advertising, campaigns, challenges, creative, insight

On The Edge Of Glory

2022 has been a bit of a personal creative renaissance.

After a couple of years that were decent, but not exactly breakthrough, I felt like I was finally leading the kind of work I’d always aspired to. Work that landed strong business results, caught fire on social media, was discussed by the industry and managed to bag us a bunch of awards too.

This didn’t happen by chance. Looking back, I can pinpoint the moments in time where I was introduced to new ideas that helped shape our thinking. And led to work we’re immensely proud of: #SearchForChange, #YukBukaSuara, #IndiaKiUdaan, #KeepTraditionsAlive (Eid, Diwali, Raksha Bandhan), and more.

Discovering, absorbing and acting on the ideas I’ve learned from Les Binet, Peter Field, Orlando Wood, Byron Sharp and Jonah Berger has turned me into a student of creativity and marketing effectiveness.

And if there’s one thing I’m dead certain of, it is that marketing stands at the precipice of a creative renaissance: we can either choose to step back and continue down a path of average-ness, or step off the cliff into the bold, glorious unknown.

LinkedIn is full of people summarising what they’ve learned from this new group of marketing thinkers. So I thought I’d give it a shot, and share how I’ve synthesised their work into a method that has worked for me. Any errors in understanding their work are mine alone, and I welcome your critiques and builds.

Here’s my buck; now where’s my bang?

Messrs. Wood, Binet, Field and Sharp have shown, with evidence, that long-term campaign effectiveness has declined as Extra Share Of Voice (Share Of Voice minus Share Of Market) has declined. While award-winning campaigns continue to be more effective than the also-rans, the effectiveness of these campaigns too are on the decline, suggesting a fundamental shift – in the wrong direction – in advertising principles altogether.

Made you look?

The root cause of this decline is what the group calls The Triple Jeopardy of Attention.

As budgets have moved from brand to performance, with a focus on short-term effects at a large scale, the mental availability of brands (salience) has declined.

It doesn’t help that marketers still mistakenly believe that one impression on platform A has the same value on Platform B, whereas different platforms generate different kinds of attention. For example, Linear TV is becoming less and less relevant while Social continues to rise, with users turning to influencers and friends for trusted, credible recommendations and content. An impression on Social thus might have more value than one on linear TV.

Finally, ads themselves have changed in the performance marketing era, to narrow-focus, chopped narratives. While they’re designed to quickly land the brand message with people who aren’t paying attention, they aren’t designed to drive any attention in the first place: making this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

The times, they are a-changin’.

The world is in polycrisis, heaving from one issue to another.

Two years of the pandemic have forever transformed society and the way we consider living our lives, fuelling meaningful conversations about gender and racial equity.

Economic recovery has been short-lived, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dealing a blow to the global economy.

Misinformation is proliferating, and the new media cycle about AI has sparked more questions than answers.

And then, of course, the threat of drastic climate change looms large.

In this age, multiple studies suggest that brands that demonstrate a strong understanding of lived realities, focus on inclusion and representation and address real problems are likely to win.

I’ve drawn some conclusions based on what I see with the work we do.

A simple, contextual and insightful text tweet promoting a feature is likely to get way more attention, and spark more engagement and conversations about the feature than a 30-second ad film about the same feature.

Ad films rooted deeply in lived realities and local culture are more likely to drive earned media and become part of the conversation than traditional slice-of-life storytelling-driven ads; the latter seem to need a higher paid media spend to drive business impact.

All of which just goes to show that traditional advertising is more likely to be ignored; unless a consumer simply can’t escape seeing it.

For FFF’s Sake!

Binet and Field’s seminal work, The Long And Short Of It, proves two points in particular.

One: Emotional campaigns are more effective across almost all business metrics – and are able to get more attention than rational campaigns.

Two: Fame-driving campaigns in particular (defined as those that build word-of-mouth advocacy for the brand, get talked about, create authority for the brand, and give the sense that the brand is doing the most running in the category) outperform all other kinds of emotional campaigns on all business metrics.

Simply put, campaigns that are built to get attention do better than those that aren’t.

