Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman of the R K Swamy Hansa Group and Chairman and World President of the International Advertising Association (IAA), talks to IMPACT about India playing host to the IAA World Congress for the first time, the ‘Brand Dharma’ philosophy and his focus areas going forward
Q] Congratulations on being the first Indian Chairman and World President of the International Advertising Association. What are some of your priorities as part of your new role?
My first priority is to bring selfregulation into Digital Marketing. The biggest problem today is consumer privacy, which is really hurting the industry, given that digital advertising and marketing is all about tagging the consumer and appropriately sending communication to him or her. Digital marketing needs to be self-regulated with certain Do’s and Don’ts enforced by marketers and advertisers to bring in discipline. The International Council for Advertising Self-Regulation (ICAS) has international chambers of commerce focused on self-regulation in advertising and IAA is an active member of all those bodies to ensure they are following the standard guidelines and practices formulated by IAA.
My second priority is to increase the number of global educational institutions accredited by IAA from 44 to 100 in the next two years. Thirdly, we plan to open an IAA centre for excellence in New York where we will have our headquarters. The centre will provide courses and training to teachers for educational institutions that we want to support. It will also provide the platform for deliberations on government policy initiatives, lobbying, as well as research work. We will have a discussion with all stakeholders in March seeking alignment for this project and to raise funds for it, and we hope to get it under way in the next 18-24 months.
Q] How will India figure in the larger agenda of IAA under your leadership?
India has, and will always be, a big part of our global agenda, because whatever we do, we do from India. The fact that I am the first Indian to be Chairman and World President of IAA also shows India’s significance in the larger scheme of things at IAA. India is one of the top global economies and a rapidly growing one. Indians are increasingly taking up leadership positions globally, a recent example being Piyush Pandey’s appointment as Ogilvy’s Global Chief Creative Officer. Our country is certainly making a mark everywhere and we are fortunate to have a bunch of people who are leading from the front.
Q] Given that this is the first time the IAA World Congress is to be held in India, what are your expectations from it?
As a part of the organizing committee, I am hoping that we get maximum attendance for this event, which is to be held from February 20-22, 2019 in Kochi. We are also hoping to see a large turnout of students, as they will definitely benefit from it, given the top-notch 35 global speakers, including the likes of Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever, Steven Mollenkopf, CEO, Qualcomm, Mukesh Ambani, CMD of Reliance Industries Limited, Nandan Nilekani, non-executive Chairman of Infosys and former Chairman of UIDAI, Chris Tung, CMO, Alibaba Group, among others, who will address topics related to marketing, advertising, communications, media and related technology areas. It’s going to be three days of immense learning and knowledgesharing, followed by entertaining evenings featuring the best that India has to offer, in terms of food, fashion and Bollywood.
Q] Tell us more about ‘Brand Dharma’, which addresses the growing need for brands to have a higher purpose, and the kind of conversations it will throw up.
Dharma is all about doing the right thing and standing for a higher purpose. And today, brands will have to do the right thing if they want to gain consumer loyalty. It also means that a brand has to stand for something the consumer believes in, as brands today are not just about products and services, but also about people. This is what will make a difference for brands in the long run.
Q] In today’s competitive world, with brands jostling to get ahead of each other, how can advertisers and marketers strike the right balance between profitability and upholding ethics?
Ethics in terms of business dealings, brand positioning and handling competition, is directly related to brand acceptance by the consumer. Most brands, therefore, try to play by the rule book to ensure that they are seen as ethical companies. That said, with intense competition, brands may go to any length to grab eyeballs, talking about how their product is far superior than their competitor’s, offering cutthroat pricing, as well as other tactics to convince consumers that their product is the best. While there is nothing wrong in having an aggressive marketing strategy, it is important not to cross the line by indulging in something unethical or illegal, even at the cost of profitability, because eventually when the truth is exposed, it will be much more damaging to the brand’s image.
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