Ambi MG Parameswaran: Expect advertising confidence to come back

Parameswaran deciphers the significance of religion and marketing in India


Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Jaipur: Ambi M.G Parameswaran is executive director of advertising agency FCB Ulka Advertising and author of For God’s Sake.

In the book, Parameswaran, who has spent three decades working in advertising, deciphers the significance of religion and marketing in India. In an interview on the day two of Jaipur Literary Festival, he shared his views on the advertising market in 2015 and how religion will continue to alter consumption habits in India, a topic he studied as part of his doctoral research. Edited excerpts:

What broad trends will shape advertising in 2015?

Last year, if you take out the huge burst of advertising from e-commerce companies and even political advertising, the advertising growth rate was somewhat relatively muted. But this year, driven by general positive sentiment, relatively lower inflation, probably good budget, I expect advertising confidence to come back. I expect a lot more new products to be launched going forward. So 2015 will be an interesting year.

Are there signs of clients being more confident about spends?

We are seeing some signs of it, some of the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands that we work with that had a muted 2014, but are now saying that things are improving. What happened last year was that before the election the sentiment was very very low, so companies were postponing their plans to launch new products, retailers were de-stocking etc., so now there is positive sentiment and if the GST (goods and services tax) bill gets passed and the budget makes some strong moves, we will have a fairly strong advertising growth this year.

What are the projections this year?

Last year we saw single-digit growth and this year we should get into low-mid double-digit growth.

With all the noise and spends being diverted towards digital, what is your agency doing to better leverage the medium?

It depends from product to product. Digital is still around 5% of overall media spends. If you look at different categories it could be as high as 10%, I’m told real estate is one such category, financial services are even more than 10%, FMCG is a bit lower. Also online had been cloning offline for a while now. For instance, making a TVC (TV commercial) and putting it on YouTube, is that really digital? Except for some companies, others are not putting money behind creating digital-specific connect because at the end of the day digital is a a different version of TV consumption.

So all agencies are still trying to figure out if it’s better to have a digital arm which has specific competencies or should digital be brought in to the mainstream part of the agency. We have a specific arm that does a lot of digital work, it does search very aggressively, it does digital content. But some of our work we need to bring in to our main-line advertising. How do you take a core brand promise and take it across medium. Lot of agencies are making three-minute videos and putting them up online, it’s great fun, but at the end of the day how does it fit into your brand strategy, what’s the role of that video. So I think, one day we will move to a situation in some sense, in terms of integrating both online and off-line.

You wrote a book in 2014 exploring the intersection of religion with consumerism, to what extent is the theory visible in consumer behaviour in India?

The book looks at various ways in which religion and marketing interact in our country. For example, if you take religious travel for instance, it’s huge part of the tourism industry. We stared looking at it and found that in different areas religion in this country is playing a critical role than being less significant. As a country as we prosper, we assume that there are fewer and fewer people going to temples, but the opposite is happening. The book explores some of those things in a light-hearted way.

But advertising now is so much more progressive and willing to be more experimental, reflecting broader social aspirations at large? Where do concepts such as religion fit in?

Advertising has always used religion in subtle ways. If you see, more and more brands today are quite happy advertising for festival-related sales. Look at occasions such as Diwali or Dhanteras or Ganapati. We see ads during these festivals not just from the Big Bazaars but also from builders. This madness around Akshay Tritiya, for instance, that is making jewellers sell more gold to consumers is true. So the premise of my book is that religion actually is giving legitimacy to consumption. So I think in our country religion is a very happy bedfellow with marketing, because it is actually legitimizing consumption.

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