What do you think advertising has lost, and what has it gained, over these three decades?
I think what it has gained is that it has become a lot more professional and businesslike — 30 years ago, it was little more than a hobby, people prided in the fact that they were treating it like a hobby. Now it’s a big, serious business, with huge investments, with huge costs of failure, with huge technology. What it has lost in the bargain is the flavour of fun. It used to be more easygoing — it was still hard work but people would intermingle a lot more, you had more time on your hands to interact.
How much of the digital revolution is hype?
today in India, the second or third-largest in the world. That also means there are 600-700 million people who are not yet on digital, (and) who will be in the next 5-10 years. Data prices have fallen to one-tenth, data bandwidth has gone up so much, we’re leaving a bigger digital footprint as consumers. There is no business that is not going to be impacted by digital. But like all things, a hype starts developing around it. Digital has been the fastest growing medium for the last five years and will be the fastest growing medium for the next five years, at least in India. But that does not mean other media, or all other forms of advertising, are not important, or will not thrive.
How relevant is above the line (ATL) advertising today?
Above the line, advertising will only become stronger because it will have more data and more technology to back it up. India is perhaps the only market in the world where all media will grow for many years, including print. The Big Idea is never going to go away, so therefore, the power of creative will become more, not less, important. But today, you need people from different teams working together in a matrix kind of environment. You need investment in technology and data. Your idea will not reach the right person if you’re not using the right tools and platforms that are available to you — because the consumer has changed. But that (old) way of working will go.
The beauty of digital is that the consumer is given a choice. The biggest change agencies have to come to terms with is that you’re no longer in control of your message. You are no longer in control of your brand. Also, advertising in some ways reflects society. Attention spans are changing, (and) therefore, advertising must reflect that. The one thing that is not changing is human emotions — advertising has to play out human emotions. What’s the best way of communicating emotions to the viewer today is something that will obviously keep evolving? But it is a challenge. Advertising, remember, is an intrusion – you don’t pay to watch advertising, you tolerate it.
So, 30 years on, how do you see the future?
Advertising as a profession is not going to go away but its form and shape are completely changing. When change at this pace and scale happens, survival depends on adaptability. So, if you’re able to adapt, if you’re able to thrive in it, you’ll have a lot of fun, you’ll make a lot of money, you’ll have a lot of learning. But if you’re not, then you’ll perish. And I predict that just 5-10 years from now, some agency groups, which are clearly monoliths — the legacy, siloed, old world, traditional type of agencies — will just collapse.