Abhijeet Dhar on growing CNN International’s ad sales business in India & South Asia

As Director - Sales for CNN International Commercial (CNNIC), Abhijeet Dhar leads CNNIC’s dynamic advertising sales business for the South Asia region, while working closely with senior client and agency stakeholders and CNN International’s global leadership team. His remit includes employing business intelligence and delivering tailor-made cross-platform solutions for brands in the South Asia region.

Since international news platforms like CNN are reimagining the future of brands, Abhijeet Dhar, Director - Sales for CNN International Commercial, speaks to Adgully about how an Audience-First strategy will evolve in 2023-24, why CNN is GenZ’s trusted destination, how brands can deliver seamless customer experience, and more.

As Director - Sales with CNNIC, how do you see CNN revolutionising the news industry?

Responsibility, a commitment to the truth and dedication to covering important news and events have been our mission since Ted Turner launched the network in 1980. One area in particular is covering the environment – Ted Turner is a passionate environmentalist and champion of change. And our journalists continue that by examining the evidence and delivering the facts around these issues. One such example is ‘Call to Earth Day’, which is part of ‘Call to Earth’, a major network initiative launched by CNN in 2019 to shine a light on those committed to safeguarding our planet for future generations. Over the last three years, this award-winning programming has told stories of change-makers, visionaries and ground-breaking projects that have been making a difference to the world around them.

On November 3, 2022, we held the second annual ‘Call to Earth Day’. Celebrating a planet worth protecting, we partnered with schools, individuals, and organisations across the world to raise awareness of environmental issues and to engage with conservation education. Examples like these show how we are not just reporting the news, but also truly engaging with the audiences and making a difference.

While well recognised in the industry, what makes CNN different from other news platforms?

At CNN, we generate worldwide attention with our news, shape opinions, move markets and create change. CNN’s impact is driven by our unique access, the power of our storytelling, the trust in our brand, and the influence of our global audience. We continue to be our viewers’ go-to source for facts.

CNN International Commercial (CNNIC) works with commercial partners in unique ways across all platforms so that they can be part of the CNN effect. The strength of our brand, the quality of our product (both editorial and commercial), our Audience First commercial strategy, the know-how of our people, our long-term and trusted client relationships, the innovation of our solutions, and our ability to tell stories in the most human and impactful way, set us apart from other news platforms.

What marketing and content strategies has CNN adopted to compete with other news platforms in a country like India?

CNN puts its audience at the centre of everything it does. Through its Audience First Strategy, CNNIC recognises and treats audiences as complex individuals with specific interests. Our insights and strategies support us to create seamless and engaging consumer experiences, enabling the world’s voice to reach their target audiences more effectively. To ensure the experiences we are delivering are advanced, we have built our Audience First Strategy on four principles that combine Tech, Data, Insight, and Creativity.

We know our audience, their behaviours, motivations, and interest - Using proprietary data and insight tools, along with years of delivering impactful campaigns and content, CNN is constantly striving to understand global audiences. Second, our creative content/ campaigns are based on deep audience insight, ensuring high quality and creative storytelling (sponsored editorial and branded content) is informed by data insight throughout the entire lifecycle of a campaign so that it best resonates with the key audiences.

At CNNIC, we have a host of user-friendly and impactful ad formats and solutions that sit natively in a CNN environment to make advertising a complementary and additive part of our audience’s experience rather than being intrusive or disruptive. Our solutions such as Launchpad+ create immersive social experiences, enabling our clients to also reach CNN audiences even when they are not on CNN platforms. We believe in creating the best ad experience by implementing the best formats and solutions.

Lastly, our next-gen targeting ensures the right audiences are reached at the right moment. We can identify and reach specific audience segments using a variety of sophisticated contextual targeting and semantics tools, first-party data, and data partnerships that adhere to strict privacy and regulatory compliance standards. Sentiment Analysis Moderator (SAM) is our brand safety and suitability tool that uses neuro-linguistic AI to intelligently analyse the context of sentences (across text, audio, video, and galleries) to intelligently determine when content is brand suitable. This ensures that advertising appears next to the most relevant content and avoids appearing next to anything that may not strike the right tone.

Using these approaches, CNNIC delivers sophisticated, dynamic campaigns for our partners with the audience at the heart of every step of the campaign. This approach puts the expectations and motivations of our audiences at the heart of how we help our clients and communicate with them.

What are the challenges broadcast and digital news platforms are facing in the current times and how is CNN overcoming them?

In this digital era, a vast amount of information is widespread and accessible at any given time. The challenge is that not all information is factual, relevant to all audiences, digestible or comprehensible in its delivery. At CNN, we are focused on reporting and delivering accurate, factual, information to users through a tailored, engaging, and seamless experience. We’re innovating and leveraging technology like data intelligence, analytics, and design to understand our audiences’ wants and needs to create personalised, relevant, interactive, and engaging experiences.

Please tell us about the ad campaigns led by CNN across the country.

A good example of an innovative and relevant program that taps into the conversation and audience interest around sustainability is ‘Going Green’, sponsored by India’s leading multi-engineering conglomerate Kirloskar, which has been running successfully for 14 years. The show explores green technology solutions for a sustainable future. The campaign has, through the years, reached over 700 million environmentally conscious viewers and more than 270 million business decision-makers around the globe to create awareness around sustainability and green innovations, according to GWI Q3 2021 report. The on-going success of the show can be well explained with GWI Q2 report of 2022 that confirms 92% CNN cross platform users in India being environmentalists. It also states that 87% of CNN cross-platform users care about the society and want to be socially responsible.

Another campaign that has been unique, especially in context to the last two years, is our ‘Rediscover Paradise’ partnership with Visit Maldives in promoting the destination as a preferred choice as they celebrate 50 Years of Tourism. CNN Create (our award-winning in-house production studio) has produced a content hub showcasing Maldives as a multi-dimensional travel destination. It brings together the growing body of content produced with CNN over the past two years, including unique, curated experiences within two digital galleries. The team also produced a first of its kind audio tour, which takes the audience on an immersive audio experience in the archipelago, far beyond the beach. Driven by the audience’s interest and the Maldives’ commitment to tourism sustainability, a digital article was also produced featuring Shaahina Ali, a dive master, conservationist, and photojournalist. Through her experiences and travel tips, the audience learns how sustainable tourism can help preserve the Maldives’ marine habitats.

Are there any upcoming GenZ centric content that we can expect from CNN?

At CNN, we are always evolving and staying relevant. Today, Gen Z has a formidable voice in matters of the world and are internationally inclined and increasingly responsible. All our content/ output is naturally aligned to these audiences and further accentuated by the trust they place in CNN.


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