Close-Up: Can UK shops crack Indian market?

India offers potential rewards for agencies that can adapt to the local culture.

With one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, it comes as no surprise that many agencies are looking to India as the next place to plant their corporate flag.

Beattie McGuinness Bungay is the latest UK shop to try to crack the market, as part of a joint venture with Madison World, one of India's largest communication groups. BMB will also have the support of its 49 per cent shareholder, the Korean-based communications group Cheil Worldwide.

While India contributes 17 per cent of the world's population, it only holds 0.7 per cent of the world's advertising market.

However, along with China, it is one of the fastest-emerging markets in the world. Before the advertising dip in 2009, India's ad market grew at nearly 20 per cent year on year for five years.

The possibility for growth is a reason why Trevor Beattie, the co-founder of BMB, expects his agency to thrive in the market.

"India is the future," he says. "Its market spend is tiny compared with the UK, so the room for growth is huge. And the energy, momentum and desire to grow are there for all to see."

Agencies still need to exercise a degree of caution though, according to Colvyn Harris, the chief executive of JWT India. He points out that while many agencies have succeeded in converting their global agency names in the Indian market, countless others have struggled to gain any traction.

"The industry is dominated by the top five agencies, and there's a steep drop down after that," Harris says. "It's not an easy market to crack and no-one gets by using global names. It's about local insight and knowledge. BMB is not really known in India - it will not be a walk in the park."

It's an issue acknowledged by Beattie, but he points to the tie-up with Madison World, combined with the existing backing from Cheil, as proof that the agency is not being naive in its approach. "It would have been assumptive if not arrogant to start from scratch with such a complex, mature, multi-lingual and disparate marketplace, and expect to know what's best," he says. "Our venture with Madison gives us a wealth of local understanding, professionalism and experience which we believe will give us a headstart."

Perhaps, therefore, the greatest challenge for BMB as an agency entering the market for the first time will be to develop creative campaigns that effectively tap into the local Indian culture. Publicis India's chief executive, Nakul Chopra, says: "There's been a clear cultural shift, and now local and cultural advertising is what works here. Advertising standards are very high in India and local creativity is reaching its peak. There's still a little way to go in terms of execution but not quality of ideas."

Either way, Mark Cridge, the global managing director of Isobar, says, the most important thing is for agencies such as BMB to head to India with the ability to learn and adapt accordingly.

"There's no guarantee BMB in India will work but they seem to be going in with an open mind and it will at least be a great learning experience," Cridge says. "It'll be less about a UK agency cracking the Indian market but more about the impact the India market will have on a UK agency."

INDIAN AGENCY HEAD - Nakul Chopra, chief executive, Publicis India

"Big brands around the world all have India as a top priority market because of what it represents, it's a lucrative place. But the genre of creative work that has worked well in India is different to the UK.

"India has gone through a dramatic change over the past 20 years and has had to adapt to new audiences, ones that don't all speak English.

"Other UK agencies have launched here and haven't done badly but they haven't proved to gain or use the reputation that they have in their home market."

UK AGENCY HEAD - Tom Knox, joint chief executive, DLKW Lowe

"It's unbelievably difficult for UK agencies to enter the Indian market. There are a lot of people and regions and it's an enormous country, as well as a complicated marketplace.

"You can see the attraction as it's a dynamic country that has a large and growing educated audience, and the economy is growing fast.

"But to succeed locally, UK agencies need local talent with credibility. It's better to be part of a network as it's hard for independent agencies that don't have a strong base."

INDIAN AGENCY HEAD - Colvyn Harris, chief executive, JWT India

"So far, no UK agencies have been able to crack India the way they may have expected to. I'd say that's because while India boasts a large market, marketing spend is small because media is very cheap.

"Western agencies don't have the pockets to support it anymore. There's also a different breakdown in media spend.

"While digital is important, it is only 35 per cent of marketing budgets. Half the market is rural so we still use a lot of print. It means that cracking the Indian market takes a lot of time to get traction.

"I think launching here is now maybe 20 years too late for many."

AGENCY HEAD - Trevor Beattie, co-founder, Beattie McGuinness Bungay

"To succeed in India, you need a combination of local knowledge and experience, and boundless creative energy.

"The differences in creativity between the UK and India are not as different as you may think. The best creative advertising taps into the human conditions, which are universally recognisable traits. The worst just shouts at you, and there has been an awful lot of shouting in UK advertising recently.

"Our venture with Madison gives us a wealth of local understanding and experience in India, which we believe will give us a headstart.

"I'd advise those who can to join in now before they get left behind."

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com.

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