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Digital took centre stage in the advertising and marketing sector as the coronavirus outbreak dealt a serious blow to large traditional media platforms. Stuck at home, people took to digital and social media platforms like never before looking for inspiration to cook, to learn new skills, and to entertain themselves.

The demand slump resulting from the lockdowns, imposed to check the spread of coronavirus, forced companies to cut advertising budgets to save cost.

Barring digital, every other vertical in an agency took a hit as the majority of brands cut down on offline advertising with outdoor taking the biggest hit.

Advertising agencies forged partnerships with data and tech platforms, launched business models, and devised strategies to help brands better communicate with consumers, to shore up revenues. Advertising agency FCB India has partnered with experiential digital agency XP&D Interactive to help organize events, conferences, and product launches online.

Creative agency Leo Burnett launched three verticals focused on digital, consulting, and design. The agency developed a “short-term thinking model" called 0-3-6, to help businesses navigate the immediate (0), the next three months, and after-six-month strategy plan.

“All these launches are long term. Although we have launched a short-term thinking framework during the pandemic, I believe that’s how brand strategy will be devised in future," said Dheeraj Sinha, managing director for India and chief strategy officer, Leo Burnett, South Asia.

Media agency GroupM is also focusing on upgrading the skill-set of its workforce. The agency also launched INCA, an influencer marketing tool, in India this year.

“Digital acceleration, social commerce, e-commerce and influencer marketing is our focus area. We see these verticals growing by 5x to 10x in the next two to three years," said Prasanth Kumar, chief executive officer, GroupM South Asia.

Digital agency Dentsu Webchutney launched an innovative virtual internship programme Interns from Home in June. The agency selected 50 interns representing the future of advertising.

“The programme attracted candidates from tier 1, 2, and 3 cities and was conducted entirely on chat app Slack. The learning module had three main sections, including reading material shared on the basis of a weekly module on Slack," said Narayan Devanathan, CEO of India, Dentsu Solutions.

Meanwhile, brands leveraged social media platforms, video marketing, and influencers. Packaged foods company Mondelez India, which sells Oreo cookies and Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolates, has leveraged content marketing to inspire customers to create at home recipes using its products.

“People have discovered that they can be good in the kitchen and so those habits will continue. Our work on recipe creation using Tang, Cadbury Coco, or an Oreo as a hero ingredient to create interesting dishes will continue," said Inderpreet Singh, associate director, marketing (gums, candies, beverages and meals), Mondelez India.

Influencer marketing also witnessed a spike as it started driving the communication strategy for brands.

“Social media, influencer marketing, and content marketing, which drive the usage of products, has been our key focus this year and this will continue in future," said Shirish Agarwal, head of marketing and brand, Panasonic India.

For home-grown bags and accessories brand Baggit, the covid-19 pandemic provided a push to look at the digital platforms more seriously both from the marketing and sales perspective.

“We have made a massive shift to digital marketing, taking ad spends across online platforms from 10% in 2019 to 100% this year. This helped us conserve cash and also provided a high return on investment on our advertising expenditure," said Nina Lekhi, managing director and chief design curator, Baggit.

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