challenges, digital, india, industry, trend

The Battle To Own Digital In India

I was at the Effies the other night, and something struck me hard.

We, Jack In The Box Worldwide, were the only digital agency shortlisted in the category Digital Advertising.

We got a bronze. But the golds went to Ogilvy and Taproot.

It’s time those who claim that mainline agencies don’t ‘get’ digital shut up and take a long, hard look at the awards tallies.

Image Courtesy: rotane.deviantart.com

At the Abbys, Ogilvy’s Fox Crime campaign swept the Digital Grand Prix. The same story was just repeated at the Effies last Tuesday.

And media agencies, the third wheel of our growing ecosystem, were nowhere to be seen.


Let’s face it – at both of India’s premier award shows, where digital agencies and mainline agencies compete in the same field, the mainline agencies have come out ahead. 

They may not have won as many awards as the digital and media agencies but they have won the top prize twice in a row now.

The disparity in the number of medals can be explained by the fact that mainline shops get much fewer digital briefs than digital and media agencies.

In fact, the only place you’ll find digital and media agencies competing and winning are at specialist digital award shows – Campaign India’s Digital Awards, the IDMA, etc.

But, and not very quietly either, mainline agencies have been working to catch up and get past the competition.

Lowe, as Joseph George announced in a recent interview, is working to ‘mainline’ digital.

Ogilvy presents and executes an integrated campaign for almost every brief.

JWT has, under Bobby Pawar and Max Hegermann, set up a very capable pan-India digital team.

Leo Burnett’s Creative Directors are, in their own words, asked to crack the digital idea before the TVC.

BBH is competing with their clients’ digital agencies, pitching digital ideas along with their mainline campaigns.

BBDO has integrated so closely with Proximity that the latter even pitches (and executes) TVCs, on occasion.

It won’t be long before they’re winning digital duties, either as part of an integrated package, or stand-alone.

They have the clients, they have the money to hire good digital people, and they can play the long game more easily than small digital shops. 

They also have better creative folk than media agencies, whose key business is in the planning and buying of media space, not creative solutions.

And which client wouldn’t want to give their business to a place that has proven their understanding of the brand time and time again, and shows that they can do it in digital as well?

Us digital folk are fighting a battle we haven’t fully realised we’re in. And we have two options in front of us now.

One: Sell out. Every network agency is shopping for digital agencies in India. There are at least two digital shops I know of in serious talks, and another that has already been stealthily acquired. Integrate with the network agency and play in a larger field, quicker than you would’ve otherwise.

Two: The option former Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami suggests in his tour de force, The Elephants In The Room. Hire people who ‘get’ brands, across servicing and creative. Show clients that digital agencies can act as brand custodians too. And once you’ve consolidated your digital business, start attacking the mainline agencies by pitching for their mainline business.

What started off as a niche industry has become a full-blown battleground. It’s the Jedi versus the Sith, and it’s unclear, as of now, who’s going to emerge the winner.

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11 thoughts on “The Battle To Own Digital In India

  1. The facts mentioned in the article are incorrect… Ogilvy One took the gold. They sent in their entry as Ogilvy. Tribal DDB won a bronze.. They sent in their entry as Mudra. Digital agencies arent fighting mainline agencies… Digital agencies are fighting specialist departments. The trouble with every digital agency in India, big or small is the very mediocre production values in final execution. Every agency has got the talent pool that can bring great ideas. But how many have really spent time understanding UX/UI or wire framing or or have dedicated people who are honestly good at it? This is where digital agencies are supposed to assert superiority. Professional execution of their digital idea. Not guerrilla pitching mainline clients.

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  2. Axon:I'm aware of the fact that Ogilvy One worked on Fox Crime. However, from what I understand, it was an integrated effort between the mainline and the digital teams. I've even heard that the idea was led by the mainline folk (look up the credits). So also for Tribal. Happy to be corrected about Tribal if you know better.However, the context of the post was about the standalone, independent digital agencies versus the mainline ones. If you attend any digital award show, you'll see Webchutney, Hungama, IA, 22 Feet, Indigo, etc. battling it out for glory. Those agencies were nowhere to be seen at the Effies. And these are some of India's biggest and best digital shops.I also have it on very good authority that the Big Three are working very hard to present an integrated front to all clients. Mainline creative folk are working in a much closer fashion with their digital colleagues. That is the challenge to us digital specialists.I do agree with the other point you raised about production values. I do know that those are improving, though not as fast as we'd like. But the idea of this post was not to talk about the operational issues facing us, but the broader battles we're facing just to survive.

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  3. I know some great companies who doesn't get involved into awards and such. They just love to do their work at their best for their client's business. Business shouldn't be much of who's on top or who's on the bottom. Just do what you love and it will love you back too.

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  4. Either way, I think this is shaping up to be a pretty good competition, output-wise. It's still a level playing field, though; mainstream marketers already have a grasp of digital marketing, so the competition might go on for longer than expected.

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  5. Looks like the bigger ad agencies are starting to pick up again. I guess they managed to learn some very valuable online tricks, like going social, promoting online contests and the like.

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  6. WizardZ Window is a Strategic Media Planning and Production agency based in New Delhi, India. It helps Startups, SMEs and established entities attain their visibility goals by providing consultancy and helping them decide on the right mix of media for their advertisements. Further, we design print, video and online commercials and have complete in-house facilities for photography, video and designing capabilities for offline and online publishingProfessional Photographers in Delhi

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