Rishad Tobaccowala on Publicis Groupe's ambitions & obstacles in the race for digital supremacy
In India the group has an army of 800 professionals, spread across the network's media companies, working towards finding digital media solutions for their clients.
In 2012 they acquired search engine marketing agency Resultrix and a couple more acquisitions will materialise very soon, particularly to reinforce Starcom MediaVest and Digitas.
In India the group has an army of 800 professionals, spread across the network's media companies Digitas, ZenithOptimedia and Starcom MediaVest Group, working towards finding digital media solutions for their clients.
It was in 2008 when the group established an entity called Vivaki to accelerate the digital activities within its media and digital companies and drive the network's digital revenues northward. Since then Publicis Groupe's digital revenue has travelled from 10% to 35%.
More recently it got another boost after Digitas' merger with the Amsterdam-headquartered pureplay digital agency LBi, which they bought last year in a deal worth ¤416 million.
Around three months before Publicis' shopping trip, rival network WPP acquired a majority stake in AKQA, one of the world's biggest and most celebrated digital agencies.
Now the French communication group wants to take digital revenues of the network to 50% in the near future. Says Rishad Tobaccowala, chief innovation and strategy officer, Vivaki , "We achieved the first goal (linked to revenues). The other goal was to convince Wall Street we would not be disintermediated by Google and Microsoft and we are still in business. In fact we are partners with them. I'm sure one day we will all be disintermediated and sent to hell."
But that's a worry for another time. In 2013 Vivaki steps into a new role as more of an enabling unit and its job will be to help all agencies within the network win in the digital world. It's not going to be an easy win though. Countless hurdles dot the landscape; From human, social, cultural and technological changes that occur with furious frequency to a global population of ill-informed marketers who brush off digital as a temporary blip even today.
Marketers like one Srikant Sastri, country chair, Vivaki (India) came across three years ago. An FMCG CMO says, "I am a mass marketer and I am a TV advertiser, I don't think I need to worry about digital. It does not give me the numbers I need or the impact." The same CMO in 2012 says, "How do I get onto this bandwagon?" But now he's playing catchup, a sense of fear has set in.
In another case, a media owner says, "My consumer is not concerned with internet or digital at all." A response hardly uncommon, to which Sastri replies, "That may be true today. But see what happened in the US market. It came down like a ton of bricks." His response, "It's not going to happen here, not in the next 10 years." This interaction left Sastri at a loss. "To me the confidence with which a person says "the next ten years" is scary. It means you are closed and you are not even saying 'I'll keep my antenna up'."
"Sometimes the bravado comes from really not knowing but often it comes from feeling insecure. You never know which one it is," says Tobaccowala. He and Srikant are the first to admit that the future is indeed uncertain.
Tobaccowala says, "If you have been in this business for as long as I have (20 years) you tend to be simultaneously very sure about some things and very unsure about some things. But we are extremely sure that digital is for real." Although one cannot create a blueprint with any degree of certainty, "what you can do is connect the dots as you go along," says Sastri.
Most marketing according to Tobaccowala, a man known around the world as a media futurist, combines five original dots — word, image, video, audio and place. However, three new scaled dots have occurred. They are mobility that means where you are is as important as who you are.
Participation, not social, it means you can pass along the story, be part of the story, comment on the story. And the third dot is API or application protocol interface, "the only technical term I will use.
Today, your story can connect to other stories or connect to a YouTube video or Google trend database. These three not only are new dots but also are very fast-moving. They are in real-time. The definition of that becomes kinetic creativity."
In fact it is this kind of creativity that leads to empowered marketing. "When some people and clients say we are empowering people I say unless you are like Samsung, Google or Apple you are not empowering anybody. People are already empowered. So that presents two questions: how to market to people recognising they are empowered? And how can your marketing get smarter — because people are smarter — how can it be more two-way, more accountable, more focused?"
Some of those who do what Tobaccowala calls empowered marketing are Nike and Samsung.
Nike's Fuel Band for instance. "We are anyway constantly measuring ourselves. This is not self- quantification but self-love. You sync it up it gives you positive feedback. When Samsung said the next big thing is here, it was an interesting twist. When Apple made its name they said Think Different. But when Apple becomes status quo what's think different to Apple? In many ways, not only does Samsung have the products but they are saying why don't you think for yourself ?"
As an organisation the group is trying to architect and craft itself to be better at this variety of creativity and marketing, not only to deliver holistic communication solutions but also to blow competition out of the water. Particularly in India where their strategy is digital led.
"For the past 18 months we have had an agenda to build what we call digital dominance in this market," says Sastri. "Unlike traditional media where we were late, here we are very clear that we want to be twice as big as the other guys."