‘Winning people over in today’s age of ‘woke’ advertising means you have to bring more than a great product or service to the table’: Grey Group COO

 ‘Winning people over in today’s age of ‘woke’ advertising means you have to bring more than a great product or service to the table’: Grey Group COO
Nirvik Singh
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Updated 21 July 2020

‘Winning people over in today’s age of ‘woke’ advertising means you have to bring more than a great product or service to the table’: Grey Group COO

 ‘Winning people over in today’s age of ‘woke’ advertising means you have to bring more than a great product or service to the table’: Grey Group COO
  • Q&A with Nirvik Singh, global chief operating officer of Grey Group
  • Online retail, entertainment, and gaming sees massive global growth since start of COVID-19 pandemic

DUBAI: Grey veteran Nirvik Singh took the reins of the advertising group in September 2019 when he was appointed as its global chief operating officer – just three months before the first COVID-19 cases were announced.

Prior to that, he served as chairman and CEO of Grey Group Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa since 2016, a role he continues to fulfill.

Arab News caught up with Singh to discuss how the advertising business has been impacted this year and what the future holds for advertisers and marketers.

How has COVID-19 affected the advertising business?

COVID-19 has forced a rethink across all industries, and marketing and advertising is no exception.

Consumer behavior and purchasing patterns have changed considerably and some of them, probably permanently.

As lockdown measures were placed across the globe, most media channels, except digital, shrank almost instantly. The postponement of big sporting events, such as the Olympics, also had a significant effect.

Being agile has never been as important; brands have had to adapt quickly by following the consumer, which has meant prioritizing digital communications.

The online environment – including retail, entertainment, and gaming – has seen massive growth in consumption, and shoppable posts are becoming the dominant means of sales conversions for 2020 and beyond.

Brands will rely more on the concept of ‘walled gardens’ i.e. the digital platforms that combine paid advertising with e-commerce to drive sales.




With the need for people to stay home and stay safe, Panadol launched a CSR campaign to fight COVID-19 by asking people to embrace the new normal

What has the impact been on clients?

Industry sectors have been affected differently; marketing activity has held up relatively well in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), tech and healthcare sectors, and it is within those sectors that the most significant changes in communication have taken place.

As people rely on the online world more than ever, marketers have leant heavily on digital solutions, accelerating the shift toward social media and online services.

E-commerce is booming, content creation that is more interactive and conducive to the customer experience is flourishing, gaming has reached previously unimaginable levels of consumer engagement, and the remote working ecosystem has gone from strength to strength.

Such rapid changes in consumer behavior and advertising spend throws up innumerable challenges, but also opportunities. It is how agencies respond to these challenges, and how well they adapt and embrace the opportunities, that will define their success for the future.

What are the clients’ top challenges at the moment?

Staying afloat and remaining relevant. Both are intrinsically connected. How does a brand remain an integral part of consumers’ lives in these unreal times? All clients will have to answer this question decisively. I would say it lies in brand purpose.

This is not just hearsay; it is backed by industry research. Harvard Business Review and Ernst and Young, for example, found that brands that operated with a clear sense of purpose outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 10 between 1996 and 2011.

Accenture Strategy’s recent global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers in 35 countries also found that 62 percent of respondents wanted companies to take a stand on issues such as sustainability, transparency, and fair employment practices. This is truer now than it has ever been as companies prioritize employee wellbeing and turn their attention toward the realization of a fairer, kinder, more sustainable world in the light of COVID-19.

 

During this time, how do you create ads that truly resonate with consumers and don’t come across as tone-deaf or pandering?

By showing awareness and empathy and, above all, being sincere.

Winning people over in today’s age of ‘woke’ advertising means you have to bring more than a great product or service to the table. Brands now need to have authentic stories with a social impact to make a connection and enjoy loyalty from their customers.

COVID-19 has only accelerated a trend that was already forming. Before the pandemic, environmental issues were at the forefront and climate activism was the movement that finally started to gain momentum, brands that are associated with a higher purpose, such as sustainability goals, are the ones that millennials have been gravitating toward.

