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Dressing to Impress: Akhilesh Bagri on the State of Advertising in the Middle East


Serviceplan’s new executive creative director talks to LBB’s Adam Bennett about his goals, the diversity of the Middle Eastern market and the surprising influence of Shrek 2

Dressing to Impress: Akhilesh Bagri on the State of Advertising in the Middle East

Last month, Akhilesh Bagri stepped into a new role as executive creative director at Serviceplan. Bringing experience from BBDO, JWT, Leo Burnett and FP7 amongst others, Bagri is aiming to ‘improve the creative output’ of Serviceplan’s Dubai agency. 

It comes at a time when the Serviceplan group is set to host its first Creative Summit in Dubai, where the company's creative leads from around the world will gather to share their thoughts around the theme of 'the future'. The summit will feature contributions from Serviceplan's Worldwide ECD Jason Romeyko and Global CCO Alexander Schill. 

With such a wealth of experience, Akhilesh is as qualified as anyone to offer insights on the future of advertising in the Middle East. He’s also no stranger to working within a diverse and sprawling region - Akhilesh started his career 17 years ago in India, where he’s from. 

Looking to find out what the future holds, and Serviceplan’s place within it, LBB’s Adam Bennett caught up with Akhilesh.

LBB> Congratulations on the new role! What can you tell us about your goals for Serviceplan?

Akhilesh> Thank you! Our goals for Serviceplan will continue to be consulting with our clients and helping them get the best possible returns on their marketing investment. We will be making a conscious effort to push the creative product further. It’s an exciting time for the agency. For now, we’ll let the work do the talking.

LBB> What is it that makes Serviceplan unique within the Middle Eastern market?

Akhilesh> We know the trust that big network agencies inspire, and we know the attraction of boutique agencies. Serviceplan Middle East brings the best of these two worlds. The faces that the clients see and meet are the ones that are actually working on their accounts. There’s no information gap and we try our best to make the work as personal as it can get. 

LBB> Serviceplan is one of the largest agencies in Europe - but do you need to do anything differently in order to succeed in the Middle East? 

Akhilesh> Dress for the occasion I suppose. Jokes aside, personally I think understanding your market and insights is fundamental to every creative. Every Serviceplan office understands this, all our personnel strive to create relevant work. We’ll continue to do the same.

LBB> What does the future hold for advertising in the Middle East? What are the biggest trends?

Akhilesh> A very difficult question to answer. If one were to take a guess, we’re going to see a lot more coming out of Saudi Arabia, a whole new brand of advertising that’s not made for the shows, is not made to appease the jury, but something that has a flavour of its own.

LBB> You've spent a large chunk of your career in India - what have you taken from that market into the Middle East?

Akhilesh> I think this year will be my 9th year in Dubai. So that’s nine in Dubai, eight in India. In all fairness, very different markets yes. But if one were to draw parallels, the Middle East is a sum of very, very diverse cultures. Much like India. It’s ok to call it a ‘market’ or ‘region’ for brevity or to suit macro-economics, but it’s really not a one-size-fits-all market. We sort of got the hang of that working in India, and I think the many Indian creatives in the region would hopefully agree.

LBB> Are there any misconceptions about the Middle Eastern market that people often have?

Akhilesh> The previous question in a way hints at the misconception that outsiders might have about the Middle East. We’re all guilty of over-generalising things at one point or another, and I think that’s quite a prevalent thing when people talk about the Middle East. 

LBB> Growing up, did you always know that you wanted to be a creative?

Akhilesh> Not really, no. I was always a tinkerer, I enjoyed breaking things and fixing things. But I’d credit my parents for letting me follow my gut. They never raised an eyebrow for any of the decisions that I made, nor put any kind of career-oriented pressure. So, I just waltzed into the industry without too many expectations, which was incredibly freeing, looking back on it.

LBB> And looking back over that career, is there one project that stands out as especially defining or significant? If so, why?

Akhilesh> Absolutely, yes. It was the first ad that I ever got published. A 40 CC ad in the cinema listings section of a daily. It read ‘Shrek 2. Now in theatres.’

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Serviceplan Middle East, Wed, 23 Oct 2019 13:31:03 GMT