February 26, 2020
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'India Is The Market'

Brendan Ryan can't understand the concept of 'respect'—why people fall silent when he enters a room. Though chairman and CEO of America's largest (the world's seventh largest) advertising agency, the $7-billion Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB), the denim-

'India Is The Market'
FCB claims its corporate philosophy to be "creative intensity in every area with no room for mediocrity." What does that translate into?

It translates into effective advertising. Unfortunately, a lot of advertising work may be good but not effective. Effective work is that which prompts the customer to see the ad, hear what it says, actually change something in his mind and make the product purchase. Very few ads manage to do that. The key lies in that simple, commonsense insight into the consumer's mind and behaviour. Add to that the creative spark, and the magic of advertising rolls.

Most foreign agencies can't resist the temptation of using ads developed in the West across the world, often with mixed results. Do you propose to be any different?

Products and brands do have common attributes throughout the world. Besides, global advertising makes for cost-efficiencies and high production values in that the technology, film crew, creative team and the director of the film are as best as they come. But that doesn't mean that the same commercial can be run anywhere. Local culture, customs, sensitivities and sensibilities are vastly different. Advertising has to be relevant and yet can be unexpected. We have just done a campaign for a global tampon company with 20 different scripts, models and languages to be run in countries ranging from Brazil, the US and Hong Kong but produced at four central units with the same core idea and brand positioning. That is pragmatism without losing relevance.

FCB is 124 years old and the largest US ad agency. Doesn't that make you big and old when small and swift should be beautiful?

The notion that small is beautiful in advertising is bullshit. No agency is small by choice. What makes small agencies rise in the first place is direct interaction of the top team in different divisions with clients, ability to act quickly coupled with creativity. The secret of success, therefore, lies not in remaining small but retaining the best practices and culture as you grow. Become big, don't become bureaucratic.

Aren't you in India rather late? Every otherbig name is already here.

That was a mistake. We were growing so fast in the US that it didn't seem critical to move out. We did have a tieup with Ambience but it didn't work out. We are back today for there really was no other choice. Today you are dead if you are not a large, successful, global agency or a small, local agency. There  really is nothing in between. Today when we make a pitch to any global client, the one question that inevitably crops up is about our presence in India, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe. Because this is where any global business is going to have exponential growth in the next 10 years.

What do you hope to achieve with the Ulka tie-up?

The tie-up is good for FCB in two ways. First, a balance between TNCs and local clients gives a financial edge in terms of growth. A 50:50 portfolio of global and local clients is ideal. Secondly, local clients infuse fresh ideas to offset the creative fatigue from following success patterns. And Ulka stands to benefit from the huge investments we have made in the latest production technologies. India can also become a rich source of talent for our global operations.

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