How the blended model is working for DDB Tribal

It’s been ten years since the DDB Group bought out 22feet, a fast growing independent digital agency (named interestingly after the size of our small intestine to denote its gutsiness) and merged it into its existing digital unit, Tribal Worldwide to create 22feet Tribal. Three years earlier, in 2011, Omnicom had acquired Mudra and merged it with DDB Worldwide, leading to the formation of the DDB Mudra Group in India. A lot of restructuring has happened in the Omnicom network in India since then, in an attempt to harness the best out of all its agencies.

For the DDB Mudra Group, DDB Tribal has been one of its key bets in building the “agency of the future”. It was born in 2019, by amalgamating the services of DDB Mudra and 22feet Tribal Worldwide. Modelled as an agency which brings together digital-first thinking and classic big-idea advertising, it is the fully integrated arm of DDB Mudra Group. The bet seems to be paying off. DDB Tribal has doubled its revenues over the past five years, which included the challenging Covid years.

Integrated approach

Ashutosh Sawhney, President, DDB Tribal, says that the adoption of a “blended agency model” has been “most exciting”. Right at the outset, two diverse cultures — the pure play digital and technology geeks at 22feet Tribal and the classic advertising agency folks at DDB Mudra in Delhi — had to fuse to form DDB Tribal. It was a leadership challenge, he says, recalling those days. “We knew the lines didn’t need to get blurred; they needed to vanish. Under the “blended teams” model, there are no separate digital teams or a separate mainline team,” Sawhney adds.

Sawhney recalls how in 2019 he and his boss, Aditya Kanthy (now Omnicom India CEO), began talking about the need to harness the strong legacy of Brand Mudra in the Delhi market. “We realised that Mudra Delhi was no longer at the peak that it was in the ’90s and early 2000s. This discussion in 2019 was happening at a time when integrated or digital advertising was beginning to gain traction. But the science of digital advertising was still nascent and the digital advertising playfield was also fairly immature. We also realised that many clients wanted stakeholders to come together to service the brand,” he says. Since the clients didn’t seem to want a fragmented approach, DDB Tribal began the experiment of integration. The pandemic brought its set of challenges but also expedited the shift towards digitalisation on all fronts.

“We were able to withstand the revenue pressures during the Covid years of 2020 and 2021. We managed to stay afloat during these challenging times, thanks to our long-standing clients and onboarding of a lot of digital-first clients. Over the past five and a half years, we have been able to double our revenues. On an average, we are growing at 25 per cent year-on-year,” Sawhney adds.

DDB Tribal’s roster of clients includes Royal Enfield, McDonald’s North and East and Mars Wrigley India, among others. It has also onboarded Indian National Congress (INC) in the ongoing General Elections — a challenging mandate.

INTEGRATED DUTIES: From being only a digital client, DDB tribal is now doing everything for Mars Wrigley India; A recent ad.

Emphasising that the integrated model is the “obvious way forward”, Iraj Fraz, Creative Head, DDB Tribal says, “It’s beginning to show results. We are seeing a virtuous cycle. For some of our clients, who were only digital clients — like Mars Wrigley — we are now doing everything for them. Similarly for some clients like McDonald’s N&E, we began with above-the-line communication. They began seeing merit in our strategic thinking and eventually also gave us their digital business,” he adds.

The agency has seen success in bagging integrated business of not just the established brands but also the new-age brands. Take for instance: Blusmart, which has emerged as a key player in the ride-hailing sector. The agency played a key role during its launch.

Fraz believes that it’s still a “work-in-progress” company. “Why I say that is because I think the Delhi region has the highest amount of talent but also has the highest attrition rate in agencies. The agencies that are able to build a culture of “zero politics” and purely professional ethics produce great work. You can produce good work only when you enjoy it. I believe building that culture is our only task. Over the years, we have begun seeing a pattern. Last year, we saw some of the people who had quit, have come back and have become an even stronger part of the team. We are not perfect but we keep ironing out the glitches,” he explains.

The other key aspect has been focus on building a culture of “reverse learning” as more experienced members in the classic advertising field collaborate with their more digital-savvy younger team members.

The big shift

“When we started this business, the contribution of integrated business was not more than 20 per cent in the overall scheme of things. Today, its contribution has grown to be 70 per cent. This indicates the real success of the DDB Tribal experiment,” Sawhney adds.

Going forward, brands are expected to put in more spends in digital. “This year, IPL rates are the same for TV and digital. And IPL is considered to be the marker of Indian advertising. Also, look at the political advertising this election season, there’s a phenomenal digital focus and spends. It indicates that for the brands that are still not going digital-heavy, it’s only a matter of time,” adds Fraz.

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