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A big investment that we’ve made is on content: Shamsuddin Jasani

It’s Isobar’s 11th anniversary and Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD - South Asia, remarks with pride saying, 'we started as a full service Digital Agency and slowly and steadily we have evolved into what I like to call an agency for the Digital age." 

Recently, Isobar has announced key leadership changes across the country. This was to prepare for the next stage of growth for Isobar India. “We have identified the leaders of Isobar who will work with us to take the agency to greater heights. The elevations will boost an accelerated growth by forging stronger ties between the agency, partners and clients, along with streamlining business verticals and fortifying operational efficiency.”

 With these elevations, Isobar will further drive the global agenda of experience-led transformation across its practices.

In an interaction with Shamsuddin Jasani, Adgully discussed the agency’s growth plans, e-commerce practice and the potential and deployment capabilities of Voice

Excerpts:

11 years of Isobar. What is the growth of the company year on year? Place in the Dentsu Aegis Network and future plans?

It has been a phenomenal run.  We started Isobar at a time when there was a global financial crisis. That was back in 2008-2009 and I feel we are going through a similar crisis now as well with the industry slowing down a bit. However, Isobar has done really well in these last 11 years which is all due to the wonderful people and teams Isobar has had. From the day one that Isobar started, we were a full service Digital Agency and slowly and steadily we have evolved into what I like to call an agency for the Digital age. No longer are we just a digital agency and our clients are looking at us as helping them with solutions across the board with digital as the core and not just giving digital services. That has been the main change at Isobar especially in the last 2 years. A good example of that is Visa and the campaign we started with them. Our relationship started only as a strong social media relationship, but what our team has been able to do is, they convinced the client to do a TVC and hence we created our first TVC as an agency with Visa. Since then we’ve made a few more TVCs for other brands where we have completely changed the narrative of how an agency form the digital age works. For the last 8-9 years, it was purely digital and digital execution. I think that’s a big change that is happening now because what we’ve done is we have invested in talent on a more strategic level. Especially the strategic planners in our organization have changed our perception with the client where we are talking to client’s not just about digital campaigns and executions but also what we can do for the brand and how we can take the brand story forward and I think that is a major change we’ve had in the last 2 years. What we have also done is we have started investing in certain types of technologies which we want to back. Last one year has been a lot about Voice and we at Isobar are very proud about it and we’ve taken the lead in the industry for Voice. We feel Voice is going to change the way we interact, how advertising will change etc. That’s the space we have focused on in the last 1 year and we also had a great campaign where we made India’s first Voice banner. That was another big change that happened. Another thing we are really investing in is block chain and AI. I think AI is at the back of everything today whether it is Voice, google assistant or Siris of the world or even block chain. Artificial intelligence and machine learning is going to be the core of anything that is happening in the industry. From a technology point of view, that is going to power a lot of what we do. The CEAT block chain campaign that we did, was a very simplistic of doing it but there is a lot we are doing in that direction. The last one and a half year has been phenomenal and of course our 11 year journey has been amazing. Now it is to identify who will take Isobar into the future and we have a wonderful team. Many of them have been with us for almost 9 years which means there are there from the beginning of Isobar which is a wonderful thing for us.

With the recent elevation, what is the direction that Isobar wants to take and focus areas?

Very clearly, the people that have been elevated is to push certain things. For example, Himanshu who has taken charge of the Gurgaon office which is our biggest office, Himanshu has been with us now for 9 and a half years. He has been the key reason why the Gurgaon office is so big. It was only a matter of time for him and he has really bloomed in that avatar, with the responsibilities we gave him. 

We have a really strong social media team, but we needed somebody to look over the national social media for us. It has been in the works for a while and we seriously feel that this part of the business can run by itself because it is so strong that it doesn’t need to work with any other part of our business. This is going to be run under Akruti’s guidance.  One very big investment that we’ve made and will be making is on content. Clearly the whole industry is moving towards how brands can use content and that’s why Madhura has been given charge of content. We have already signed 4 clients on the content side of our business. By next year we want to take that team to about a 35 member team which is a very ambitious target for our content team and we are really keen on pushing it.

Finally, Anadi who was in our creative team, went on to tech and innovation role and now will also be the Executive Creative Director of the creative team along with Anish. The idea is that the amazing work the creative team has done, to really push that even further and make sure the work that is being put out there is of global class. That’s the idea of these elevations and there will be more to come in the next 6 months.

