Mumbai: The year that began with the slowdown of pandemic cases, and phased opening of businesses across the country, is ending with another Covid variant rearing its head. The new cases of Omicron are spreading faster, even as the industry struggles to hold on to its post-pandemic revival after braving a deadly second wave in May early this year.
Amid all these challenges, there were signs of resilience, that highlighted the advertising industry’s slow yet significant recovery this year. If 2020 was the year of ed-tech, 2021 only took the game a notch higher. E-commerce dominated headlines, and several D2C brands rose to success with their innovative advertising and marketing strategies. The year saw the largest number of startups joining the unicorn league, of which many of them are internet-based companies, including Flipkart, Nykaa, Zomato, and Paytm. The agencies too, adapted to the new normal, brainstorming newer ways to strengthen brand connect and retain audiences across media channels.
With the curtains falling on this eventful, yet resilient year, we take a look at some of the biggest names that made headlines, and created a buzz in the world of brands, advertising, and marketing this year.
1. FALGUNI NAYAR, NYKAA FOUNDER
An entrepreneur at 49 and a billionaire at 58, Nayar made waves with her company’s chartbuster initial public offering (IPO) in November. The ₹5,352-crore IPO of her FSN E-Commerce Ventures Ltd was oversubscribed nearly 82.5 times. On the same day, the company’s market capitalisation touched the ₹1 lakh crore mark, making Nayar who owns a 52.56 per cent stake in the company, India’s richest self-made woman billionaire. An investment banker, Nayar launched the beauty and fashion e-commerce platform Nykaa in March 2012 after quitting her job at Kotak Mahindra Capital. Today, Nykaa Fashion is a multi-brand platform with close to 1,500 brands—of which five are its own brands- two acquired and three it has built from scratch. Nykaa Beauty and Nykaa Fashion are separate businesses.
2. BYJU RAVEENDRAN, BYJU’S FOUNDER-CEO
Byju Raveendran-owned edtech, Byju’s has been on a dream run. The company, which saw its business grow rapidly during the pandemic, ramped up its user base and saw a swift growth in revenues. It also announced several deals around the world over, acquiring a number of its competitors, eight of which were this year. With this, Raveendran and his family have also expanded their fortunes, making them the 67th richest Indians, according to the IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2021. The home-grown edtech startup is now the 13th most valuable start-up in the world, as per CB Insights’ latest unicorn tracker. Currently valued at $21 billion, the Bengaluru-based start-up is also the world’s most valuable ed-tech start-up. It is also the only Indian name to feature in the list of the world’s elite unicorns as of December 2021. Recently, the ed-tech giant was in the news for its advanced discussions to go public through one of Churchill Capital's special-purpose acquisition companies (SPAC). While an announcement could come as soon as January, the negotiations are not final.
3. PARAG AGARWAL, TWITTER CEO
2021 was also the year when Indians were taking over coveted leadership roles in the global forum. The first to mark his name was Indian-born Parag Agarwal, who was appointed as the CEO of the micro-blogging platform Twitter in November. An alumnus of IIT-Bombay, Agarwal had joined Twitter in 2011 and worked his way up the ladder to becoming the chief technology officer (CTO) by 2018 and was reportedly one of the 'first choices' of the company's co-founder Jack Dorsey in the line of succession, after the latter announced his resignation. In a staunch endorsement of 37 years old Agrawal, Dorsey wrote: “He's been my choice for some time, given how deeply he understands the company and its needs. Parag has been behind every critical decision that helped turn this company around… My trust in him as our CEO is bone-deep." Before Twitter, Agrawal had briefly worked at Microsoft, AT&T, and Yahoo. He did his bachelor's in engineering in computer science here, before moving to the US for further studies, his doctorate coming from Stanford University.
4. LEENA NAIR, CHANEL CEO
In another proud moment for India, Maharashtra-born Leena Nair joined the list of Indian-origin CEOs of multinational brands in December. Her appointment as the CEO of the French luxury fashion house Chanel was unprecedented, given that Nair was a rank outsider with zilch experience in the fashion industry, not being a part of the Paris fashion scene.
Before this, the 52-year-old had an illustrious career that spanned 30 years at Unilever, becoming the first female and youngest-ever chief human resources officer at the global company, in London- a position she resigned from to join the 111-year-old luxury group. Nair rose through the ranks of Unilever having started out as a management trainee. Under her watch Unilever achieved gender parity across global management. With the latest win, Nair is being hailed as a "serial glass-ceiling breaker". An electronics and telecommunications engineer from Walchand College of Engineering in Sangli, Maharashtra, she did her MBA in Human Resources from XLRI Jamshedpur in 1992 before joining as a trainee at HUL.
5. PIYUSH PANDEY, OGILVY
An advertising industry veteran with over three decades of experience in the industry, Pandey has donned several hats, representing Rajasthan in Ranji Trophy cricket during his younger days and being a tea taster are some of them before discovering advertising as a career choice. This year, the ad guru added one more feather to his cap when he took on the role of global creative chairman at WPP Plc. owned creative agency Ogilvy in May. He continues to serve as chairman of Ogilvy India helping brands understand their consumers.
