New Delhi: Kim Das, Singapore-based business director and president of emerging markets at DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc., a subsidiary of the $13.9 billion (around 76,450 crore) Omnicom Group Inc., spoke in an interview about the growing importance of Indonesia and Vietnam, changing purchase habits and ways in which brands can connect with the technology savvy Indian consumer. Das is the son of writer and columnist Gurcharan Das. Edited excerpts:

Considering your DDB experience in New York, how different are the emerging markets from the US in terms of media complexity and consumer behaviour?

The world’s moved to a far more universal place in terms of media, the way it’s consumed and the way we work in the industry. But there are still substantial differences in the way consumers behave in the developed and the developing worlds. For example, in the US, consumers are more sophisticated in the area of certain products like women’s health. However, in categories like skincare, Asians are far more sophisticated than Western consumers. The prevalence of fairness as a category, for instance, is much more developed in Asia. Even skincare regimens and the way women are far more in tune with offerings, benefits and beliefs, are far more sophisticated in this part of the world than, say, in the US.

Moving to Asia, how has the consumer behaviour evolved over the years?

The biggest thing which has changed, and markets like India are great examples of that, is that the middle class has suddenly grown to a critical mass. Growing up in India, it was a very different consumer. The notion of saving, being frugal and preparing for the future—that has all kind of rapidly gone away. Today, you see a larger middle class population that’s much more in charge of the agenda in terms of buying for the house and consuming products. So you have seen a consumerist sort of culture taken over, which is a good and a bad thing. The good thing is, of course, you see people enjoying, having discretionary income for the first time. At the same time, you end up with a much more homogeneous McDonald’s culture, if you will, in the sense that consumerism continues to be at the core of what these people believe as opposed to, say, other value sets.

How is the mushrooming of smaller agencies affecting large established advertising agencies?

It has made the larger organizations take notice of the fact that many of these start-ups are slowly pulling projects away from the larger agencies because they provide what we all at one point in our careers provided—great ideas to the clients.

That’s what we can really learn from them—to stay nimble and give ideas as opposed to turning into some giant organization.

Advertising is said to be a reflection of society. But what about advertising that’s in bad taste?

It’s a question we wrestle with. Advertising is a reflection of society, but it is also a reflection of how consumers behave. But in terms of the way brands behave, we subscribe to the belief that ethics and a moral stance are a far bigger responsibility (today) than they ever have been. Particularly in the categories I work in, like skincare. There are a lot of companies that don’t necessarily subscribe to a strong sort of moral underpin, you know they’ll come out with claims that are incredulous. They come up with ridiculous ‘make you whiter in seven days type’ of advertising, which I think is terrible.

What makes Indonesia and Vietnam attractive emerging markets?

Sizeable populations. Indonesia is sitting at 240 million and Vietnam at about 90 million. You then have a young demographic, which means that they are more technologically savvy and their spends will increase year-on-year. Finally, you have the changing political landscape just like in India when the reforms were announced in the early 1990s. If you were to ask any marketer today, Indonesia is probably going to be at the forefront of his future investment. I think Indonesia and Vietnam are right behind India and China.

What categories are going to drive growth for India?

Multi-brand retail, for example, is just going to explode when it takes hold in this country. There is automobile and fast food. Skincare, beauty and cosmetic products—there is an awakening in the Indian woman in terms of the kind of things she wants and looking good is part of that. So you’ll see disproportionate growth in this category as well.

What are some critical ways in which brands can engage with their audiences?

One is having a strong social media platform in order to create a rich dialogue with the consumer. Secondly, brands are slowly waking up to data. Consumers on social media are far more public about who they are. And they share, which has never happened before. This behaviour has created a huge opportunity for brands to embrace the data they get from these consumers to create sharper marketing programmes.

The other way to engage is to be open about the fact that consumers have changed. For instance, a 16-17-year-old girl is no longer what her mother was when she was 16 or 17. Staying ahead of how she has evolved in the journey is a very important piece of what brands should be doing.