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The new wave of ad start-ups: The Mob, Tango Media, Zero:Zero

This year has already seen seven ad startups in seven months. A golden age of change in advertising or more of the same?

Updated: Jul 22, 2015, 09.04 AM IST
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This year has already seen seven ad startups in seven months. A golden age of change in advertising or more of the same?
This year has already seen seven ad startups in seven months. A golden age of change in advertising or more of the same?
It seemed only yesterday that a clutch of creative people left agencies to create startups. Powered by a chip on the shoulder about the ad business, the desire to "do something different" and perhaps the fairytale ending of being acquired, with earnouts paying them many times what they'd have made, slaving away at regular jobs.

And now we are plumb in the middle of yet another wave. Not counting the ones here, there have been at least seven high profile ad startups so far. The language these firms speak is radically different. They want to reinvent the wheel. Digital and mobile are the main event and not just the sideshow.

We are sure a few of these will, in spite of best intentions, find comfort and revenue in the familiar tropes of TV and print. Others will collapse. It begs the question: how many ad shops is too many? Is there enough business going around? There is, says Sandeep Goyal, founder of Tango Media if your ambitions are small enough. He believes "Many creatives are paid about a crore a year and move either when their agencies realise they are not pulling in enough revenue or when they feel they can earn more." There's enough space for 50 Rs 5 crore turnover agencies but very little elbow room for a Rs 1000 crore outfit which is what he hopes Tango Media will be in three years.

As for people from the last wave, they confess it's a struggle. Ramanuj Shastry, founder of the now two year old Infectious says, "We've been yoyo-ing between ecstasy and despair." The former when the agency is called by a new prospect, the latter when it realises the money they intend to pay.

And yet through it all, Shastry claims he's never been tempted to pack it in for a second go at advertising, an industry that's grappling with a serious shortage of senior talent. He says, "The money is not comparable to what you earn as NCD but you get freedom and a complete lack of levels and office politics. You sleep well."

The Mob

Founded: June 2015

CHRANEETA MANN & NITIN SURI

The new wave of ad start-ups: The Mob, Tango Media, Zero:Zero


When we reached out to The Mob, the month-old agency was preparing for battle. In the founder's words "chasing business at breakneck speed." And also working on designing a cool office, commissioning two National Institute of Design students to unleash creativity on its command central in Gurgaon. The mobile-first agency came into being because Chraneeta Mann and Nitin Suri believe that in traditional agencies, ideas with digital legs remain an afterthought. Says Mann, "We really need to break that mindset and get into a space that allows us to do braver, more experimental work." While Mann left her post as NCD at Rediffusion Y&R to start The Mob, co-founder Suri, was at one point NCD at Dentsu, and till recently partner at From Here On, an independent agency set up by Dentsu India's founding members Gullu Sen and Rajesh Aggarwal in 2011.

So, what does The Mob bring to an increasingly crowded table? Their focus is on ideas that work on the 'all-in-one' platform. The agency has started on a few large brands including Yes Bank and Videocon. It's also working on a corporate identity project for another ad startup, Sandeep Goyal-owned Tango Media.

Says Suri, "Today with the Internet, wearable technology, social media, app design, etc the world is converging onto what we call our 'personal screen'. It would be quite shortsighted of us to continue to view Mobile Advertising as limited to sending 'location based texts' when the possibilities are so much larger."

On the recent burst of ad startups Mann says, "Of course there'll be many startups but the ones that will make a mark will be the ones that can think young, fresh and are willing to experiment. The good news is that clients are willing to trust good talent, even though it might not have a comfortable traditional structure behind it."

Brave New World

Founded: February 2015

JOONO SIMON

The new wave of ad start-ups: The Mob, Tango Media, Zero:Zero


Brave New world is bit of an oddity of a name, but that is not the only odd thing about it. At the entrance of the agency's spiffy office is wallpaper that screams 'History Is Bunk'. The idea being to signal a clear departure from the past.

