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2018, a year of turmoil; tough times ahead in 2019: Naresh Gupta

Naresh Gupta, Managing Partner and CSO, Bang in the Middle, sums up the year 2018 in advertising and how runaway growth eluded the industry. He also expects the business to change structurally in 2019. 

We will not remember 2018 for the work it produced, or the awards we won at the global stage, or for the account movements. We will remember the year as the one that was full of turmoil. Maybe this was also because we were coming out of a really tough 2017, where the brands were recovering from the impact of external factors. 2018 by any stretch has not been the year of runaway growth. 

We will remember the year for Mr Piyush Pandey and his elevation to global CCO. By any stretch of imagination this is as big a role as it gets. It’s not that Indian Ad Executives have not moved into global roles, but never has an Indian had the opportunity that is in true blue leadership role of a true blue creative agency. His elevation will open the doors for more talent from India to move into global roles. Rajasthan is the land of fierce warriors, and it has added one more to its long list of acclaimed winners. 

The biggest news of 2018 is not Mr Pandey’s elevation, but Sir Martin Sorrell’s exit and the trouble that WPP is in. If Sir Martin’s exit was massive news, the subsequent reorganisation of JWT is even bigger news. For a large holding company to merge its really large traditional creative agency with a much smaller digital agency is a major move. Especially when the smaller digital agency will now have its name in front of the larger traditional agency. JWT, as we know, is no longer there, the famed Thompson Way will also see retirement. 

The issue here is deeper. We are seeing a massive churn in the holding company models of large creative and media shops. There is a struggle to stay relevant for the stand-alone specialist global agencies. There is a struggle even with fully integrated holding companies. There is a new competitor around, the consulting companies. 

It’s the pressure from consulting companies that is forcing the holding companies to relook at the whole structure of the business. There is greater turmoil that the industry will face. The holding companies will not find it easy to survive. The clients also will not find it easy to push the agencies for discounts. The whole process of pitching will change; the new age consulting companies will not follow the existing precedents. 2019 comes with the promise of truly disrupting the communication business. 

This year also saw the continuation of rise of Digital as a medium. Content has started to become an important driver of engagement, digital is now at the forefront of brand building, it’s even being used for driving brand awareness. Interestingly, the growth is not at the cost of TV, both mediums are finding their own place in consumers’ lives. This means that the big flat panel at home has not lost either importance or relevance. Just that the panel now is being used for both streaming and broadcast. 

This year also saw more and more celebrities become a brand. They are no longer content being a face for brands; they are now owners of brands. What started as a move in Hollywood has now landed on our shores. 

I will remember the year for Nike and how it took a contra pop culture icon to create a brand message. Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick created a storm. In times of aggressive hyper nationalism, this was a bold move. We may like it or dislike it; I don’t think we will ever see something like this even by Nike in India. 

2019 is going to be a tough year. May be a year where the business changes structurally. We haven’t had a time when the ad industry competed with consulting companies on home turf, that year has arrived.

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