Atika Malik and Emmanuel Upputuru talk to LBB’s Laura Swinton about why bringing together experienced experts and energised youth is key to building brands in India
India is one of the youngest countries in the world – by next year, 2020, it is predicted to be the youngest. In a population of 1.3 billion, around half are under the age of 25 and the average age in the country is 29. In a notoriously youth-obsessed industry like advertising those statistics are like catnip, particularly as legions of open-minded, digitally native Gen Zs enter the workforce.
But at Cheil India, an agency renowned for its tech-driven innovation work for Samsung, that youthful energy is just half the story. They’ve been striving to build a creative department that is free from silos and hierarchies when it comes to channels, and that mentality is just as important when it comes to age.
Emmanuel Upputuru is CCO at Cheil India and much of his time is spent focusing on talent and putting together the right teams to satisfy constantly evolving client demands. For him, rather than falling in thrall to the qualities of youth, having a balanced and inclusive mentality when it comes to age is important.
“I think older talent is very important because they’ve got brand-sense, they’ve got a larger picture in mind,” he says. “The more they embrace new technologies and not be intimidated by it, a lot can be done. We’ve got to all work together – the younger people have the energy and they know the language faster but they can’t see the bigger picture about what the client wants to do.”
Emmanuel’s colleague Atika Malik, who is COO at Cheil India agrees. “I like that because agencies are vey hierarchical otherwise. There’s this level and that level… and by the time you climb the pyramid you’re older. What’s nice is that within the creative group there maybe someone who’s operationally leading the group but in a sense hierarchies are broken down. You’ve got a really young person challenging you from far afield, saying, ‘why can’t we do it like this?’. Both learn from each other on every single campaign, every single week.”
That mix is particularly important in market that’s growing as quickly as India. With mobile, for example, smartphone usage grew year-on-year 16% in 2018, making it the highest growth in smartphone usage in the world - and with that comes unprecedented demand for content, rapidly evolving consumer behaviour and changing client needs. However, it would be easy to swept up in the quick-win, short term of novel new tech and platforms. A bigger, broader, brand-led view is an important voice in the creative team and there’s plenty of expertise that more traditionally-reared creatives can share.
“The speed at which India is growing and the speed at which mobile platforms are growing is absolutely mind-boggling,” says Atika, laying out the huge challenge facing agencies and marketers alike in the country. “We’ve got a population of 400 million millennials. How do you talk to them in a way that’s fresh every day, personalised to them due to very targeted communication ? And yet, how do you tell a powerful and emotional story? Every time I switch on my phone, show me something new and amazing because I’m going not going to watch that spot seven times and yet , be an inspiring brand with purpose and meaning. Oh, and tell it to me in five seconds please.”
The work on Samsung is a case study in how the agency works on the granular, day-to-day needs of a mammoth client whilst also bashing out big, emotional stories that hit you in the heart. On the one hand Cheil handles e-Commerce, instore retail, influencer marketing. (And that’s a huge job considering how big India is for the brand. Last year, they opened their largest store worldwide in Bengaluru and, while fighting off challenges from Chinese brands like Xioami, Samsung has managed to retain its position as the number 1 smartphone brand in the country.) On the other they’ve hit home with big, emotional brand stories and purpose-driven innovation.
There’s 2017’s ‘We Care for the Girl Child’, which tells the true story of a girl who becomes a refridgerator engineer thanks to Samsung training – that film is currently sitting at over 81 million views on Youtube. Or last year, there was Good Vibes, the vibration-led product created to help the blind-deaf to communicate via mobile. This year, the big brand-building campaign has been around encouraging young people to break the stereotypes that the rest of the world holds about India by sharing videos about the ‘real’ India. #IndiaReadyAction has broken engagement records with 161.8 million engagements on Instagram and Facebook.
There's no doubt that India, more than any other market, has reason to be orientated towards youth. The shape of its age demographic necessitates that. But for Emmanuel and Atika, retaining experienced talent is a key priority when it comes to building a talent pool that's broad and deep enough to respond to ever-changing client needs and to creating those timeless, universal stories that transcend age groups and trends to truly resonate on a human level.