If you don’t know Sam Balsara, then you don’t know India’s advertising world. And you also don’t know the brain behind Narendra Modi’s victorious campaign in the last Lok Sabha elections. The world knows that it was Sam who helped bring the new BJP government to power in India with a landslide victory. Today, he is ‘India’s most influential media person’ ranked by The Economic Times’ Brand Equity Ad Agency Reckoner for six consecutive years. But the Political campaign in the last parliamentary elections made him not only a big celebrity but also a historical figure.
You have successfully made Madison World into India’s top ranking Media Agency effectively active in multiple verticals including rural. Share your journey of success so far.
Yes, it’s been an exciting, varied journey, a roller-coaster ride with adequate doses of trials, tribulations, challenges, highs and lows with measured spoons of success. I have seen many highs and lows from instituting and running India’s first afternoon daily soap ‘Shanti’, to running Reliance Cup, to instituting the rotating BPL Replay Bug, to becoming the first media agency in India to win 2 Cannes Media Lions. The first phase was the cautious phase.
We started Madison in 1988 with just two clients Godrej with Cinthol Brand and Nelco’ss Blue Diamond TVs. And for the first 4 years, virtually, we did not go after new businesses; not only that, if somebody came to us with new business, we made it difficult for them to accept our terms. The second phase was the growth phase, started around 1992 -93, when India liberalized and the realization dawned on me that my philosophy of “Small is beautiful” is not going to hold me in good stead in the new emerging India.
The third phase, marked by the arrival of Lara, my daughter on the scene has been consolidation and diversification into new streams within the communication arena. And a bit more focus on internal systems, standard processes and organization building to ensure sustainability and continue to plug gaps that exist in our specialist units orbit that we now call Madison World- 24 units across 10 functional areas in communication ranging from advertising and media to PR and sports. All thanks to Lara, who works harder than me and whose objective, linear and clinical and a bit more difficult to sway than me.
In one of your Interviews you have been quoted saying – “Think small to succeed”. Please elaborate.
Small and Large are relative terms; relation to the environment you operate in, to your own stage in life and the resources you have available at your disposal. In the first few years of Madison’s life we avoided taking on any new clients, which helped build a strong foundation. In the service business the top person has to focus on future and growth, but also needs to look into the day-to-day details to ensure that clients are happy and the agency’s product delivery is of top quality. Rome cannot be built in a day!
You are one of the most popular agencies in rural segment as well. How do you see the potential of rural market in India?
The potential of the Rural Market is phenomenal, considering that 74% of India still lives in villages. Though from an advertiser’s point of view the need to treat it differently may come down in the coming years, given the rapid improvement in infrastructure with the help of Modi government and higher reach of print and TV in rural areas. Also given the growth in prosperity in Rural areas the need to address the rural poor consumer differently would come down. However, all that is in the distant future; for the next decade or so, the potential for rural marketing agencies is very high.
What has been your experience and achievements working in the rural domain?
Madison’s Rural unit Anugrah Madison started when I came across Anugrah Advertising in Madras way back in 1998 and found that the agency and R.V. Rajan, its founder had considerable experience and expertise in products and services which had a rural focus. And instead of positioning Anugrah as the Madras Branch of Madison, I saw more value in positioning it as Anugrah Madison, the Rural Unit of Madison World. Given the huge population that lives in the rural area, majority of advertisers do not take the rural market seriously and do not have adequate and well-resourced long term plans to exploit the potential of the rural market.
What is the impact of advertising in the rural areas? And what are the challenges?
The context or milieu in which rural ads are seen is very different from urban, and within rural varies from one state to another. Therein lies the challenge of creating tailor-made communications for each market.
As a layman, sometimes, we don’t understand the creative language of advertisements. And some time language looks like a big barrier for rural masses who don’t understand English. What do you feel? Given the huge diversity that exists in India in rural markets, it is best for ads beamed across India to rely more on visuals for communications, rather than language.
What is the impact of FMCG brand ambassadors on the rural market in your views? Do they really influence the consumers?
I should think brand ambassadors play a bigger role in rural markets than urban markets. They help get a brand noticed and establish a better connect with the audience.
What are the problems an advertiser faces in rural India?
Advertisers face a major problem in distributing their brands and servicing the retailers at an acceptable level. They face less problems in advertising or reaching the rural consumers than they do in reaching their products to rural retail shelves.
As an advertising man, what will be your suggestion for Modi Govt. for urban as well as rural market?
My advice would be to focus on economic growth in both urban and rural areas. Growth will bring in prosperity and higher purchasing power, which in turn will make India a power market of the world and hence a power centre.
From market to mass and class, everybody has access to the mobile media now. What is the future of mobile or digital marketing in India?
Digital marketing is finally taking off in India. Our estimate is that 10% of advertising spends are now in digital media and more people access the net through mobile than their desktop or laptop.