Do Indian brands need a ‘specialist ‘ad agency?

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In my advertising career, I have not launched or grown an ad agency brand from scratch. So I am no expert in the domain of building an agency brand. But then, such details never stopped us observers (okay, armchair critics!) about commenting on any trend. In India, there have been ad agency brands which have positioned themselves as delivering growth for ‘home grown’ or Indian brands. The questions in my mind: are the needs of Indian brands any different from other brands? Is the difference artificial? Why would an established enterprise or startup from India consider such agencies in the context of them offering something special which other agencies without such a positioning, cannot offer?

When was in Trikaya/Grey in the 90s, the parent agency in the US had specialist divisions catering to the Hispanic community. I remember Mr. Ravi Gupta – the legendary founder of Trikaya opine that there could be a market for an agency catering to the needs of NRIs in the west. In 2010, Ogilvy Noor was launched as the ‘world’s first multi-disciplinary global Islamic branding practice’. So there is an opportunity to slice and dice the market to offer specialist advertising services. But the above examples stem from the belief that culturally these demographics are unique. Hence, understanding their needs and more importantly, speaking to them in their language, offering the right communication context is important. 

In my view, ad agencies which promise ‘regional’ advertising i.e. crafting original communication for brands (which could very well be local, national or global brands) in India’s many regional languages offer a much credible, sharper benefit than ‘an agency for Indian brands’. Marketing & communication fundamentals are the same for any brand – be it in traditional media or the digital world. However, a major pain point many brands in India face is the one of local insight and expression. 

The Indian ad industry is spearheaded largely by an English-educated, western sensibilities oriented team. They are perhaps most comfortable thinking and experessing themselves in English. Up until the late 90s, only English copywriting was considered as a job to crave for in the creative department. Regional advertising was largely translated (often poorly) by writers who had no clue about the communication objective, the problem or the market opportunity the brand is trying to solve or a clear picture of the intended target audience. This situation has improved over the years but the larger problem of creating a campaign idea in English or Hindi and then merely adapting it (through dubbing or translated text)  across many languages, still persists. A majority of such ads fail to hit the mark (as someone who speaks Kannada & Tamil) and lack a local connect. Of course the reasons are beyond mere quality of translation – often it is to do with the idea itself, an idiom  which is alien or the choice of a celebrity. In that context, original work such as the recent one for Swiggy Instamart need to be commended for creating relevant, compelling ‘regional’ advertising. 

But am still sceptical about the raison d’etre for an agency which positions itself as meeting the needs of home grown brands – unless it is to do with original creatives with local flavour. 

Do share your views. 

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