90s Advertising Laid The Foundation For Me: Atit Mehta

For our series, 'Marketing Maestros', Atit Mehta, Marketing Head, Byju's shared his journey and insights into the dynamic realm of marketing

Atit Mehta, Marketing Head at Byju's comes with an experience of over 18 years, leveraging his experience and expertise to drive transformative changes in the world of marketing.

For our exclusive series, 'Marketing Maestros’, Mehta shares his journey and insights into the dynamic realm of marketing.

Excerpts:

What caught your attention in the world of marketing?  

It all started during my college days. I was super fascinated with all the advertising which used to come on Doordarshan and we didn't have a television at home, so we used to go to the neighbour's house to watch serials, and I used to wait for the advertising to hit us. That started creating interest within me. I would say, the 90s advertising laid the foundation for me to be in this particular field. It was all about creating. And as things spanned out, I went into a marketing school, passed out, graduated as a marketeer, and didn't get the opportunity to directly get into marketing but somehow I managed to reach where I always wanted to reach. 

What has been the turning point of your life in the marketing industry?

In my early days, I started at Mindshare and was involved with Fulcrum, the Unilever services unit. We collaborated closely with HUL marketers, executing media-driven marketing campaigns and then I ended up joining HUL and ended up working with the best marketing minds one can ever see in a single setup. Interacting with 70-75 brands, their respective custodians gave a sense in terms of what it is all about how each and every brand differs, what needs to be done, what is their job to be done, what is that consumer, what is the segmentation, what is the regular stuff? That laid the professional liking of being a proper marketer.

With sustainability becoming a prominent focus in marketing, what are your thoughts on brands adopting green messaging genuinely versus resorting to greenwashing to remain competitive in the market?

It is up to the organisation in terms of how much they value the consumer and we should not be making that mistake that the consumers are not understanding. Consumers, and especially the young generation, as we call it, they are reading, they are understanding what the company is doing. If one is trying to greenwash, sooner or later you are going to lose the consumer. It is very critical to be true to what you are doing. Most of the organizations which I know of are trying to do it the right way. They are creating sustainable packaging, they are creating sustainable supply chain production, and more. The entire journey of putting the brand in the consumer's hand, they're doing everything and that's coming out strongly. People are recognizing that effort. There is an industry, ‘Sustainability Green Awards’ which has got initiated over the last four or five years. So the more you try greenwashing, the probability of you losing the consumer is much higher and there are professionals today who are now getting recruited as green specialists in most of the big organisations to drive this agenda, to create that environment and evangelize the entire concept of why it is important to do the right thing and not create a story. 

In this woke generation, how do you ensure authenticity and transparency in purpose-driven marketing, when dealing with sensitive issues?

The core definition of purpose is a deeper connection. It can be established through a great product or the services which you are offering. If that is not done authentically and most credibly, the woke consumers will read through the lines. If you have to be in business and retain your consumers, we know how expensive it is in today's day and age to win back a consumer with the amount of exposure and the media fragmentation which is happening. It is also going to impact your bottom line and top line going forward if your purpose is not a true purpose and that's the way transparency, sustainability, and the green messaging and the green initiative will come into play. If you try to create a shortcut, it might work today, but certainly, it will not work for long.

In what ways do you foresee generative AI's capacity to elevate content creation and storytelling approaches?

AI is a huge enabler and an enhancement today. For example, we always write advertising in Hindi, but now with deep tech and generative AI, it's easy to create multiple versions. What it is doing is it's not taking the human touch away which you bring onto the table, which is again coming through years and years of experience, deep consumer insight, the nuances which you have understood for the brand, that's what you bring onto the table but technology is providing you the enabler, it will just make your work faster and easier. Moreover, creativity is individual-led. It's not something which can be generated. While it might help, it will give you a starting point and might give you the ending point, but you will still be the core. The headline needs to come from the mind and not from the machine.

How do you strike a balance between granting creative freedom to influencers and adhering to brand guidelines to ensure consistency and alignment in messaging?

I am not a big fan of influencer marketing, and I have my reasons to say so. You can have six or twenty influencer categories but it doesn't matter. All of us are influencers in our own world, amongst our friends, inner circle, and so forth. If you look at any category, there are those 125-150 influencers and that's your universe for influencer marketing. 20 brands are going to them and trying to create communication, campaigns, and social media activities. I feel the relevance and the authenticity of an influencer is lost because we have made it into a commercial exercise. As a brand, the brand guidelines and brand protocol have to be followed. While the creator is creating content in their own way, with brands they're trying to curtail the creativity with the guidelines. It becomes like a box approach. More often than not, it looks like not only a paid sponsored post, but one does not believe it. Overall, I feel that it is overrated. It is something which is now going completely commercial and brands need to be a little bit more prudent in terms of that how they want influencers and what they need to do with the influencers rather than just putting up a campaign and trying to reach the wrong TG.

What opportunities and challenges do you anticipate in the future of social media marketing and how do you plan to navigate them to stay ahead in the ever-changing landscape?

15 years ago, people used to ask this as we shifted from terrestrial to cable and satellite to DTH to connected TV, and then audio, video, and everything digital, how will we evolve? Somehow all of us, as an industry has managed to do the right thing and we're doing a great job, overall. Same way on social platforms, multiple things are happening and why it is happening, it's critical to know because today LinkedIn has become like Facebook. It's no longer a professional network. For instance, when one goes to a restaurant, they might be putting on Insta, Facebook, and Threads but they are also putting up on LinkedIn. What has happened is the boundaries that it started have now blurred. There is no restriction to a particular platform. The way I look at it, it has an open source by saying consumers are everywhere. There will be the top three mediums and there will be a huge tail and the tail will keep on wagging but it doesn't make any difference as long as the consumers are there and the platform is relevant, you will see a shift happening every five years. There will be a split of audiences and if you start seeing split of audiences and the engagement rates on platform A versus platform B is better, automatically advertising dollar is going to follow.

On the spends part, an inclination towards digital media is happening because your audiences are going over there and we are following the audiences. If you and me are spending, or anybody for that matter of time, is spending more time outside the traditional media, it is common sense and prudent to be there to target them.

Plus, the biggest advantage, which I see is on two counts, one is there is sort of an 85-90 per cent accuracy available in terms of targeting, which is not the case in the traditional media. Next is the entry cost on digital is minuscule. As we go forward, digital spends are going to overtake all other traditional media.

Which marketing veterans or leaders do you admire and find inspiration from in your professional journey?

There are two names which come to my mind and I've worked under them. Early days of GroupM Mindshare, I worked very closely with Sundar Raman while he was a hardcore media professional but he had proper consumer understanding and he had that knack, experience, and expertise to understand what will work, and what will not work from a brand perspective. Observing him and working under his leadership, it certainly helped. Moving to Levers, during my tenure, Gopal Vittal, our head of marketing at that point in time was one whom I still look upto, and would cut a right arm to work under him. He demonstrated what brand love is all about and how to create brand love. Seeing the way Gopal handle all the 70-75 brands which he was responsible for was a huge inspiration with such a huge marketing set, he was an institute in himself, and more than working with him closely, it was about seeing how he is approaching things and what does he end doing in the situation of crisis. 

How would you explain your entire marketing journey in one word or one sentence?

I think it's enriching and satisfying. If you're putting an advertising or a marketing concept, a marketing strategy, there is nothing when you walk in one morning, and over a few weeks as you work towards it, you see something coming out. So it's very enriching and when you see it successfully coming out, it's also very satisfying.