6. ANITA NAYYAR, PATANJALI AYURVED COO-MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS
The year 2021 saw life turning 360 degrees and completing a full circle for former Havas media India boss Anita Nayyar in the advertising and media industry, as she joined Patanjali Ayurved as COO- Media & Communications in July, after a brief stint with Zee5 from May 2020 to March 2021. An industry veteran, Nayyar had an eventful two years, with transitions circumscribing the client-side from the agency side, before settling finally on the brand side, having managed many portfolios of brands across sectors in a career spanning three decades.
The year also saw some of the country’s biggest agencies undergo senior-most level executive shuffles and the arrivals and departures of some of advertising’s top talents. In recent months, dentsu India network parted ways with many of its key leaders in an exodus that began in January. The exits were announced as part of its restructuring process to usher in the dentsu India 2.0 vision. The rejig, brings together its creative agencies under one umbrella, including Dentsu Webchutney, Taproot Dentsu, WATConsult, Perfect Relations, Isobar, Dentsu One, Dentsu India, and Dentsu Impact. The high-level exits from its India leadership team included veterans like Santosh Padhi, Shamsuddin Jasani, Vivek Bhargava, Rubeena Singh, Haresh Nayak, Gopa Menon, and the India CFO turned CEO Anand Bhadkamkar. After almost five years of being the CEO at the digital-first media agency iProspect, Rubeena Singh started new innings as the country manager at the short-video app Josh in October.
7. ASHISH BHASIN, DENTSU
Ashish Bhasin -stepped down as dentsu International- CEO APAC & chairman India in November. An industry veteran with over 30 years’ experience, Bhasin had joined Aegis Media in June 2008 and was tasked with launching the business in the market. He was promoted to CEO, Dentsu Asia Pacific in September 2019. Earlier this year, Bhasin had resigned from the board of directors and Audit Committee of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC India) sparking the retirement rumours.
8. SANTOSH PADHI AND AGNELLO DIAS, TAPROOT DENTSU
The news about Padhi’s sudden exit from the agency he founded with Agnello Dias in 2009 shocked everyone in the industry. Padhi ended his historic innings with Taproot dentsu in September. An art graduate from Mumbai, Padhi began his career with DDB Mudra. He then moved on to Leo Burnett, where he was an executive creative director and later became the national head of art.
Earlier in June, Taproot made some leadership level rejigs and announced that Agnello Dias (Aggie) will move on to a role as a consultant for key brands, but he too put in his papers around this time. Dias began his advertising career in 1989 and after working with many local and international agencies, including Dart, Interpublicity, Lowe and Leo Burnett, he joined JWT India in 2005, where he soon became the chief creative officer. It was in 2009 when the art and copy duo Padhi and Aggie, decided to together launch their independent creative boutique Taproot India — a bold independent setup. Over the last 12 years, Taproot dentsu rose to become one of India’s most prominent creative agencies, notching up several accolades along the way.
9. AJAY GEHLAUT, DENTSU CREATIVE
Industry veteran Ajay Gahlaut joined dentsu Creative as group CCO in the midst of Dentsu India’s transformation journey towards dentsu India 2.0 and Ajay’s joining is a critical part of the plan, the agency said. Gahlaut, with over 27 years of experience in advertising, was with Publicis Worldwide, India, as chief creative officer and managing director till June 2020. He wrote the line ‘Do Boond Zindagi Ki’ that anchored the famous Pulse Polio Immunisation campaign with Amitabh Bachchan and the ‘Make It Large’ tagline for the whiskey brand Royal Stag. He was also the man behind the 'Men will be men' series of campaigns for whiskey brand Imperial Blue and the creator of the character ‘Mr. Murthy’ for Voltas air conditioners.
10. SHAMSUDDIN JASANI, WUNDERMAN THOMPSON
As Wunderman Thompson chairman and Group CEO South Asia Tarun Rai moved into a new role as executive director Strategic Initiatives, APAC, Jasani was roped in to take on the mantle. Before this, he was with Isobar as Group MD South Asia. Jasani is a veteran of the industry, having launched Isobar in India in 2008, growing it from a two-person team to over 300-strong across South Asia.
11. PRITI MURTHY, GROUPM
Priti joined GroupM India as president, GroupM Services India this October, which the network described as a ‘homecoming’ for her and strengthening of the GroupM India leadership team. As an industry veteran, Murthy has spent a large part of her 22+ year career with GroupM. Her last held role with GroupM was as the chief strategy officer at Maxus Global.
12. ANISHA IYER, OMD India CEO
Iyer was elevated to OMD India chief executive officer in December. With nearly 18 years of experience in the advertising business and a niche in digital and technology, she joined OMD, a subsidiary of the group, in 2019 as the managing director for Malaysia. Her previous stints include working in companies such as Mindshare, Madhouse, and GroupM in a career spanning two decades.
