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Understanding Consumers... most critical for the advertising industry, as is understanding trends, to be relevant in India

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In the last seven decades, as India progressed to find a place of significance in the global economy, advertising has played a crucial role in contributing to the change — not only contributing to the economic growth, where there is still significant headroom to grow but also in mirroring, and inspiring, the transformation of a growing nation.

Our early days, since independence, continued to depend on print and media such as radio where advertising was allowed. That served its purpose because the role of advertising was limited to the most basic form of product information dissemination. This continued even in the early days of television. However, the pace of change had begun to accelerate.

Two important shifts occured with the advent of TV, particularly the dawn of colour TV, in the early 80s.

First, advertising began to bring in emotion and mass reach. When an ad appeared on TV, sales began picking up. It was a noteworthy milestone that indicated the early instances of how advertising was moving businesses and making a difference to sales targets.

The second shift, I would say, was when India was liberalised. This was important because for the first time, consumers in India knew what it meant to have a choice. Advertising became even more important because it began to create and harness demand. Prior to that, even for something like an HMT watch, there was a waiting list. Consumers did not have a choice. The role of advertising had continued to be about information. Liberalisation was a shot in the arm for advertising in India.

The role of advertising had begun evolving into building brands, generating demand and creating aspiration. This was when insights and triggers that moved consumers had come into play. Marketers were no longer selling products, but dreams. Over time, India’s creative language evolved — the confidence of being Indian and speaking the language of the nation, as opposed to being influenced by the West, marked this journey.

Fast forward three decades, and today, we are at the cusp of another revolution. Digital has changed everything. Smartphones changed the way consumers engaged with content, brands and their very lifestyles.

From a mobile first nation, we have moved to becoming a mobile only nation. We are leading global trends and examples on what that means. For every 100 new consumers on the Internet in India, 95 are coming from the mobile route, mandating professionals to think of ways in which the mobile code in connecting with consumers can be cracked.

As we do this, the next couple of decades will make elimination of wastage in advertising the key focus. We have a much better understanding of consumers and the manner in which they can be reached — right from the platform and time to the message and number of times.

We have to crack this Holy Grail of advertising. From broadcasting, we are moving to customisation, and hence narrow casting. The last few years have been the brightest for India, and I expect the next few decades to be the same.

As an industry, we have to continue to remember that the one who pays all our bills is the customer. To be relevant in India and to grow at 100X in the next 30 years, understanding changing trends will be critical. The consumer today is well informed and unforgiving. Marketers and companies that don’t understand conumers will be extinct. In the agency business, scale will increase substantially, and the old world will perish.

Only those who get the pulse right and capitalise on it, will live to see India at 100.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Ashish Bhasin

The author is Chairman & CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia

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