“Advertising agencies now need to focus on the whole domain of thinking”

Nepali advertising has seen big changes in the last couple of years. From the growing use of social media to the rapid rise in the consumption of content digitally, advertisements and promotional activities have moved past traditional mediums. Similarly, changes in the field of television commercial (TVC) production have also been seen with the implementation of the Clean Feed Policy in October 2020. Ujaya Shakya, Managing Director of Outreach Nepal, is among the few experts in Nepal with deep insights and resources in marketing and advertising. In an interview with the HRM, Shakya talked about the current state of the Nepali advertising industry, new trends in marketing and promotion, changes taking place in the market and two years of the implementation of the Clean Feed Policy, among other topics. Excerpts:

It’s been two years since the government implemented the Clean Feed Policy. What are the impacts of this policy on the Nepali advertisement industry?
I think there are two sides to the implementation of the Clean Feed Policy. When the policy was implemented, we were grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. The Clean Feed Policy came with two particular objectives– stop the airing of foreign advertisements on foreign channels aired in Nepal and stop the airing of foreign advertisements dubbed in Nepali and other languages on Nepali channels.

As the policy was introduced during the time of lockdown, it was difficult to start making advertisements for global brands in the local language (Nepali) immediately. As the talks about clean feed were going on for some time, some companies were prepared and were waiting for the policy. The brands that were prepared, had the upper hand as their advertisements were ready to release. Whereas other brands, even if they want to advertise on local TV channels, could not because they did not have TVCs ready for broadcast. It took some time for us as an industry to produce TVCs as envisioned by the policy.

When it comes to the production of global brands and companies, they are very particular about the theme and the kind of essence that has to go with the production. And, in many instances, they want to be under supervision.

Right now, a lot of international companies that used to release dubbed advertisements for the Nepali market, have started to produce local advertisements. Now one can see a lot of TVCs of global brands made specifically for the Nepali market which is positive for the Nepali advertisement industry. And, another side to this is, when global brands decide to produce TVCs, they want to bring some kind of Nepali culture, values into the whole process which I call “Nepalization”. Therefore, all these global brands have to invest in producing TVCs, they want to bring in “Nepalization” which needs a lot of consumer insights and interactions.

Has the implementation of the Clean Feed Policy expanded the size of the Nepali advertisement market as thought earlier?
As I mentioned, because of the timing of the Clean Feed Policy, it was initially difficult to implement even when the companies were willing to invest. We had clients who wanted to do media planning on the Nepali media channels, but unfortunately, they could not because they didn’t have those properties and advertisements.
There is also a situation in the advertising industry in Nepal when it comes to making a campaign or TVCs, people have always thought of such tasks largely as production and creative works. We never thought about the strategy and planning aspects required for the brands.

Now that the global brand will be investing in processes and campaigns specific to Nepal, there is a whole large requirement for strategic planning aspects which involves customer interactions and understanding the brand from the perspective of the local market and Nepali consumers.

Our market was not ready for that kind of thinking and that kind of strategic approach to a certain extent, because we have only recruited people in the past in our teams who are either creative or production people. Given the new scenario, we need people who can think and think not just for two years but for five years and beyond.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the local advertisement industry?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the situation was very bad for the industry. We never expected something like a pandemic will occur and therefore were unprepared. On the other hand, our clients were also logistically not prepared even when there was a demand for their products. Like other sectors, the advertising industry also faced a big crisis.

Do you think the pandemic also changed the way advertising is done in Nepal?
Yes, it has. As the clean feed policy was introduced during the pandemic, a lot of companies have to rethink their advertising and communication strategy for this market. What was happening earlier was a lot of these global brands were getting a lot of spillover mileage in TVCs from foreign channels. We cannot deny the fact that foreign channels are popular in our market, at least in the urban centers and towns bordering India, if not all across Nepal. The global companies were getting at least 50 percent spillover mileage. Therefore, even if they were doing media plans specifically for Nepal, even before the clean feed policy came in, they could have that 50 percent spillover advantage.

Now, all the planning that they have to think about is totally for Nepali channels. And I think that has brought a lot of challenges because that was not practiced before by a lot of companies. Now, I think every brand team that looks after the Nepali market of global companies, will require specialized people who understand Nepali channels or Nepali media better.

The other change is the use of digital platforms has drastically increased, not only in advertisements but also in other aspects of life leading to a sharp rise in the consumption of media content digitally.

In the past, the print medium used to be the predominantly preferred platform by advertisers. Given the proliferation of digital platforms, how are advertisers using various media platforms to reach out to consumers?
It depends on categories and the communication objective. As a brand goes through a product life cycle through various phases. There are different phases and different requirements for the business as well. Some requirements are largely thematic in terms of brand building while some requirements are largely tactical in terms of building sales. As Nepal has largely been a ‘trading market’, a lot of campaigns that we do is largely tactical.

But I think times are changing. After a brand reaches a certain level, they need to also build brand equity for which only a tactical campaign does not work. There has to be some kind of mind space the brand has to occupy in the consumer’s mind. You need campaigns that have different objectives not the same. Sometimes you need immediate impact. For example, the opening of multiple showrooms of a brand across Nepal, and the client needs a last impact to create a high awareness on that particular day, the print media becomes very important. It is because print is the most effective medium in terms of announcements and creating an impact in the market.

And, there are multiple platforms even in the digital sphere. The social media platforms such as Facebook are the mainstream digital platforms but there are other non-mainstream digital platforms such as TrueCaller, Shareit, and gaming platforms that are catering to a niche segment where the media wastage is low.
Therefore, it depends on your objectives, where your brand is, and what you want to achieve with the campaign that you are doing.

As the pandemic has subsided, businesses have started to spend money on advertising and promotion of products and services. Which sectors are spending more in recent times?
It is the construction sector that has become the largest spender in advertisement and promotional activities. There are a lot of new cement and steel brands in the market spending money on brand building and promotion.

Businesses of other sectors such as telecom and internet services providers (ISPs) alongside consumer durables and mobile phone brands are also among big spenders.

Also, there are lots of automobile brands that are using a lot of print advertisements. The import restriction has hit the automobile sector which in turn has affected their media spending, but they are one of the largest spenders in our context.

How do you think the Nepali advertisement industry will evolve in the next five years?
When I started my career 20 years back, there was no requirement from the client in terms of strategic planning. It was more about the adaptation or execution of the briefs provided by the clients during that time.

This has changed now. Agencies like us need to have a team specific to strategic planning and go and meet consumers to understand their requirements for certain products and report back to the clients and tell them what they need to bring in terms of product modifications as well as the campaigns.

Therefore, advertising agencies now need to focus on the whole domain of thinking. Now, to deliver creativity, they need to understand the consumer. One needs to do research and the results of the research should be analyzed in such a way that we can use them in our campaigns.

Therefore, the planning requirement is going to play a larger and critical role. We need people who can interact with consumers and analyze the interactions in terms of the inputs that can be helpful for advertising campaigns. The other part is, the consumer base is getting fragmented. At present, there are more media touch points where consumers are interacting.

Therefore, the content will be more important. The consumption of content can be done digitally or through mainstream media. However, with the fragmentation of the consumer base in terms of media planning, aggregating the audiences to make a last effective audience size, so that it makes sense for advertisers to invest, is going to be very critical.

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