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Ashish Bhasin: "It is imperative that we come together and drive a common metric in digital!"

09 Mar 2019

Dentsu Aegis Network has recently promoted Ashish Bhasin from Chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network – South Asia to the expanded role of CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Greater South and Chairman and CEO of India. While getting candid with Agency Reporter, Ashish Bhasin discussed the new role and added responsibility along with ways through which the digital industry can tackle the inevitable issues and more.


Agency Reporter: First of all, congratulations on your role expansion at DAN. We would definitely like you to speak on the new position and additional responsibilities you will be taking care of as CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Greater South.

Ashish Bhasin: Thank you so much! The region has been restructured. Now there will be three regions. I will be looking after Greater South which includes South East Asian countries – Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Myanmar, besides India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It is exciting to take up the new role because these are all high growth as well as high potential markets. This region has a very exciting geography. I am pretty much looking forward to helping the region reinforce the growth story.

AG: The YouTube catastrophe with the questionable content been seeing alongside the advertising content, ultimately made the advertisers take offense and become apprehensive about the content juxtaposed with their ads. What is your take on this current challenge that is being faced by the digital advertising industry?

AB: There are two or three very serious issues which the digital advertising industry is facing, and I am saying it more from an Indian perspective. This industry has a huge potential but there are some areas that need to be looked into if the industry has to grow as healthily as we want it to. One of them is the context in which advertising is seen. There is also the issue of measurement that the industry is facing. This issue is stagnant despite the industry being a $2 billion industry this year and growing very fast and yet there is no agreed common metric. For example, there is BARC for television rating and IRS for print, but we don’t yet have a common agreed metric system for digital.

The whole viewability debate triggers from the fact that somebody says that the ad has been watched up to three seconds so is ok, while some proclaim it has to be viewed for 10 seconds etc.  As the stakeholders of the industry, I think it is imperative for all of us to come together and as an industry drive a common metric, understanding and a minimum standard, including where the ad can be seen.  We need to set the best practices.

AR: Since the World Wide Web is open to all, people will continue to put questionable content online. Being one of the representatives of the industry, what measures do you think the industry should take collectively in order to address such issues?

AB: What I just mentioned was one part. But ultimately to solve the issue that is raised, the answer lies in technology. Today, the scale of video available on the internet is so huge, it is not manually possible for anybody to handle it. I think the large technology players and media players like YouTube, Google, Facebook etc have to come together and use technology to ensure any objectionable content is being filtered out. It will, however, be a work in progress for a long time. I think the solutions will lie in very intelligent use of technology for this. On a larger scale, you can only manage through technologies. It has to be a concoction using the cloud. Artificial Intelligence, ML and a lot of the things. And also, we have to agree on common metrics and rules of engagement.

AR: Maybe if you could just start by going through the 2019 priorities for the company and where you’re really focused on considering the digital trends?

AB: Speaking from India’s perspective, as you know we are overinvested in digital. The market, DAN Digital Report shows is roughly 20 percent digital, but we as a group get 48 percent of our revenues coming from digital. We are very bullish and optimistic about it. We are also the largest customers of both Google and Facebook in India and are proud to be the largest digital agency group in India. Out of my 3500 people working at DAN India, almost 1600-1700 are digital experts. Clearly, our priority is digital which is growing three times than the rest of the advertising industry. Digital is growing at 32-33 percent while overall advertising is growing at 11-12 percent. So, we want to continue to widen our lead in the fastest growing medium and that is the key priority.

We have several businesses in various fields whether it is creative, out-of-home, PR or events. We want to be able to give our clients all the benefits of specialization, but under our One P&L model, without the hassle of Silos. Our endeavour is to give the clients end-to-end marketing services solutions. And, we are in the best position to do it because we are 24 agencies now under one umbrella, acting under a single P&L. That’s the edge we have over other competitors in the market. We don’t have silos. We have expertise areas, all reporting under the one P&L system. Therefore, the company is able to bring to the client what is best needed, not what is somebody’s agenda.

Lastly, I would say that we want to continue to grow at least 50 percent more than the market growth rate.  We have done so for 4 years in a row and want to keep that going for the next few years.

AR: How are you making sure to reach to the desired goals as fast as you can?

AB: We basically put our money where our mouth is! In digital we have eight agencies and about half of our people are into the digital business. We have made huge investments in data, technology, research and performance and have scaled up to those businesses. Besides, the best talent has been hired by us. Those are the factors that drive us towards reaching our goals.

AR: Lastly, the Goafest 2019 is just around the corner and the preparations are in full momentum for the apex industry event and awards. Being the crucial part of the Awards Governing Council, what do you have to say about the upcoming edition of the event? Also, speak about the focus of AGC for the fest?

AB: Answering in my capacity of the President of the Advertising Agencies Association of India I feel, we will see this as a property that is gaining strength year-on-year. The beauty is that particularly the last few years, the festival has been significantly democratized. It is no longer the purview of 4-5 agencies. Today, there are 150-200 agencies big and small from all around the country that participate. There are two parts to it – the awards and the festival, with very good speakers and a great source of learning and networking. Under  Nakul Chopra’s (Chairman of Goa Fest this year) leadership and Shashi Sinha’s (Chairman of AGC) phenomenal governance in the AGC, this year will see the festival reaching another peak, I feel.