In an earlier interview, you had said that Voice will be a revolution in 2019. What are your plans around Voice?

As I said, we want to be the leaders in Voice and we are already doing a lot including many campaigns.  However Voice isn’t about campaigns. Voice is going to be a game changer in the industry. We as human beings are going to interact with things around us. One big change that Voice is going to bring is that it is going to change the way advertising is happening.

How do you see this impacting people’s lives?

So that’s a big one. It is possible that the screen time on your phone or device will come down. You will not be looking at phones as much. For example, you won’t type for searches you’ll speak into your phones.  You’ll not type for directions again, you’ll ask the AI for directions. You’ll be asking much more which will automatically reduce screen time and typing. Second big change that I see is, because of Voice the content penetration will go deeper into India especially with people who cannot read or write, which is a sizable number in India. So it will help with deeper penetration increasing the reach to a billion people.

But the reverse of that is that the technology needs to catch up and also the language abilities of these AIs need to catch up. India is so diverse and has so many languages. Once the AI catches up, I think it will be a game changer and help with deeper penetration. 

By adapting to Voice technology, how are advertisers and brands going to be affected?

At this point of time, Voice is all about creating infrastructure and creating assets. It is similar to what the mobile space was 5-6 years back. So at this point in Voice, we are all about creating the assets. So now with Voice apps like Alexa, google assistant or Siri, how do brands want to create their assets is where all brands are right now. All these platforms are still trying to figure out how they will charge the clients charge for this product. As it grows, you as a client need to get into that space of communication. A combination of audio, video and Voice will be the way in the near future. For example, if I own a Hyundai dealership, if a potential customer is asking for me, my ad should already be in place to respond to the customer the way they want it. This combination is essential for the future.

How is the digital agency of today transitioning?

I think it is a very good time for transition. We all know that the industry is not doing so well. So it is the right time to transition. That’s when people get uncomfortable and when that happens, they do see transformation as a big thing they need to start doing otherwise business will not be the same anymore.

So at Isobar, one aspect of our business is marketing which talks to clients on the marketing side, there we have shifted from just being a digital agency and took up a com strategy rather than just talking to the client about digital. We have clients for whom we create ads and campaigns not only on digital platforms but other platforms like TV too. The lines are getting blurry. Today, we are in a better place than traditional agencies to take a brand forward as we understand the digital strategy very well which makes it easier for us to progress. 

There is another part of the business we will be launching which is the digital transformation business which we will be launching as the Isobar media group. We will be working with clients to not only use digital for marketing purposes but also use digital to transform their businesses. It is the right time to ask what I can do to transform my business using digital.

Recent announcement by Mukesh Ambani in the field of DTH, block chain and OTT programmatic. What it means for the agency when India’s biggest conglomerate makes an entry into these focus areas?

This is wonderful for us. What is TV and what is digital is going to change forever and that’s something the industry needs to understand and solve for themselves. Imagine a large number of people after the launch of Jio 2 are not going to watch DTH. They will watch TV through the internet. So now from a measurement perspective, I can know exactly who is watching what. So now how do you buy a television in this new age of television? Is it the TV way of buying or the digital way of buying? Is OTT going to be bigger or the good old Satellite television will be bigger?

The answer is of course OTTs are going to be bigger. Big players have invested in OTT already because they have seen what is coming ahead. The numbers are going to explode. This is going to completely change the way we buy media. That puts us in a wonderful position because we understand that space better.

You have set up Isobar World Service?

Yes! We do have a team in Pune which has just been re-branded as a Global Practice. So a lot of global brands are going to touch it. It is where the entire Isobar global dips into. It has become the backbone for our Isobar Global technology departments and it connects with Isobar all over the world and has gone through a rebrand.

We are also starting the Isobar good practice which is going to take our capabilities as an agency which is digital and take it to clients who really want to do good. That’s a very important part of where we are in this world which is we need to be authentic which reflects on our legacy that we want to work on. I feel it is really important to give back to society and we do it in our own ways where we give money, we give our time but also our capabilities. We want to use these capabilities with our clients to do good. That’s another practice we will be launching very soon.  This is really close to our hearts and is really important to us.

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