AgTalk | Restoring the advertising attitude: Vandana Sethi

Water is her vision of a whole new clarity and crispness to brand building exercises and efficient advertising deliveries. That marries an intensive consumer research, with new dimensions in creative thinking and a smart optimisation of media to construct a harmony of brand-thought that connects tangibly with the consumers. Delivering not just results, but high impact, efficient results. Vandana Sethi firmly believes that Brand communication is an investment, not an expense; as such it should be judged by Return on Investment, in the short and long run. Hence she promises and practices the "ROI Attitude" in every project she undertakes.

Vandana is a seasoned marketing communications professional with 20+ years of branding experience that cuts across white goods, IT & office automation, retail, grooming, real estate, automotive & lubes, tourism and consumer electronics sectors. ‘An attitude called advertising.’ Few clients or colleagues would disagree; that’s the signature of Vandana Sethi. The architect of several clutter breaking campaigns across varied verticals. For her advertising is more than science & art. Known to bewilder clients with spontaneous calls to target consumers, her un-following insights are a legend. She is respected by the legends of Indian advertising and marketing for her sharp insights and her instinctive delivery of campaigns that have found a consistent, landmark-response.

Currently Founder Director of Water Brand Consulting, in the past Vandana's entrepreneurial expertise has driven her to start branch of "Span Communications" and "O-Positive" in Mumbai. Having reaped rewards of her successes in these ventures, Vandana has launched "Water Brand Consulting".

Adgully spoke with this talented woman entrepreneur to know her mind on various aspects. Following are the excerpts of the conversation.

Adgully: How has been your journey like? If you could share 3 milestones of your journey so far?

Vandana Sethi: My journey so far has been challenging but definitely fabulous. Years ago, when I started my career in Kelvinator, I felt that it was indeed a milestone for me!

Although I belong to a business family, my mother being a School Principal, was more keen to see me pursue a career in education. As a result, after graduating in Sciences, on her insistence, I went on to complete a Bachelor of Education degree. However, my family roots soon made me realize that my natural instincts were towards business. Hence after completing a Masters in Business Administration, it was important for me to join a big brand.

Soon I got an opportunity as a Management Trainee in Kelvinator’s Advertising Department, and thus started my long journey in advertising.

Next, in the year 1999, I got an opportunity to start Mumbai operations for Span - a Delhi based agency - based on winning a 35-agency pitch for Indian Oil Corporation. Span was the only national agency amongst 5 other international agencies empanelled on the account. The successful execution of several important campaigns brought praise for the agency from IOC. This indeed was the second milestone of my life. At Span, apart from many other achievements, we won many campaigns of Incredible India against competition from the top agencies.

A couple of years ago, I set up my current venture – Water Brand Consulting. In an industry where many smaller agencies tend to operate in smaller domains of specialisations, our company has been able to deliver 360-degree communications for our clients including Digital & Events. This surely is the 3rd milestone of my life.

AG: How has the industry evolved over the years?

VS: Indian Advertising Industry has grown rapidly over the last few years, with as much emphasis on global as on national. In the process, the regions are not getting the importance they should. The regional communication needs are as important today as ever, in addition to global and national advertising needs.

Secondly, the role internet is playing in Class A and B towns and cities, has made a tremendous difference to those who understand how to utilise it. Mobile Internet being available in these areas has changed the way.

Thirdly, retail has changed the face of communication. On ground retail communication allows instant connection with customers, which drive sales. In support, the retail advertising and promotions claim quite a sizeable proportion of print revenues. Often we see retail print campaigns which are connected to online and on-ground promotions, thus making a 360-communication for the brand. With more FDI allowed in retail, the industry is going to see more investments in this sector, in terms of advertising / promotion.

Lastly, one of the categories that is constantly growing the most in advertising spends is government. At a time when advertising revenues are squeezed by the various brands, it’s the Govt. advertising that has prevented many a big companies to stay in black. The government is more likely to play a bigger role in future, as an investor, regulator and client.
Because of the above factors, the days of “360-degree communications” are returning with a new avatar.

AG: You firmly believe that Brand Communication is an investment, not an expense; why so?

VS: Brand Communications has always been and will always be a sound investment for every mini, medium and big brands. Globally it’s the smaller players who start off investing on the brand first, bringing themselves closer to customers while standing apart from competitors. Thanks to online-offline mix of advertising spends, these brands are able make a mark early, and within no time get noticed by corporate, who feel more comfortable in investing in them straight rather than starting from scratch.

There are an increasing number of smaller and younger players in India, who are following this model, and growing their business fast! These players understand the value of developing a brand, its financial implications in the long run and the opportunities to get a firm place in the customer’s mind and hearts.

I firmly believe that investing in any brand today will make a lot more sense for its future journey and more so in an environment where there’s more choice, more monies and less time for customers, across all categories.

AG: What were the reasons and the need behind launching Water Brand Consulting? What is the vision of the company?

VS: There are very few medium sized good set ups for hardcore brand consulting. Either you see boutique brand consulting shops or consulting firms associated to International networks. There are very few mid-sized regional / Indian players who are actually serving the medium level Indian clients.

In the coming retail era, it will be increasingly important for these medium sized clients to take their brands to a new level, making them stronger than ever and increasing their value. To this end, the medium sized brand consulting agencies like have a greater role to play. It is this space that Water was conceived to operate in.

Our vision is to make our medium level clientele discover the power of branding through our “under-one-roof” 360-degree communication services – whether it’s the online-offline, the traditional or new-media or the ATL or BTL services. 

AG: Is it fair to say that now you are more of an entrepreneur? If yes then what was the reason behind getting into that? 

VS: I’d like to call myself more of an “advertising entrepreneur”. I guess my passion for communication & marketing is always more overpowering than the will to just make that extra profit. But as they say, no creative work is worth its salt if it does not yield results in terms of sales. Similarly good strategy, work & business too go hand in hand. One doesn’t survive without the other! I too believe in this philosophy to a great extent.

I started it all in the first place, since I wanted to live my dream in my life time, instead of catering to someone else’s vision. As a result, whatever decisions I’ve made till now for Water, have in some way or the other, been moving towards living my dream of creating brands people love!

AG: ‘An attitude called advertising’ - that’s your signature, how well advertising industry has grown over the years?

VS: Advertising as a profession has seen drastic changes over the last 10 years, like it never did in the preceding 20-30 years! Digital revolution and its democratization of information through internet, has created thousands of mini advertising professionals. These people have been able to make the profession more approachable and democratic, while cutting out the hype and hoopla restricted to a few creative pros of yesteryears.

At the same time however, Advertising perhaps to a larger extent is losing the passion of its practitioners, which used to be the case in yesteryears. The reason could be many, but one of the key reasons could be that commercial creativity is no more considered a function of Art. Crowd sourcing has killed a lot of its originality in last few years. As such the advertising “attitude” has given way to more “practical” approach.

We at Water feel that the “Advertising Attitude” needs to be restored in the profession, since it really creates that big difference in creating “differentiation”.


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