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As the industry looks forward to the upcoming IPL 2021, Navin Khemka, CEO, MediaCom South Asia speaks at length about his plans for his clients this year including title sponsor Vivo and the positive impact the tournament will have on the industry post the COVID setback

After a sharp decline of 21.5% in ad spends in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Indian ad industry is hoping to see recovery with ad investments expected to exceed Rs 80,000 crore in 2021. One of the key starts to this recovery is expected to come with the IPL that starts in April. Ahead of this big event, Navin Khemka, CEO, MediaCom South Asia takes us through his plans for his clients, including title sponsor Vivo as it gears up to make a comeback. He also talks about new business wins, recovery plans for his clients, outlook for the industry this year, and a lot more.

Q] Vivo missed one season despite being the title sponsor. Do you think, it would make sense for it to up its marketing to cover the loss?
IPL is back in its normal avatar. Last year, due to the pandemic, it was shifted to October, which was well-timed with the festival season. This year, the IPL is back in April and May. We are an IPL heavy agency. Vivo and other clients invest heavily in IPL because it is season time and the start of the financial year for most Indian clients. A lot of global brands also plan their launches around IPL. It is also the summer category and they are very active on IPL, given that TV viewership also sees a huge spike during this period. Also, IPL is back in India and not happening in UAE this year, which means everybody is focused on big brands, which are looking very robust.

Q] Vivo is trying to make a comeback in the Indian market. Will its approach be different when we see it back as the title sponsor?
I would say it would be business as usual. Given the pandemic and work from home scenario, we know how much technology brands have seen an upswing in India. Everybody needs technological instruments like mobile phones and laptops. Wi-Fi is another sector which is in demand. These sectors have emerged in the pandemic and have become essential commodities. We have seen fantastic sales in the last four to six months and we are very buoyant with the launches that are planned and will have a fantastic season ahead.

Q] As a media expert, what is the value proposition you foresee for brands in this IPL season? Also, which other clients besides Vivo have come on board for IPL 2021?
Categories like technology, mobile handsets and summer category brands like soft drinks, fans, e-commerce, and telecommunications have a lot of campaigns planned. These are a very critical 8-13 weeks for them. All these categories will see presence on IPL, which is not restricted only to TV, but a large part of viewership is coming from Hotstar now. So clients could choose where to be, given that the entry-level cost on Hotstar is low as compared to Television. We are planning campaigns for all our clients on the categories I just mentioned across TV and OTT.

Q] How much impact do you think IPL will have on other genres like GEC and news with elections in five states around the corner?
While a bit of its viewership does go down during IPL, GEC also offers a very exclusive audience. Therefore, the GEC audience builds on the IPL audience. If there are brands who want to reach out to that audience, they do consider GECs even when the IPL is on. Depending on your audience, the reach you are chasing and the benchmarks you have set, you need a good combination of IPL and GEC. However, some brands choose to be only on GEC even during IPL and some choose to be only on IPL. It is a choice you make because you can’t have everything in a media plan.
One genre that has minimal impact because of IPL is news. News viewership is spread throughout the day from morning to night. The only one to two hours that could get affected on news viewership is when the IPL live match is on. News is pretty much live 24x7 now. So, I would not be worried if I was a news channel given that there are so many closely-fought elections that are coming in the next four to six weeks.

Q] The pandemic also took a toll on new business wins. Most brands deferred the pitch process. Do you think 2021 will open up opportunities on this front?
We have had a fantastic year. The COMvergence report is just out and globally, MediaCom was the number one agency on new business rankings. As far as India is concerned, MediaCom India was amongst the top five markets as far as new businesses are concerned. If you look at our India performance at MediaCom in the 2018-2020 period, we have added anything between Rs 400 cr and Rs 600 cr of net new businesses each year, which was net of any loss we might have had in the last three years. In 2020, we have added Rs 600 cr in new businesses. Our teams have done a fantastic job despite all the challenges faced due to remote working.
Every pitch and conversation that we get into is becoming extremely result-oriented. Clients today are looking for holistic solutions because they know the market and the audience are changing. Because of this change, agencies need to come up with holistic, media-neutral, integrated media solutions. MediaCom teams are integrated, giving clients media-neutral and screen-neutral solutions. That is the differentiation I see – the businesses and pitches that we have won offer integrated solutions.

Q] How much has the unavailability of data for news genre or IRS for print affected you as a planner?
Last year was very difficult for Print and the industry saw a decline of almost 30-40% on their AdEx on print. There is historical data on the IRS that is robust. With that, one could predict what was happening. Given that we had access to good circulation numbers from print publications, we could extrapolate what the readership could be and therefore what the go-to-market strategy would look like.
While news channels reported a viewership on an aggregate level, there were other metrics we were looking at. We looked at feedback from online retailers, distributors from the client’s end. Feedback from the local markets, because news is locally-led, and used that as an input strategy for our clients. That worked very well for us.
When the data is not available from a granular point of view, we look at some other mechanisms in terms of digital and on-ground data and those from the client’s teams. We have used these interesting tools and mechanisms to be able to predict and curate fantastic plans for our clients.

Q] Last year this time we were all grappling with the first-of-its-kind situation with a complete lockdown. However, now with the second wave around, how are you as an agency prepared to tackle your business and clients?
WFH has had its challenges. For media agencies, all the problems come in the implementation phase and not in the evaluation. Because that is where the entire work and coordination is happening. Going forward, clients also have gotten used to this idea. They are also realising that this is the way it is going to be for the next three to six months. They have also adapted to these newer ways of working. This entire adaptive way has helped all of us. With a lot of support from each of my clients and support internally, we have been able to perform seamless operations across all our clients.

Q] Going by a global report, the ad marketplace in China proved to be among the most resilient in 2020 among major markets. Where would you place India on the resilience scale during the pandemic?
As per our TYNY report, India did decline 21.5% but we are expected to bounce back. We are expected to go almost up to almost Rs 80,000 crore this year to about 23.5%. We will see this bounce back on the back of Digital and Television.

Q] While most sectors have started to show recovery, the luxury sector is still struggling to revive itself. What kind of revival plans do you have for your luxury brands?
These brands will have to wait and watch. You can’t force people to travel, take a luxury holiday, go on an international vacation when flights are not available and the protocols are so tough. These sectors are impacted. If you look at the airline industry, they now want to focus on domestic travel. Domestic flights are picking up, almost 60-70% of pre-COVID levels. We are telling them to look at sectors that are performing well, give good reasons to fly, assure them all the safety precautions and so forth. Obviously, it is not possible for people to go on international vacations and spend a lot of money right now. So, we have advised them to look at catchment areas which are 300-400 km from people’s homes, so people can go on holidays nearby. We are looking for options for clients who are working well from a catchment area point of view and recommending solutions. There is a huge uptake that is happening in terms of luxury; it is just a matter of human sentiment. Luxury housing, I’m told has already bounced back. The demand for high-end, larger homes is unprecedented in India now.

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Tags : interview IPL Vivo Navin Khemka MediaCom Naziya Alvi Rahman