Consumers want to know their brands of choice are there for them in difficult times and that they share similar values. Trust and authenticity are the keywords.

It is also possible to argue that it is our duty as marketers to provide both reassurance and solutions. That means brands being useful to the communities they serve and offering solutions that are supported by a real desire to help, and not just by looking after one’s bottom line.

Brands need to engage with their consumers in a relevant and purposeful manner such as when a car or house appliances manufacturer pivots its plant to make respirators, or a fashion house produces thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer. This shows their sincerity, where they talk the talk and walk the walk, supporting what they say not just with words but with actions that resonate with their customers. And we have seen brands step up.

 




As the world goes through a challenging phase, HSBC ensures its banking services are always within the consumer’s reach through its ‘Stronger Together’ campaign.

What initiatives have you taken to help employees and clients during this pandemic?

Our first priority was to secure the health and wellbeing of our staff – not just physical health but mental health too. It takes an adjustment to work from home and we needed to be cognizant of that.

We also had a duty to care for our clients by providing as much assistance and support as possible. That meant sharing knowledge and expertise via remote consultancy workshops, producing intelligence reports to keep them up to date with current insights, social media campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of play hygiene for young kids, and helping our clients produce work such as digital illustrations for social media to show appreciation of frontline workers or shooting a video for a client’s COVID-19-related campaign.

One of our employees also began making face shields for frontline workers and soon had the whole office involved. It is initiatives like this that remind us that an idea can come from anywhere, not just from creative departments and the importance of everyone pitching in to do what they can.

What tools did you launch during this time?

At Grey, we were already working toward collaborating remotely, irrespective of where our people were located.

A few weeks before COVID-19 hit, we launched a unique internal platform called go.grey. It has changed the way we communicate, share, collaborate, and work with each other.

Now, across our network, we have access to every person, deck, campaign, intellectual property, and published work from around the globe at our fingertips. It has made us agile and efficient and helped us to adapt to working in a borderless way. It is now very much a part of our culture and has proved to be a useful platform during these challenging times of working remotely.

We also spearheaded two projects which were developed and made accessible to everyone. The first is an interactive game that encourages young children to follow a hygiene routine and stay safe as they return to public places. Developed by the Grey Amea team and called “Keep Off,” it injected fun into what was an urgent conversation for parents and yet a tedious task for children.

The second was a real-time COVID-19 tracker developed by our digital and social arm, Autumn Grey. Providing data coverage across India, the tracker is available in all the local languages and dialects and provides updates and advice from government bodies, the World Health Organization, and medical experts. Engaging and innovative, both projects gave back to the community and allowed us to stay true to our “Famously Effective” banner.

What are some of the client efforts related to the pandemic that you have worked on?

There have been plenty, as you would imagine, during an unprecedented time of global upheaval, but I’ll focus on just a few.

Grey produced a campaign for HSBC called “Stronger Together,” which reassured customers that its banking services were always within reach, services especially needed in these challenging times.

In Saudi Arabia, Grey created a campaign for Panadol Cold and Flu to remind people that caring for one another does not change, no matter what the circumstances. We also crafted a campaign for Panadol Extra in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to put out the message to stay home and stay safe.

Lastly, the agency created a campaign for P&G’s Venus called “Self-Care Starts at Home,” which promotes the idea that one can look after oneself without always having to rely on others.




Grey MENA and Beirut’s campaign for P&G’s Venus shows how women can practice self-care at home as salons are shut during the lockdown


 What are your plans for the agency and to support clients now that the lockdown has been lifted in certain parts of the Middle East?

Most of our clients are already in a recovery mindset. The importance of rebound strategies and implementing marketing solutions to bring consumers closer to the
brand can help with a faster recovery. If there is anything we have learnt, it’s that authentic ‘brand purpose’, and effective ‘story-telling’ are both going to play a central role. This, supported with data analytics, intelligence reports, customer experience, e-commerce pivots, social and digital -will all be beneficial for our clients in determining the new patterns of demand and consumption and how best for them to bounce back in this new environment.
Finally, let’s also not forget the power of the big creative idea remains as potent as ever. We will continue to produce work that is ‘famously effective’ and sets us apart.
 
How do you foresee the rest of the year and 2021 for the advertising andmarketing industry?
 
I’m cautiously optimistic about the rebound.  Governments across the region are relaxing lockdowns, businesses are re-opening, and stimulus packages are boosting confidence as much as possible -while still considering safety. There is also a belief that recovery will happen at a faster pace than was first predicted. All brands now more than ever, will need to find shared values with consumers to gain their loyalty for the long term, and this is something we will see as an intrinsic part of the comeback plan for 2020-21 and beyond.
 
From an agency work perspective, there has been on-going activity, and things did not come to a complete halt. In fact, throughout this period, we have been pitching, interacting virtually with old clients, winning new clients, and have created campaigns that resonated well with the public. We were fortunate as our people adapted surprisingly well and quickly to remote working in these challenging times –  kudos to them all. No doubt there has been a slowdown and consumers are still quite cautious with spending. However, as lockdown eases, I think there will be a continuous and measured increase in demand, and consumption will start increasing as the population starts to gain more confidence and sees signs of economic stability.
I think this difficult time has given everyone pause to think of what matters and what is important, for people and the planet, and I am hopeful a better and kinder society will emerge from this crisis.
 


Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
Updated 14 May 2021

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
  • The campaign aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms
  • Christchurch Call’s participants are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were to hold talks Friday by video conference to advance their two-year-old campaign to curb online extremism.
The talks will mark two years since the leaders launched the Christchurch Call, an initiative named after the New Zealand city where a far-right gunman massacred 51 people at two mosques on March 15, 2019 while broadcasting his rampage live on Facebook.
The campaign, which aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms, has been boosted by the decision of the administration of new US President Joe Biden to join the initiative after Donald Trump turned his back on the drive.
The aim of the talks, due to get underway at 1830 GMT, will be to “reaffirm strong, high-level political support, determine new goals for Christchurch Call signatories and maintain an open but demanding dialogue with digital platforms,” the French presidency said.
Participants in the Christchurch Call are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content on social media and other online platforms.
It was not immediately clear which tech chiefs and other leaders would be dialling into the virtual talks.
According to Macron’s office, this initiative now involves 52 states, the European Commission, 10 large companies and global Internet platforms and as well as dozen civil society associations.
The drive was launched to counter a growing use of social media by extremists, after the Christchurch attacker broadcast live footage on Facebook from a head-mounted camera.
The New Zealand leader earned huge international prominence and respect after the attacks by reaching out to Muslim communities at home and vowing a widescale crackdown on extremist content.
“Among the priorities I would like to see progressed is a strengthened collective ability to manage crises related to terrorist and violent extremist content online,” Ardern said in a statement released by the French presidency ahead of the talks.
Macron added: “The work of the Call is ongoing and it remains as important as when it was launched two years ago.”


Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
Updated 14 May 2021

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
  • Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks
  • The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye

ISTANBUL: A video promoting tourism in Turkey amid the pandemic has caused an uproar on social media for showing tourism employees wearing masks that read “Enjoy, I’m vaccinated.”
The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye linked to the country’s tourism ministry and was taken down later that day without explanation. It aimed to promote travel to Turkey as a “safe haven” for foreigners and showed unmasked tourists being served in hotels on the Turkish coast.
Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks. A hashtag calling for the tourism minister to resign was trending on Twitter Friday. Users likened the masks to branding cattle and interpreted the ad’s message as Turks being subservient to foreigners.
“Sanitized resorts and vaccinated staff! We call it double safety for tourism. Our guests call it peace of mind” the video said.

