Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Might Of GroupM

Interview with Naveed Asghar, CEO, GroupM Pakistan.
Updated 09 Mar, 2023 04:29pm

MAMUN M. ADIL: How have things progressed since you joined GroupM in 2020
NAVEED ASGHAR: When I joined GroupM a little over 1,000 days ago, I felt that although we were the market leader, perhaps complacency had crept in, and we were losing thought leadership within the organisation and perhaps as a result of this complacency we lost out on several sports sponsorship opportunities. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to turn the tide and have obtained the media rights to the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup and the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

MMA: Why was this important?
NA: Because Pakistanis have only three passion points; sport (specifically cricket), music and food. Although only 10.3% of the adex goes into sport, the kind of noise and sentiments attached to it are huge. Hence we wanted to get back into this space. Two years ago, GroupM and their clients were only contributing 21% of their spend on sports, today that number has increased to over 57%.

MMA: Has GroupM explored any other platforms?
NA: Football and gaming. Although they are niche platforms, they have a lot of potential. We first went into a strategic alliance with GSB Football, and later with Strawberry Sports to enter the women’s football space – although it is a very niche segment, it was important to do so, because many brands are trying to outdo each other when it comes to women empowerment. E-gaming is a huge space globally, albeit still very limited in Pakistan and thanks to our strategic alliance with Galaxy Gamers – the fastest-growing gaming agency in the world – we held the first and the biggest e-gaming competition in Pakistan last year. We are Galaxy’s preferred partner and they have big plans for Pakistan.

MMA: What advantages does GroupM offer compared to your competition?
NA: Firstly, GroupM is the undisputed market leader across the globe, with earnings of over $63 billion globally and a footprint straddling over 100 countries. As a result, every third ad in the world is done through one of our companies and this shows our might. In Pakistan, our market share is over 43%, a scale that ensures we are given a guaranteed rate advantage vis-à-vis our competition – and which we pass to our clients across conventional and digital media. Secondly, we take pride in the fact that we are the only multinational media agency in Pakistan (others are affiliates) and this gives us access to global and regional learnings that allows us to improve our skill sets and competencies. Furthermore, given that our media world is convoluted and not as clean as one would like it to be, and many times unethical practices creep in, we are proud that we are the only Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) compliant multinational media agency in Pakistan. This means we are extensively audited internally and externally and work on an open-book premise basis with our clients. We believe this to be our competitive advantage. Thirdly, as someone who has been on the client side for over 25 years – I have worked at Unilever, Coke, Pepsi and HBL – we are cognisant of the fact that a client never looks for just a media plan, which is the reason why we provide a holistic package that goes beyond media placement.

MMA: Almost everyone in the advertising space seems to be talking about the importance of digital marketing. What is your opinion?
NA: For me, this is a big misnomer and a fallacy. We should not compartmentalise media into digital versus print versus radio versus TV. We should view things holistically and from a consumer lens; how they consume media and what we can do to ensure that the brand becomes an integral part of their lives. Similarly, I am a firm believer in not making broad categorisations about people according to age [Millennials, Gen Z and so on]. Yes, there are overarching themes within a particular generation, but what is important is seeing things through the target audiences’ lens; what they want and what you need to serve them with in order to integrate a brand into their lives seamlessly. Ultimately, irrespective of the industry, as long as you know how to package your proposition in a compelling manner and put it across the right platform and in the most effective and efficient way, you will get the best results. Having said this, the starting point has to be the right consumer insight upon which your proposition is built.

MMA: How will 2023 pan out from a media agency’s standpoint?
NA: The simple answer is that the biggest growth will be in digital, that’s a no-brainer. What we are not sure about is the pace of growth. Despite significant increases in digital and e-commerce during Covid-19, digital spend on average is only 15% of the total adex, and for quite a few brands, spend on digital remains in single digits. If I compare it to markets next door, their spending is at least double if not three times as much, and in advanced markets such as China and other countries across Asia Pacific, the numbers amount to over 50%. So it is not a matter of if, but of when.

MMA: Which mediums do you see growing in the near future?
NA: TV remains the undisputed leader, and in Pakistan, given its urban-rural split, it will continue to be the medium that attracts the highest number of eyeballs and will still account for two-thirds of the overall spend. TV will continue to be the dominant medium. The second biggest medium is digital. In five years, I estimate that digital will constitute over 25% of the adex. OOH will continue to grow, especially DOOH. It is a robust medium and plays an effective part in delivering the message to the right audience.

MMA: What about the other mediums?
NA: Radio has been marginalised but I don’t think it is dead. Recently, I have seen brands do very effective campaigns on radio. It will continue to deliver, especially for niche and regional players as a good complementary medium which can amplify the messaging. Print used to account for 15% of the adex, but is now at four percent. Sectors such as telcos allot less than one percent of their budget to print, but conversely, banks spend up to 15% on print because of the audience; real estate, too, uses print frequently. Cinema is expected to grow given the dearth of entertainment avenues, but it is a niche medium, albeit effective for activations, if done at the right time.

MMA: GroupM recently launched Inca Tech, a tool to measure the credibility and effectiveness of influencers. How is it delivering?
NA: Inca Tech’s arrival in Pakistan was delayed due to several factors, including Covid-19. We have started using it recently and it is a great tool to identify the right influencers based on their following in a relevant space and ensure a high level of engagement. It is almost ‘pay for performance’ rather than about how many videos or posts are published. We have deliberately gone a little slow on it because we want to understand this space, especially the backend, which is a little convoluted, with so many micro and nano influencers, some of whom are not very ethical.

For feedback: