Vineet Gupta and Aditya Kanthy – The new future of DDB Mudra Group

In an exclusive conversation Vineet Gupta and Aditya Kanthy lay down what the future would look like for DDB Mudra Group

Aditya Vineet DDB Mudra

“We are a solutions provider as far as digital is concerned, tech is a part of the solution and that’s what we want to focus on going forward,” Vineet Gupta, the then MD at 22Feet Tribal World Wide, seated comfortably in his Bangalore office, had shared with Lighthouse Insights. This was July 2016; 2 years post the acquisition by DDB Group Asia Pacific and Omnicom Group Inc.

Come 1st July 2017, Vineet, the current Chief Digital Officer DDB Mudra Group will take over as the group chief executive. His new designation will reflect from 1st April 2017. The bold news surfaced a week ago, when Madhukar Kamath, group chief executive and managing director, DDB Mudra Group, announced his retirement from the advertising agency. He is a believer of passing the baton to young minds. Vineet would take over as the group chief executive and Aditya Kanthy (chief strategy officer) will be appointed as managing director. Madhukar will continue to work closely with them as executive chairman of the group till December.

“I have always been a firm believer in empowering young talent and seeing them deliver beyond expectations. Vineet and Aditya have exemplified this in their respective careers so far. As a team, they bring together the best of business, technology, strategy and an appreciation of creativity,” said Kamath after spending 25 years with the agency.

It is one of the biggest news of 2017. Not only the future of one of India’s top 10 ad agencies lie in the hands of young and dynamic leaders, it is also a clear sign to let the believers of digital and tech write the new chapters of the organization.

“Vineet and Aditya have complementary strengths. Vineet is a great leader and I liked the way he set benchmarks and goals for 22feet Tribal Worldwide year-on-year, since its acquisition in 2014 by the Omnicom Group. Aditya is knowledgeable, steady and has great confidence when handling clients. I see magic when the two are together,” shared Madhukar in an interview to Business Standard. “Vineet will be the ‘captain of the ship’, while Aditya will report to him as his deputy. There is no ambiguity there.”

VINEET WHO GOT RECOGNITION FOR his work as one of the founders of 22feet is now going to be the chief executive officer, in less than a decades time. It rarely happens that a founder of a digital agency, goes on to become the leader of the acquiring company.

Dressed in dark jeans and a t-shirt, he escorted me from the reception of the DDB Mudra House to Aditya’s lavish cabin. I was meeting him (the fauji kid) for the first time but it didn’t seem like that, with Vineet being on the other side. For more than fifteen years Aditya has been delivering strategic thinking and planning to some of the renowned brands like Johnson & Johnson, Wrigley’s, Volkswagen, LIC, among others.

“While it is too early to say anything but life has changed a lot in just walking around the group and talking to people. It has also opened up my mind to lot of synergies that we as a group can get-together and execute.” Throwing more light on the synergies, Vineet explains that the experiential and out-of-home business has been there in the group but now add a layer of tech capabilities that we have at 22Feet and we can do so much more.

“Things like virtual reality have been bought alive by using technology. Now we can do more of that for traditional out of home (OOH) media advertising clients and also for digital forward clients by bringing the OOH and experiential aspect to them.”

Adding more details to the synergies, Aditya shared Johnson and Johnson’s example. “For J&J’s Stayfree we have a very deep understanding from a brand point of view. The form it comes into DDB right now is in a TVC form. But there are dozens of conversations that surround around girl problems with their periods. This needs to be addressed by education, which I feel, could be solved by technology intervention.

The digital agency, in isolation also, does not understand the brand and strategic challenge and the advertising agency doesn’t event think to solve the problem because we are doing ads. Very simply if both these pieces can be brought together we can solve a very pertinent problem of the brand.”

