Branding in Asia recently caught up with Satish Krishnamurthy the newly appointed Chief Strategy Officer at TBWA\India. Krishnamurthy has recently made the jump back to agency life after spending more than five years heading up strategy at Sideways Consulting.
His career spans more than 20 years and has taken him from Bombay to Madison Avenue and back again. He holds a master’s in advertising from Syracuse’s renowned Newhouse School of Public Communication.
Through the course of our conversation, Krishnamurthy dives into the Indian ad industry and how it’s changed over the course of his career, the evolving consumer, and the effects, both long and short term, of the pandemic.
His appointment at TBWA, in a way, has brought him back full circle; he worked as a strategist and account planner with the agency in New York some 16 years ago.
You’ve worked in both the US and India. How has creative strategy evolved in India and where do you see it going in the future?
Advertising has evolved in India, yet has remained the same in many ways.
Many things have evolved, for example, the language has become more colloquial in nature. This reflects the shifts we are seeing in our everyday life as well. Meanwhile, the sets have become slick, the production has become more polished.
Also, these new start-up companies are driving advertising towards a culture of performance marketing. Since the objective is to show growth, the game has become tactical in nature.
“If people establish a connection with your brand in their lives, they will seek you out and engage with you online.”
But, some things don’t change. The concept of family and relationships still holds ground for many mainstream brands, especially FMCG companies. Humour is still underpinned to drive awareness of many categories, including the new-age financial companies.
With the TikTok/Reels culture slowly taking over, brands are also driving content that is short, impactful and shareable. It’s interesting to see how this will further evolve.
You’ve said before “consumers don’t break down online and offline separately, it’s all an integrated experience for them. We have to create a strategy to consider all moments of truth where consumer friction exists.” Could you expand upon that?
If I understand correctly, the nomenclature of ATL and BTL has actually emerged from an accounting practice, where they put advertising above the Grand Total line, and everything else below it. As marketers, we break things down because it becomes easy to manage.
But for consumers, everything exists in a cohesive experience. Digital is not seen in isolation, it is only one of the channels to interact with your brand. Everything is connected, and our lives are intertwined more than ever now. Companies should not think about it as digital marketing, but approach it as marketing in this digital world.
How good you are on Facebook and Instagram depends upon how good you are outside Facebook and Instagram. If people establish a connection with your brand in their lives, they will seek you out and engage with you online.
“Agencies that work more closely with the client to impact overall growth are the ones that can add value to the relationship.”
Make the apps easy to use, respond to them as soon as possible, ensure that they get the information they need. Help people solve real-life problems through the digital ecosystem. Remove any consumer friction that exists through the marketing journey, and your brand will achieve the love that it deserves.
The past year has been incredibly painful for ad agencies around the globe. What have you learned and what changes do you think will stick around?
The future belongs to those who adapt. We have come far in the last two years; we have adapted and gotten back control of our lives. Similarly, agencies have to find the best way to deal with change and thrive in this new reality. A few lessons have emerged.
Leverage the new world: Agencies have to recognize that we cannot use the pre-covid models of working in this reality. With WFH becoming a reality, agencies are now rewriting their policies, allowing for flexibility of working from home or office, even designating certain days as WFH days. This will become a mainstay norm.
“Clients want partners who can help them tide over tricky situations.”
Make geography history: In today’s remote world, we need that connection more than ever. It doesn’t matter if you are in Singapore or Bombay or London, it is now easier to make everyone feel part of the same team. Agencies that can break down borders and behave in geography-agnostic ways can ensure better collaboration and a sense of belonging with their people.
Become creative growth partners: When no one is buying as much, companies want to tackle problems in areas other than what advertising can impact. Agencies that work more closely with the client to impact overall growth are the ones that can add value to the relationship. Clients want partners who can help them tide over tricky situations. An agency that can help in that is a keeper.
What made you make the jump to TBWA?
I spent my formative years at TBWA\Chiat\Day, learning strategy from the best minds on Madison Avenue. So, when I got the opportunity to boomerang into the pirate collective, it felt like coming full circle.
“TBWA\India is at the cusp of a breakthrough. We are locked and loaded to help businesses reimagine their growth.”
The TBWA\ collective truly epitomizes this spirit of being a pirate in today’s times. The updated model of DisruptionX is a great example. It enables us to think upstream to create business impact and also downstream to create Disruptive Experiences. I am eager to apply the DisruptionX model for all clients, so that we can redefine and reshape the market through value creation.
TBWA\India is at the cusp of a breakthrough. We are locked and loaded to help businesses reimagine their growth. We just launched our data practice, Weapon. We already have an established culture model that we dip in to inform our strategic thinking.
It’s all very exciting. I look forward to working with Govind, Parx, Namrata, Ashwin, and Srijib to transform TBWA\India into a creative growth company and bring it to its rightful place in India.
Are there any campaigns that have come out of the pandemic that you’ve enjoyed?
While some clients regularly advertised, there were a few pandemic-themed campaigns that really stood out.
The Match.com ad by Ryan Reynold’s Maximum Effort is a wonderful narrative of how our lives turned upside down in 2020, but if you ended up finding love, it was all worth it.
Faroe Islands kicked off the pandemic with this Remote Tourism initiative. It’s a good example of brand ingenuity, that can leverage even the toughest of times to your advantage. I like how tourism is at the core of the entire narrative.
McDonald’s recognized how we all long for social contact in this pandemic. This ad by TBWA\Neboko shows how a little serendipity can help people find each other, as if by destiny. I like how it also translated into a social activation – Parking Dinner for Two.
What are your favorite campaigns you’ve been a part of?
I have been involved in many campaigns, but by far the most meaningful one was the one where we actually saved the lives of people. As Behaviour Architects, we tackled the biggest social problem in Bombay City – deaths due to trespassing on railway tracks. Our behavioral interventions reduced trespassing deaths by over 60% in Wadala, the high-casualty zone we chose for piloting solutions.
This went on to be known as the Wadala Experiment, which then got rolled out across both Central Railway and Western Railway stations across Bombay city.