Founder Joono Simon had an exciting career graph with stints at Ogilvy India, Leo Burnett Colombo, DDB Mudra, JWT, Contract etc and brands like Titan, Allen Solly, IBM, Jockey amongst others. Currently, it is a fifteen member crew braving it out – trying to create X-factor tech-enabled communication innovations in addition to social, mainline and on-ground media. Branching out independently was imminent since Simon believes that no one else out there is doing what they want to do: "What most old-world 'creative-hotshops tout are dated models and comfort-zones."

The agency was recently in news when they created Pocketman to advertise a pair of jeans with 13 pockets for online brand Myntra. Instead of traditional advertising, they got a man to wear the jeans and stuff in as much as he could (48 varied things was our count), locked him up in a room, challenging him to prove that it is possible to live out of the contents of Roadster Pocketman jeans for a good 48 hours. As per Simon, "this was the longest continuous livestream in the history of YouTube India."

Tango Media

Founded: June 2015

Sandeep and Tanya Goyal

The new wave of ad start-ups: The Mob, Tango Media, Zero:Zero


Sandeep Goyal claims to have spent his five years away from advertising, relearning the business. The result: Tango Media, Goyal's return after the end of a five year non-compete clause with Dentsu, his last employer.

You'd be hard pressed to find a startup that does not make a few token noises about technology, but Goyal claims Tango Media is the real deal, powered by patented inventions. Its first killer app is a bespoke mechanism for a consumer to call a brand either over feature phone or smartphone.

Goyal is putting the mobile and digital world front and centre, exploring associations with firms from Israel. His agency is less interested in TV commercials than figuring out how to get the exact item being advertised on a banner ad instead of just being directed to an ecommerce site. Or how to serve up ads and offers, customised to an individual. Goyal has little patience for the new wave of digital creativity. He says brusquely, "Most guys running agencies are not in synch with the changing realities. Why should the consumer pay (in terms of bandwidth) to see your six minute long commercial?"

Zero:Zero

Founded: May 2015

Kumar Subramaniam, Kaushik Roy and Satish Ambewadikar

The new wave of ad start-ups: The Mob, Tango Media, Zero:Zero


Another oddball of a name, Zero:Zero is the agency cofounded by three ex-agency hands with background in advertising and digital brand solutions. Based in Mumbai, the agency's offering is around brand communication and design. In this case, the origin of the name is from the score at the beginning of a new game.

The rules of engagement have altered dramatically and even the most seasoned of communication specialists have to re-learn and start every project with humility, knowing that the score is, and will always be, Zero:Zero, says Subramaniam. The central team has been kept small by creating a field around this centre with professionals in technology, analytics, video production and activation. Not just the team-size but even the belief system has changed. "The challenge for everybody in this business today is to start with a blank page and let the solutions come from completely different places and mediums," says Subramaniam.

What's Your Problem

Founded: May 2015

Amit Akali, Praful Akali

The new wave of ad start-ups: The Mob, Tango Media, Zero:Zero


What's Your Problem, a full-service digital agency, launched before schedule because the press began referring to the startup as "Amit Akali's unnamed agency" or "soon to be launched agency." These mysterious mentions appeared in a series of articles about Flipkart commercials created by WYP in partnership with Chapter Five. The agency had five clients on board even before the naming ceremony or the official website. Its work for gourmet food brand Pico resulted in the company's logistic system crashing because it couldn't take the load of order volumes. WYP's website, however, is still under construction, confess the founders Amit and Praful Akali, Huzefa Roowala and Hammad Khan, all from different backgrounds, from ad agencies to MTV. And yes, all too pre-occupied with new business wins and on-going work. (For anyone still harboring theories of Amit Akali's long-time creative partner and fellow ex-NCD at Grey, Malvika Mehra joining him in his new venture, we asked. The answer: Negative.)

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