Binet, Field and Wood found the following common threads between those attention-grabbing campaigns.

Firstly, they drive Fame, or salience, building long-term memory structures to bring the brand to mind.
Secondly, they generate Feeling, an emotional connection that orientates our attention and puts things in long-term memory to make one choice more obvious than others.
And thirdly, they have high Fluency, and are highly distinctive from other campaigns.

Instinctively, the FFF framework feels right: the more shareworthy, insightful and distinctive the work, the better the results.

Take your first STEPPS

Late in 2021, I rediscovered a framework to help me put FFF into action. Courtesy Jonah Berger, and the Viral Sprint he hosts for Section, Scott Galloway’s online education outfit.

Prof. Berger shows that brands which have scaled rapidly have done so by focusing not just on sales results, but brand results. The tl;dr is: campaigns that are designed to drive Adoption+Advocacy drive greater business impact than campaigns designed to just drive Adoption.

It’s called STEPPS, and is designed to inject talkworthiness/memorability/attention-grabbingness (my submission for the Oxford Dictionary’s Word Of The Year) into your campaigns. Turning what could be a potentially average campaign into something that drives both Adoption and Advocacy.

The acid test

The first campaigns we implemented these frameworks on were for our 2022 International Women’s Day campaigns, in both India and Indonesia. The resulting work, and the impact it drove, changed my thinking forever. Both campaigns generated way higher volumes of social conversation and press coverage than we’d anticipated, while landing strong business results. The India campaign has become Google India’s most-awarded campaign in recent years.

We fast-followed with the India@75 campaign, #IndiaKiUdaan. And ended up being talked about more than even the government’s own efforts to celebrate the moment!

Since then, STEPPS and FFF have become the muses of my personal creative renaissance. And helped me redefine and reinvent how I want to approach my work for the next several years.

#TIL Forever

The journey isn’t over yet. There’s more to read and learn from Binet, Field, Wood, Sharp, Berger and others. I’ve yet to dive deep into Mark Ritson’s work – I keep seeing pieces of it on LinkedIn that excite and energise me.

In the meanwhile, if you’re looking for further reading, here are my sources:

  • The Long And Short Of It, by Les Binet and Peter Field
  • Lemon – How The Advertising Dream Turned Sour, by Orlando Wood
  • Contagious, by Jonah Berger

I’ll leave you with one last thought:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Rita Mae Brown

It’s time to jump off that cliff.

careers, challenges, opportunities

The One Where I Listen To Ross

1 Jan. 9 Jan. 20 Jan. 3 Feb. 17 Feb. 18 Feb. 21 Feb.

We’re just over two months into 2023, and it’s been a year of great change – personal and professional. Change is never easy, and brings along with it uncertainty and anxiety…but also opportunity.

As I went through these last two-odd months, I found the space to reflect, upon the past and upon the future. And, as I found clarity, I also found myself remembering a talk I’d made at an offsite last year. A talk about finding clarity, driving change…and pivoting. For anyone going through similar musings this year, I hope this helps.

I turned 40 last January.

Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re wondering – 40? Samit looks not a day over 28!!!

But…who am I to argue with how we measure time?

So. I’d just turned 40. That’s a fairly significant milestone in anyone’s life. And a good moment to step back, reflect and take stock.

I was, I reflected, happily married.
I was a new Dad, something that has always meant a lot to me.
I was part of a great team at work, leading a great group of people in doing meaningful work.


The pandemic had still separated us as a family.
I was struggling with my own health and fitness.
And I was, frankly, a bit lost from a career perspective. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do or should be doing…or if what I was doing was making me truly happy.

The work I do has always been a huge part of who I am. And the last question was haunting me, dragging me down…making me somewhat unhappy.

I ended most days exhausted, feeling as if I were running on a treadmill – putting in effort but not really moving forward.

My energy was declining, and it was harder and harder to be positive and find motivation.

One day, during a conversation with my coach, I shared some of my thoughts with him.

That’s when he introduced me to the Japanese concept of ikigai.

Many of you will be familiar with this already. 

Ikigai means, “a reason for being”.
It refers to something that gives someone a sense of purpose, a reason for being.

