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India 2008: Working Harder, Working Smarter

2008 was a hard-working year for India. As perhaps it was for the rest of the world. Not only did businesses strive to keep costs down and revenue up, people worked hard to keep their jobs alive and companies afloat.

The Economic and Industries Perspective

In terms of the economy, some sectors did very well, while some not so well. Industry, Agriculture, FMCGs and the Services sector actually showed significant growth. White Goods and Electronics stayed at decent levels. But Automobile industry and the Financial Sector showed definite signs of strain and pain.

Inflation in India rose dramatically in 2008 to 11%, against a low of around 5% in the previous year. Growth which has stayed above 9% during the past 3 years, showed signs of flagging, and the country is optimistic towards this end.

Global Impact

2008 was also a year when the global economic situation played a more significant role and impact on India and its economy. Unlike the past, when India was relatively insulated from the shocks and watts of international financial power play, in 2008 the impact was clearly visible. Inflows from large international investors dried up, Indian investments in foreign markets were put on hold, and in turn the stock market took a plunge that shook the roots of many companies and individuals.

The Rise of Terrorism

Adding to the above issues, India faced new and large-scale terror strikes by religious fundamentalists from neighboring countries in 2008. While they failed to frighten the nation, they certainly had an impact on slowing down business and lowering purchasing sentiment.

Reinventing Marketing and Advertising

Not surprisingly, marketing and advertising in India also moved from being creatively brilliant to being cleverly effective. As brands tightened their purse strings, agencies opened their minds to new media and ideas beyond the press advertisement and the television commercial.

Working harder and working smarter became the norm, as Clients challenged their Advertising Agencies and Marketing Consultants to get more efficient with lesser funds.

While detailed and reliable numbers are hard to come by, the indications are that business was not as bad as it seemed. And spends were down, not because of lack of funds, but because everyone was playing the ‘wait and watch’ game.

The top trends in marketing and advertising in 2008 can be listed as the following (in no particular order):


  • The year of the non-event: 2008 saw fewer large events than ever before. In the social and cultural context, India is used to having various spectacular film & television, fashion and sporting events every year. This year they were few and far between. And those which did happen, remained low key, with not much advertising or promotional support being aired. The events did what they had to do with their small and select audiences, without the hype that usually surrounds them.


The reason for this is that most events depend heavily on sponsors, who in turn depend heavily on audiences with loose and happy wallets. 2008 saw them all go into hiding, while holding on to their wallets like never before.


  • A shift in media mindset and strategy: As markets and consumers became fickle, the trend of moving from ‘mass media’ to ‘new media’ became even more apparent in 2008. Previously, brands were more tentative, as marketing heads did not want to experiment with new media and preferred to stick to known communication channels. However, as budgets were tightened this year, they were forced to find new and cheaper ways to communicate, and this led them to new media.


The shift may not have been dramatic, but brands began experimenting with the internet and mobile based advertising in order to gauge its effectiveness. The results have been positive for brands, emboldening them to use the medium more. Which is why, 2009 promises to see more and exciting campaigns on the internet and mobile platform.


  • The rise of celebrity endorsement: As brands started to feel the heat on budgets, the need to get noticed and stick in the consumer’s mind became even more necessary. Despite the constant controversy surrounding celebrity endorsement, more brands signed on film and sports personalities to endorse their brands in 2008.


Brands like Samsung and Idea Cellular who traditionally used celebrities, continued to do so brilliantly. However, there were a host of new brands who tried the ‘celebrity endorsement’ route for the first time, and the jury is still out whether the celebrities actually helped them in any way – these include HP and Nokia, both of which signed on Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan.


  • Rise of the citizen journalist: Related to the rise of the ‘new media’ and the internet, 2008 marked the arrival of the citizen journalist, and user-generated content and views as a force to reckon with.


The range of influence is spread wide starting from the basics with users posting and commenting on new television commercials of brands, to comparing products and services, to voicing their opinions and expressing anger where required on issues related to security, culture, public interest, and the country in general.

This phenomena revealed itself as a potent force when it helped provide informative support to people during the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November, and also forced a change in the political leadership by demanding accountability for the administration’s failure in securing its people.

In marketing terms, it was evident from the fact that celebrities started blogging, and began using their blogs to market their films and endorse brands wherever possible. At the same time, marketers started advertising on specific blogs, and public relations firms targeted bloggers and their ilk with press releases and information about new products.

Recruitment advertising in traditional media was supplemented, and often replaced by recruitment news being placed on social networking sites and spread by internet-word-of-mouth.


  • The year of the CFO: In the final analysis, 2008 was the year when the CFO called the shots in every aspect of advertising and marketing. Because quite simply, the CFO controlled the budgets and demanded greater accountability on spends. Unlike in the past, where ‘creative vision’ was more important, 2008 demanded ‘creative value’ from marketing departments and their agencies.


As a result, large campaigns were fewer in number, and almost all campaign took safe, tried and tested routes.

In terms of Brand leadership and trust 2008 saw a shift in the perceptions and position across the board. Two major research studies which were carried out by independent organizations reflected these changes – The Economic Times’ “Brand Equity Most Trusted Brands Survey”, and WSJ-Mint’s “Campaign Top Marketers 08” ranking.

