

Has it impacted the process of media planning and buying? Would it require new skill sets and hence new training modules?

Due to the pandemic, digital consumption and as a result, digital advertising have definitely gone up. The digital ecosystem is changing rapidly because it is a technology-enabled system which by virtue of its nature enables swift evolution.

Platforms like Google, FB, Instagram and WhatsApp keep enhancing their products and services and as a result, our industry keeps changing. So, people who have worked largely on conventional media definitely need to upskill.

I believe that digital specialists are also required because if somehow there is a change in the ecosystem, particularly in media and marketing technology, it requires super specialization to keep up. With digital, possibilities are immense, which means that adaptability and agility towards this environment is what media professionals need to learn.

It’s also important to remember that digital is not just about advertising. It has entirely changed the way people interact with brands and how brands respond to people. This understanding is fundamental for people in marketing and media. If you understand, then you can unlock a lot of new ideas.

The principles of conversion, reach and frequency have not gone away. They still remain important, but along with these, a new order towards understanding the journey of consumers is also necessary.

What will be Omnicom's focus areas for the rest of the year? How different will be your strategy this year than previous years?

The business strategy will not change dramatically year on year. Having said that, we have seen a huge uptick in e-commerce and so we recently launched OMG Transact that provides e-commerce services to clients. We are seeing a lot of work coming our way on the e-commerce front and we are proactively giving suggestions on e-commerce to client brands when we feel that the time is right for them to establish a presence in the domain. There are other things like content and sports. They have always been there and continue to be there.

From a strategic lens, whatever is important for the particular brand and category, we will continue to do it for them. We will ensure that our offerings are customized for each client. We aim to play an increasingly larger role in everything new that is emerging, be it gaming or any tech-enabled businesses.

Kartik Sharma Omnicom Toxic content