Vineet Gupta, Madhukar Kamath and Aditya Kanthy
(L-R) Vineet Gupta, Madhukar Kamath and Aditya Kanthy

Vineet has been a firm believer of technology and now Aditya vouches for it to. “It has a lot to do with the conversations that I have been having with Vineet over the last few months,” added Aditya. “When we say digital, we only look it as digital media. Today it is the lexicon of the industry and that’s the problem. The first reason why I say digital is technology since it is more than just media and then there is nothing in the world that you cannot do or built or create.”

“Advertising agencies are full of amazing ideas that stay on slides. Because most of them do not know how to make them work. And that’s why technology is so important.”

DIGITAL IN 2017 HAS TWO big challenges in India.

  1. Digital is only about media and hence being abused.
  2. And, digital is also about campaigns.

Vineet genuinely feels that there is nothing wrong if digital is equated to media. All the big daddies of the market are calling themselves as a media company. Both Google and Facebook make a significant portion of their earnings from digital advertising. “I definitely believe that media can be a very strategic lever for any organization but it goes wrong when it is force fitted. If you combine media with technology then you get the required results but if you look media in isolation then there is a problem.”

I am informed that at DDB Mudra, the team has started to combine media and technology together. “We have gone and said that we are going to do media as percentage share of revenue and not as percentage share of spend. I am saying that media by itself is really exciting with the opportunities that are coming up. So if you invest in the right technology you can simplify.”

Brands are investing in such technology solutions and are able to understand the consumer like never before, thanks to media. However, the whole rate card mentality disturbs Vineet when he looks at the media business. “On one hand I read that year on year Facebook and Google cost per clicks are dropping but brands here have rate cards to lock you on rates. I don’t understand why would you lock in someone when the rates are dropping. This is all traditional thinking.”

“We want to marry media and technology and tell a different story. But we want to stay away from the rate card discussion.”

HALF WAY THROUGH MY DISCUSSION, I started getting a feeling that the future of the company is going to be very tech driven marketing in the digital world challenging the traditional mindsets. Rather than me assuming it, I asked the new would be group CEO.

I wasn’t completely wrong as Vineet informed me that they are not claiming to change the industry but their start is from within the organization. “Over the last 25 years Madhukar has built this organization on strong fundamentals. The idea is not to let go what is uniquely ours. The idea is to probably at best open up our minds and take a bet on future. On how do you use what is impacting the world on the core fundamentals that we have in our organization. Because it is the digital world, there is lot changing and we need to open up our minds.”

Adding more to his thoughts, Aditya informed that he is more than impressed with the culture at 22feet. “We are not here to change the industry. We want to focus on work that we do for our clients and our people. Rest will all be taken care.”

It is evident that the young leaders would bring tech, digital and brand thinking on the table that would drive the future of the organization. The message is also clear to the industry: digital is strategic and fundamental to the business. It is also a signal to the type of culture you want to create. The fact that the organization is about two people now; it reflects partnership and the message goes down to the bottom of the pyramid.

“At best we are just flag bearers and we are just as good as the weakest link. Our job is to laying down the vision first and make ourselves prepared to take risk.”

His only message to his team and partners would be to open up their minds, take risks and do things. “Right now if you ask me the only thing I would say is just fix the culture, rest everything will follow. I am not saying it is broken but it probably needs to be defined and understood equally by all of us in the organization. It could be the same thing but needs to be translated across the organization,” Vineet emphasized.

“Fix the culture, everything else would be fixed on its own.”

For the next few months Vineet would be busy in interacting and understanding the viewpoints of the 600 plus employees, have a bottom-up approach and try to see if there are common trends that need to be addressed. “Principles like empowerment, ability to fail, lack of bureaucracy will be in place but will take shape after talking to everyone.”

It is too early for him to state much right now on the vision part but he is excited, more than ever, to work with the young minds driving the agency.

Before leaving the DDB Mudra house, I asked him, on a lighter note, why he isn’t excited at all about being a group CEO. A smiling Vineet pointed out it’s just a designation. “What’s there not to be excited,” chipped in Aditya with a big hearty laugh.