The “Brand Equity Most Trusted Brands Survey” placed mobile handset brand Nokia right at the top, displacing long time favorite Colgate! This came as a surprise to many, because Nokia is a relatively new brand compared to others in the ranking.

The ranking also reflects the fact that consumers are now giving technology products more importance in their lives than ever before. Besides Nokia, there were eighteen non-FMCG brands that made it to the list including old favourites like Titan, HMT and Hero Honda Splendor; telecom brands like Reliance Mobile and Motorola; and four South Korean brands namely LG, LG Mobile, Samsung, and Samsung Mobile.

The WSJ-Mint “Campaign Top Marketers 08” ranking picked out those brands and companies who managed to stay ahead with their innovative products, pricing and communication, despite the global financial meltdown and sagging consumer sentiment.

The study picked the following into their ranking:

Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for its Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament. The IPL took cricket beyond being a sport, into a new form of entertainment. And of course, the IPL became a great new revenue source for the Board and its players, as well as provided an exciting new platform for brands and advertisers.

Nokia. For its mind-boggling range of products and amazing pricing strategy, that includes offerings from Rs. 1,300 to Rs. 40,000! Add to this Nokia’s incredible understanding of consumers and its amazing ability to connect with consumers of all wallet-size and interests across the country.

Colors – The Hindia General Entertainment Channel from Viacom18. Despite being the 11th player in the market, the television channel in a short span of time rose to the top of the heap in terms of ranking and popularity with an amazing mix of shows, supported by phenomenal advertising and public relations.

ITC and its various brands in the FMCG category. Foods and personal care products were not part of ITCs core strengths and product offerings a few years ago. Today, with a dazzling array of snack foods and personal care products under the Bingo, Sunfeast, Fiama De Wills, Vivel and Superia brands, it is a name to reckon with on any given day in any given market!

The Tata Group. The Tata Group was placed in this ranking for its vision and never say die attitude. From acquiring global marquee brands like Land Rover and Jaguar, to producing the world’s cheapest car, to re-opening its Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel within a month of a devastating terrorist attack, the Taj Group helps India hold its head high amidst the global financial meltdown and security threats from anti-social and anti-national elements.

The list goes on further to include: Maruti Suzuki for maintaining its leadership in an extremely tight and tough 4-wheeler market; Vodafone for its brilliant transition of millions of consumers from Hutch which it bought over in India; Hindustan Unilever for its initiatives that helped it hold onto its leadership status in a market plagued with inflation, rising costs, and aggressive competition; ICICI Bank for maintaining highest service quality standards and raising the bar in terms of products and services as India’s largest private sector bank; and Coca Cola India for unrelenting sales growth throughout the year supported by a great combination of unique products, pricing, and marketing efforts.

The Agencies Behind-the-scenes

Behind the scenes of all this activity were the advertising agencies which faced the brunt of reduced budgets and increased pressures. They all came out on top, working harder and smarter, re-inventing themselves in the face of changed consumer and economic scenarios.

The “Brand Equity Ad Agency Reckoner 2008” powered by IMRB sums up their ranking and contributions to growth of brands and the industry in India.

In the overall rankings, Ogilvy retained its No. 1 position, and JWT did a comeback at No. 2, followed by Lowe at No. 3.

Mudra, McCann Erickson, Rediffusion DYR, Leo Burnett, Contract, RK Swamy BBDO, and Draft+FCB Ulka made up the rest of the top 10 in that order.

Both Ogilvy and JWT held their positions in specific areas of Creative, Client Servicing, Account Planning, 360 Degree Solutions, Innovation, and Partnership with Clients as well.

In terms of Media Agencies, the ranking was topped by Mindshare at No. 1, followed by Madison, Starcom, Zenith Optimedia, and Allied Media in the top 5. OMS, Lodestar Universal, Maxus, Carat, and TME made up the ranking from 5 to 10.

Keeping with the changed marketing scenario and mix, the Brand Equity Ad Agency Reckoner ‘08 also added three new categories of ranking this year. They included, and were topped by:

Digital Specialist Agencies ranking was topped by Webchutney, Hungama, and contest2win.com respectively.

Design Specialist Agencies ranking included Ray+Keshavan, Elephant Stragegy+Design, and Landor at the top 3.

Brand Promotion Agencies ranking was topped by Candid Marketing, Solutions Integrated Marketing, and Encompass Events.

The Brand Equity reckoner also ranked Corcoise Films, Black Magic, and Equinox as the Top 3 Ad Production Houses in India.

In summary it was a tough year. And 2009 looks to be even tougher. But seeing the industry’s ability to stay afloat and swim well against the tide last year, the belief is that the industry will only innovate, reinvent, and accelerate in the years to come. Of course, making the assumption, is the easy part!

At work, I tend to Brands and nurture ideas that help people and businesses bloom. I am a writer of all things that catch my eye. I travel to discover myself, as much as I do to discover the world. I am a foodie at heart, and am open to tasting anything that's edible!


  1. A good way to implement any marketing and promotional strategy is to have a question on your mind. Why and What ? It is always good to have Brand Promotion Agency, they not only guide you but be with you all the ups and down times


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