Vaishali Verma took over as CEO of Initiative India, an IPG Mediabrands company, in 2018. The agency is ranked among the top three media agencies in India by RECMA in terms of market share, growth rate, business wins, and diverse clients, among others.
e4m caught up with Verma to understand what keeps Initiative at the top and what makes it a favourite for tech brands.
You have won media accounts of top tech companies like Amazon, Prime, MPL, CRED, Unacademy and Urban Company. Is technological prowess your key differentiator or there are other factors too?
Amazon went live with its India marketplace in 2014. It has been a rock-solid partnership with Amazon ever since then. We (Initiative) are a global partner of Amazon representing their media duties in most countries. While working for Amazon, we understood how tech platforms work. We borrowed a lot of media fundamentals principles from the FMCG sector which was our core, but the FMCG brands work differently, they rely on Brand health metrics. Tech brands are extremely dynamic and performance driven; they look at ROI that means every rupee spent needs to be accountable.
They need better searches and quick consumer acquisitions among many other things. We learnt these basics while partnering with Amazon for its launch in India. Then it was easier to understand what other tech brands wanted. Early success matters a lot. Apart from Amazon learning, we have strong digital marketing, full-funnel marketing, tools and planning process that helped us grow as one-stop shop for leading tech brands.
The year 2021 was amazing when we won a lot of business in the tech category. The growth for us in the next two years will come from new-age tech brands.
You often say that you are designed to grow brands through culture. How do you define brand culture?
Every brand which operates in a certain culture has high memorability. Cadbury, for instance, did amazing stuff during the pandemic when it tried to connect with retailers across India. Amul also did amazing work during the pandemic.
Cultural nuances of brands, which consumers recall better, are the space in which we operate. Strategy-driven insight helps us understand consumers through a cultural lense. How brands can engage in a better way, which is not just saying 'buy me', but also looking for deep engagement.
Tanishq, for instance, uses cultural nuances well in creating advertisements. Its latest ad on maternity leave is a different creative avatar. Harpic’s 'Mission Pani' and Uncademy’s way to reward educators define certain cultural nuances. Media and creative both have to align with these nuances.
From social commerce to moment marketing and now podcasts, several marketing avenues have evolved during the pandemic. Aren't clients being cautious about their media choices now?
Everything is backed by data. India is a large country with lots of cohorts based on different factors like geography, gender, age, occupation, then working women, mothers, and so on. We identify the best touchpoints for each brand. If a brand has an upper funnel (mass market) then it goes for TV.
If brand awareness is high but engagement is low, then we try to do social media and social commerce. Offline, digital, performance marketing, search, programmatic everything is decided as per the target audience. Customisation is the key. Tech platforms look at sharp media recommendations and targeting compared to traditional brands. We decide the media mix based on needs and focus of the brands.
Please throw some light on the latest/upcoming media buying trends for tech brands
Video planning, for both TV and OTT, is the larger part of media planning these days. Every brand aims to be on big-ticket properties like IPL and the world cup. If it has a budget and is looking for mass awareness, then it takes the IPL route. A lot of money has been shifted to programmatic for better targeting and response. Social commerce is new and not many brands are doing that.
Is IPL really giving the expected ROI?
I don't recommend IPL for quick ROI. Tech brands make sense in the IPL. IPL is an amazing property that is well penetrated and mass marketed. It offers big brand awareness.
If a brand already existed in the market for a long time, then it doesn’t necessarily need to be associated with IPL. Some brands already have their campaigns, and they want to complement them with the IPL. New brands spend a lot on the IPL for the first two years and then stop. They continue to get higher sales in the long term.
How is rising Inflation affecting the ad industry?
Auto and Consumer Packaged Good (CPG) companies have started bearing the brunt of inflation along with other factors like high-interest rates, rising fuel costs and Russia-Ukraine war. Their profit margins are narrowing due to higher input costs.
Due to lesser disposable income, consumers have cut down on buying shampoo, breakfast cereals and biscuits; they are buying smaller packs. The Electronics and Auto sectors continue to face shortages of chips or semiconductors which has added to the rise in input costs.
Advertisers have started cutting ad budgets upwards of 15 percent.
You have bagged many ABBY’s awards in the Innovative Use of Audio category. How do you think of audio as a medium of advertising in the time of short videos?
Radio is a great medium. The awards in the audio category give a lot of confidence to use the medium. Sometimes we don’t treat radio with respect. However, I know of many people who are listening to 40-40 hours of audio content. We should not take radio lightly, if there is a merit, use it. It is a reminder medium and helpful for brands that are already in the market.
What is your overall view on Goafest and ABBY's awards this year? Would you like to suggest some changes for the next year?
It was an enhanced experience this time. Participation was high and fireside chats, especially the ones on OTT platforms, were extremely interesting and entertaining. The footfall at the fest was huge this time. We should create something which can bifurcate the crowd in the next edition.