My coach asked me to spend time reflecting on what my own ikigai was.

It took me some time to get there. But after several weeks of reflection, I discovered – no, I remembered – my ikigai.

And this led me to make two profound changes. One professional…the other, personal.

I’ll start with the professional.

Last June, in a 1:1 conversation with my manager, I shared with her my struggles and fast-declining happiness with what I was doing.

You see, the reason I joined Google was to build my favourite brand from the inside out. To tell our story to the world, to help people see the company the way I do.

Somewhere along the way, I had lost sight of that.

I’d buried that goal under the idea that I was still building our brand, through the work I did.

But the work I was doing was taking me further and further away from what makes me happy, from what gives me energy, from the areas I was strongest. From the very reasons (I think) Google hired me in the first place.

The thing is, it was right in front of me all this time.

On the first line of my social media bio.

“Reader. Writer. Geek.”
Reader: Someone who is fond of reading.
Writer: A person who writes books, stories or articles.
Geek: A person who collects facts and mementos related to their fields of interest.

My ikigai lies in connecting everything I read and collect, developing ideas and telling stories.

And that’s what I found I enjoyed most, even after all these years.
Dreaming up ideas, telling stories.
I could wrangle the stakeholder management and even survive budget management – with a little help from my team.
I learned a hell of a lot.
But I needed to be focused on telling stories.

That conversation led to me stepping away from Brand & Reputation Marketing, and refocusing on Brand last June.

And, every night, no matter how hard the work day has been, I go to bed happier and wake up more energised than I have in the two years past. Using everything I learned in those years to good effect, too.

Now on to the personal.

Very simply, my ikigai is my family.

And, after becoming a father, I found myself more determined than ever to have more time in this world with the two people I love the most – my wife Saav and my son Reyaan.

That’s literally my reason for existing.

Since November, I’ve been on a journey to combat ageing and extend my lifespan. (Bizarre but true.) 

I began with a lot of research on nutrition and supplementation that’s already borne results…but that’s a story for another time.

In January, I realised that my fitness just wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I knew that doing the same thing over and over again would just give me the same results, over and over again.

I needed to make a drastic change.

On the 7th of March, I started out at Ultimate Performance Fitness. The gym that media reviews call, “The Goldman Sachs, Real Madrid, Apple of personal training. They’re so far ahead of the field.” I discovered it on Google – it had 499 reviews that day, of which 498 were 5-star and 1 was 4-star. How could I not sign up?

I have to say…

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Harder than adjusting to the client side.
Harder than B&R.
Harder, sometimes, than even parenting.

The very first day, I found myself strapped into a machine that was nothing less than torture equipment, physically crying, and yelling at myself – “Remember why you’re doing this! Remember why you’re doing this!”

The programme combines an incredibly strict calorie-deficit diet regimen with a weight training routine that is based on the concept of Progressive Overload. And is supplemented by an active lifestyle – I have to get 10k steps a day, come what may.

Since March I’ve sacrificed dessert, alcohol, and eating out. I’ve had 4 drinks since I started. Food isn’t a source of pleasure – it’s just sustenance, something that my body needs to go on living.

But I’m gradually learning a new, healthier, more sustainable way to live.

Slowly, every day began to get easier. My body began to transform, visibly. I began to end workouts strongly, and look forward to the next one.

The result? I’ve dropped 10kg and 12% body fat…so far.
And gained 4kg of lean muscle.
I have more energy than ever before.
I’m no longer disappointed when I look in the mirror.
I feel more confident – and I think it shows.
And I’m only halfway to my goal.

But, most importantly, I’m happier. I know I’m investing in my ikigai – and that any additional years I get with Saav and Reyaan are worth the pain I’m going through now.

So, what have I learned from all of this?

One: Prioritise happiness. Not success, not promo, not money, not transient pleasures. The long-term outweighs the short-term, no matter how difficult or far away it might seem. Finding a role you love. Find those things in your personal life that set you up for happiness. When you prioritise waking up happier every day, things just have a way of coming together.