13. ANUPRIYA ACHARYA, PUBLICIS GROUPE
Anupriya Acharya, a veteran in the media and advertising world, was re-elected as president of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) for the year 2021-22 in September this year. Hailing from Dehradun, Acharya has worked with Ogilvy & Mather, McCann (then McCann Erickson), media agency Mindshare Fulcrum and The Media Edge in her 20 plus career. She has also remained the Group CEO of Zenith Optimedia (part of the Publicis Groupe), where she was elevated to lead the India business of Publicis Media in 2016 with a 900-plus strong team.
14. SWATI BHATTACHARYA, FCB INDIA
This year also saw the FCB Group India announce the restructuring of its creative agencies and a new three agency structure - FCB Ulka, FCB Interface and FCB India. FCB India, the newest agency in the fold, which’s led by Swati Bhattacharya as the creative chairperson, announced its newly elevated C-Suite leadership team. A noted industry professional, Bhattacharya has been the only woman CCO in India when she joined FCB Ulka in 2016. The brains behind award-winning campaigns like Sindoor Khela for the Times of India, Horlicks, Maggi sauces and noodles, Close up, Airtel, Kit Kat, 7Up, Pepsi, Pizza, UNICEF, Sunrise and Slice are some of her other note-worthy works.
15. RAMESH NARAYAN, CANCO ADVERTISING
Canco Advertising founder and Indian advertising doyen Ramesh Narayan was inducted into the prestigious Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA) Hall of Fame at the AdAsia conference held at Macao in December. “The AFAA Hall of Fame sets out to recognise those who’ve defined a generation of advertising, those who we look up to, who inspire us, and who have done what few others have ever done or could ever do; for those who have pioneered- the very few we can call legends,” said outgoing AFAA chairman, Raymond So about Narayan’s inclusion in the prestigious hall of fame. Earlier this year Narayan also released his book titled “A Different Route to Success”, which gives readers a ringside view of his professional life, having retired at the age of 50, after running Canco Advertising, an advertising agency he founded and ran for 24 years.
16. ARJUN MOHAN, upGrad CEO
upGrad CEO ArjunMohan is an experienced industry professional having worked across sales, marketing, and product development domains for more than 15 years, before helming upGrad. One of the most creative edtechs in the country, when it comes to utilising marketing channels to amp up its reach, Mohan helped script a remarkable success story backed on innovative services and out-of-box marketing activities. The upGrad CEO is on a high this year with education going digital-first due to the compulsions brought about by the pandemic.
17. VINEETA SINGH, SUGAR COSMETICS CEO
Singh famously gave up a crore-rupee job offer from an investment bank while she was still in her twenties because she wanted to dive into entrepreneurship. Sugar Cosmetics, a digital-first brand, is her third start-up—the first two did not take off but the second startup, Fab Bag, a subscription business that offered women an assortment of beauty products every month for a small fee- gave her enough data and insights to kickstart her third one. Unlike most digital-first brands, Sugar was early to develop an omnichannel presence and her mantra to make cosmetics for Indian skin tones and suited to the Indian environment paid off. In 2020-21, the D2C firm achieved Rs 130 crore in revenue, and raised $21 million (Rs 160 crore) in venture funding, bringing its valuation to Rs 750 crore.
18. GHAZAL ALAGH, MAMAEARTH CO-FOUNDER
Baby and mother care brand Mamaearth turned unicorn after raising close to $80 million in a new round at unicorn valuation led by Sequoia. One among the few startups to turn unicorns with a woman co-founder, the five-year-old D2C brand took birth after Ghazal Alagh and her husband, Varun became parents. In 2016, the couple launched the brand under the parent company Honasa Consumer Pvt Ltd, in Gurugram using natural, plant-based or manmade ingredients, which are both certified safe as well as effective. In just four years, Mamaearth became Asia’s first brand to get the MadeSafe certification for its toxin-free products. The company recently acquired a female-centric content platform, Momspresso, and associated influencer-engagement platform, Momspresso MyMoney to further accelerate engagement with consumers and strengthen content-to-commerce.
19. ANIL KAPOOR, AD VETERAN
Finally, taking a stock of all that we lost this year, there are some losses which cannot be restored ever in any manner whatsoever- and that’s the lives of people lost. This year saw the demise of many eminent names and talents of the industry, many of whom were lost to the Coronavirus.
One such name is that of DraftFCB+ Ulka’s late chairman emeritus Anil Kapoor, who passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer, in April this year. His passing marked the end of an era in the advertising industry. Kapoor joined a struggling Ulka in 1988 and scripted one of the greatest turnaround stories in advertising. He was given charge of the situation to stop the exodus of clients and is credited with bringing in a fresh set of talent, including from institutions like the IIMs. Clients who had left returned and he built a leadership team that stuck together for decades. Kapoor's career in the ad industry extended to over three decades, and under his guidance, Ulka group emerged among the top five advertising agencies of India. He was conferred with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the AAAI in 2013. His death leaves a huge void in the realm of India's advertising industry.