 

 

Tourism workers have been prioritized to receive their vaccinations and the country’s foreign minister promised “we will vaccinate all people tourists may see by the end of May.” Many people are waiting for their turn. About 12.8 percent of Turkey’s nearly 84 million population has been fully vaccinated using China’s Sinovac or the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Turkey is in the final days of a full lockdown and the government has ordered people to stay home and businesses to close amid a huge surge in infections. But millions of workers are exempt and so are foreign tourists.
The restrictions, which began in late April, have brought daily infection numbers down from above 62,000 to around 11,500. Turkey’s president said the aim is to lower cases to below 5,000 in order for tourism to begin.
Turkey is courting international tourists during an economic downturn and needs the foreign currencies tourism brings to help industry and the economy as the Turkish lira continues to lose value. International tourists have been enjoying an empty Istanbul, Turkey’s famous beaches and other sites all to themselves, while Turks have been told to stay home and face expensive fines if they break rules.
Russia, however, has suspended flights to Turkey until June 1 and the UK and France recently warned their citizens not to travel to Turkey, introducing mandatory quarantines for travelers arriving from Turkey.
Starting May 17, Turkey is dropping the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test result when arriving in Turkey for passengers arriving from Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Estonia. Turkey requires mandatory quarantines for people who visited India, Brazil or South Africa, but other travelers can begin their vacations straightaway.


Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
Updated 13 May 2021

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
  • A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds
  • Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill

LONDON: The UK government announced plans on Wednesday to introduce age verification for users accessing social media platforms as part of efforts to protect children online. 

A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds, while tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter will face hefty fines if they allow underage children to access their services. 

Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill.

Currently, children under 13 are not allowed to sign up to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, while those under 12 are prohibited from creating a Google account. Meanwhile, the Facebook-owned chat service WhatsApp has a minimum age of 16.

Most social media companies rely on users self-declaring their age when they sign up. However, under the new regulations, Ofcom will have the power to carry out age checks and recommend certain social media platforms introduce age verifications. 

This could mean that social media firms will require users to upload a form of ID to verify their age. However, platforms warned that this move would exclude millions of users, both young and old, because many lack the documentation required.

The Online Harms Foundation criticized the UK government’s plans, saying that the proposals “overwhelmingly ignored” smaller platforms in favor of tech giants.

In a statement, the foundation claimed that the government focused on larger platforms, which already carry out much of what the bill demands.


Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
Updated 13 May 2021

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
  • The driver was forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descended on him and beat him
  • Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable”

LONDON: Footage of a far-right Israeli mob attacking a man in Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, who they believed was an Arab was broadcast live on TV on Wednesday as Israeli extremists assaulted Arabs in several cities.

The footage was aired on Israeli public broadcaster Kan, but reports indicated that the police and emergency services did not arrive on the scene until 15 minutes later. By that time, the victim was lying on the ground motionless and bloodied in the middle of the street. 

Although Israelis at the scene justified the attack by saying that the driver was an Arab who was intentionally trying to crash into the crowd, the footage showed otherwise. A white car is seen reversing away from a crowd before it collides with another vehicle.

The car then appears to speed forward toward the crowd before being stopped by the mob. Then the driver is forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descend on him and beat him. 

Six people have been arrested following the brutal attack. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable.” 

The live broadcast comes amid increased demonstrations by far-right Israelis and escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, with the UN warning that the two sides are heading for “all-out war.” 


First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
Updated 11 May 2021

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
  • Fitness enthusiast Shireen Khan says “SAS Who Dares Wins” placed her in some uncomfortable situations
  • The entrepreneur of Pakistani origin said her parents did not want her to take part, and share room and toilets with men