Two: Purpose is the most powerful motivator. Reflect deeply. Once you’ve found your true purpose, it’ll blaze so bright within you that it’ll illuminate a path for you in the darkness. Understand your purpose, your why, and everything will become much clearer.

And, three: Don’t just embrace change – trigger it. It’s when things seem the most difficult, the most complicated, the most unachievable, that triggering change can set you on a better path. And that’s where leading with ikigai can guide you along the way.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

campaigns, challenges, industry, influencer marketing, social media

Making Influencer Marketing Credible Again

Is influencer marketing as influential as it used to be?

This post is probably going to rake up some controversy, but I’m going to write it anyway.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching social media closely. I’ve been hearing whispers from agency folk and brand managers. And everything points to one irrefutable fact.

Influencer marketing just isn’t as credible as it used to be.

I’ll go out on a limb, one step further.

Influencer marketing just isn’t credible any more.

And here’s why.

One. Brands aren’t being discerning enough. Anyone with enough followers or readership qualifies to be an influencer. No matter how tenuous the connection between the influencer and the brand promise.

Two. Influencers aren’t being discerning enough. Most influencers today seem to be happy to work with any brand that is willing to work with them (read: pay them well). Rather than the brands they really love. The faked enthusiasm shows in every overexcited tweet, in every hard-selling blog post.

Three, following on from my previous statement. People today are becoming more and more aware that people who randomly start promoting a brand are being paid to do so.

Having been one of the earliest exponents – and practitioners – of social influence marketing in India, I can’t help but wonder – whatever happened to the influencer marketing we used to know and love?

For those who came in late, here’s how it’s supposed to work.

  1. Brand identifies potential influencers. These are usually people who are perceived experts in a particular field (related to the brand’s sphere of operation), or die-hard brand fans.
  2. Brand contacts influencer. Influencer agrees that the brand is a great fit for them.
  3. Brand and influencer work together to co-create content.
  4. It’s a win for both, the brand and the influencer. In the truest form of influencer marketing, there is no money exchanged. The brand gains credibility. The influencer gains readership/following/indirect revenue through their association with the brand and wider exposure. And/or merchandise and/or products and/or an exclusive experience.

So here are a few thoughts on how to make it better again. Very simply, going back to the basics.

Brand Managers, be picky about the influencers you work with. Frankly, there’s a limited pool. And every social media agency has pretty much the same list. Look for a few really good and relevant influencers, rather than a wide pool of irrelevant (to your category) influencers. Or work even harder, and discover someone who could become an influencer through your campaign. Your campaign will look and feel more authentic. And you’ll save a few bucks too.

Brand Managers, avoid your instinct to hard-sell. The more sell-y the content you co-create, the more people will avoid it. Don’t be lazy. Find a way to subtly weave your brand promise into your influencer’s natural content. It’s a brand-building exercise, not a sales one.

Influencers, stay true to yourselves. If music is your passion (and the reason people follow you), you have no business working on a food brand. And if you love rock music, don’t pick up a campaign related to Bollywood pop. If you’re an iPhone fan, don’t work with an Android OEM. If you’re a jeans-and-tees person, avoid the business/formal clothing brands.

Influencers, don’t do every campaign you get. I’ve seen people tweet for OLX one day and Quikr the next. The agreement you sign with a client may not be exclusive. But being loyal to the brands you actually respect or use will win you more credibility with your audience. It’ll also keep your client loyal to you. Money is always tempting. But eventually, you’ll end up diluting your brand equity. And your follower count.

Influencers, be transparent about your engagement with the brand. There’s no need to pretend that you wrote a post out of sheer love. Talk about how you’re engaging with the brand. It’s also ok to tell the world that they paid for your trip, or paid you to write the post, and leave it to your followers to judge for bias. It’ll just help you build further credibility.

As usual, I’d love to know what you think. Do leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Footnote: I want to touch upon the issue of brands paying an influencer. I personally believe that paying an influencer to engage is antithetical to the concept of influencer marketing. It’s no different from hiring a celeb to endorse your brand. I do also believe that influencers work hard to create content and build a deeply engaged following, and deserve to be rewarded for the work they do. It’s a grey area; so in the end, you should just do what seems ethical to you.

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:

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.