LONDON: The first Muslim woman to take part in a popular British TV show, in which contestants are set challenges by former Special Forces members, has described both her pride in taking part but the “difficult situations” she faced linked to her faith and upbringing.
Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.”
The sixth season, which started airing on Sunday on Channel 4, involves an elite team of ex-Special Forces soldiers putting 21 men and women through a series of grueling physical and mental exercises designed to mirror selection for the Special Air Services (SAS).
“A lot of people thought I wasn’t going to get on the show or even pass their fitness tests,” Khan told Arab News of the entry process. “At one point, I actually thought myself I was’t going to pass, because they were so difficult.”
Even to enter the show, contestants must be able to do 44 push-ups in a minute-and-a-half, and run 1.9 kilometers in nine minutes.
Khan, 28, received the call to say she made it as one of the final recruits, but her parents were not very happy, which posed a “real conflict” for her.
“My mum was like, you are a Muslim girl and how are you planning to go onto the show, when you are going to be sleeping next to men, and going to the toilet, and all of these things, if you go on the show, I am practically going to disown you,” Khan told Arab News.
For Khan, this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” although it “was a very difficult situation.”
“There are Muslim women who want to go into the SAS or army, because that is their passion and the big question is, is that something they can do in the correct way of Islam?”
Since then, her father has come around due to her achievement and knowing her values, but her mother has not, however at the time of the interview, they still had not seen her contribution to the show.
On the show, the men and women share open toilets and sleep in army camp beds in the same room. They also get changed together.

The sixth season of “SAS Who Dares Wins” started airing on Sunday on UK Channel 4. (Channel 4)

“I got very constipated, because mentally that is not something I am used to, whereas a lot of the other recruits, they have been in scouts and been wilderness camping since they were young, they have been exposed to these type of things, so they did not find it as a culture shock,” Khan said. “Whereas with me, I have been brought up in a very strict Muslim household in some way, so I physically couldn’t go to the toilet.”
At one point, they returned to camp and were washed off in freezing cold water to clear the mud and filth, and were told to undress and get into their dry kit.
“It meant that everyone had to strip, and when it came to me, I just said no,” Khan said. Instead, she wore her dry kit over her wet clothes, prompting warnings from the show’s staff that she risked hypothermia.
“It was a very uncomfortable situation and what you see on TV and in reality is absolutely nothing what they put you through, they literally just put a few snippets, but you are constantly going through that trauma behind the cameras.”
Another problem she faced was that the show did not not provide halal food.
Women were only allowed to apply for the real SAS since 2018.
On the TV show, Khan is not the first Muslim to take part. In the second season, Iraqi-born Mohammed Abdul Razak, who reached the final stage, used to pray five times a day on the show.
It was filmed in a remote part of Scotland, where the British Special Forces do most of their challenging training.
Despite her best efforts, Khan was the first to be eliminated during the first task, where they had to race 2.2 kilometers up a mountain carrying 18 kilos on their backs, as she along with another contestant, would have been a liability in a real war zone, the judges said.
Contestants often have a story of hardship, which has given them the strength to turn their lives around.
“Since I was young, I was bullied at school, I was not one of the best looking girls, I had a mustache growing up, being from a Pakistani background I was extremely hairy and that was one of the targets for bullies to pick on me and beat me up in the playground,” Khan said.
She suffered from self-esteem issues, which made her binge eat and become overweight. She also went through a really tough time with her parents’ divorce and growing up without much money.
She changed her life to become as physically fit as possible and went from “rags to riches,” training as a nurse before setting up a a chain of beauty clinics across London.
“I have come a long way and...it took a lot for me to do that, but I am a pure example of when you put your mind to something it is possible.”

Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.” (Supplied)

Khan joined the show because wanted to experience the real SAS and army, “who are actually going through this day to day just to save us, and for us to be sleeping peacefully at night. Coming off the show, my admiration, I’ve just got no words to describe what they get exposed to every day, it’s a real honor.”
Khan does not think she is capable of a career in the SAS because she discovered on the show she has physical, mental limitations. Weighing 51kg, Khan is 157cm, and said she was physically unable to compete with the men in the same tasks.
“It has definitely changed and shaped the way I look at life in general and I am exposing myself to new challenges,” she said.
Khan said she now plans to focus on her business and charitable work “and give back to the world in a different way.”
Khan runs a charity called Carrott Kids, which helped rebuild an earthquake-damaged school for 100 children in a remote Pakistan village. The new school building opened in March.