Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Many Fortune-500 CMOs are very frustrated. But they don't know where to go, says Gary Vaynerchuk

As Gary Vaynerchuk's VaynerMedia enters another global market with India, the celebrated founder believes independent global agencies like his can become an alternative to the traditional holding company and their agency networks

Published: Jun 18, 2024 07:04:09 PM IST
Updated: Jun 18, 2024 07:06:47 PM IST

"I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, in the 80s. That was literally the epicenter in America of Indian immigrants in the 80s. I do actually believe that me growing up with a lot of Indian immigrants connected me to the culture in a way that's really positive," says Gary Vaynerchuk

“I’m going to Cannes next week where many human beings, in 2024, are going to be fixated on commercials that no human being has seen.” That’s Gary Vaynerchuk’s no-holds-barred take on the state of advertising and the global ad industry’s premier festival - Cannes Lions.

The cutting edge of creativity looks very different from Vaynerchuk’s vantage. His global independent ad company VaynerMedia has officially launched a full-service agency in India, marking the company’s sixth office in the Asia Pacific region, and 13th globally. VaynerMedia previously operated in strategic partnership with local agency Step1, which will now become VaynerMedia India.

In an interview with Storyboard18, Vaynerchuk said, “The reason I'm excited about India is the acceleration of social media consumption, even in its fragmentation collectively is extraordinary.”

With media and creative under one roof and focus on SMAs (social media ads) and social media at the heart of modern advertising, VaynerMedia has grown into one of the largest independent agencies in the world. Vaynerchuk’s championing of a social-core mindset is on full display even when it comes to his personal brand - GaryVee, and social currency, which he plans to leverage to crack the India market.

He told us, “Do I think we'll crack it? Of course I do. I'm actually a practitioner of the craft. Unlike all my contemporaries, who are executives and bankers.”

Read on to find out how Vaynerchuk plans to bring his brand of modern creativity to the Indian ad market.

Q. What will you bring to the table for Indian clients and for global clients in India? What is it that you will do differently compared to very well established network agencies as well as local, homegrown independent agencies?
First, we're gonna bring humility. Your last point is very well taken. There's obviously some incredible global agencies that have been doing business in the market for a long time. There's a ton of great upstart agencies. So I think patience after humility.

I view this as for-the-rest-of-my-life. If you asked me 15 years ago when I started VaynerMedia, what would be the first international market, I probably would have said India. That's because my personal brand has always over-indexed in the market. From the day I started amassing followings, India was always my second biggest market.

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We are one of the largest, if not the largest at this point, global independent agencies in the world that has media and creative under one roof. It's a very different framework. We're not a holding company that has a media agency or a creative agency. We have both under one discipline. The holding companies have decoupled it and I think that's been to the detriment of brands. It's created confusion. It's created difficulty to measure success. We have a passion to be held accountable to business results at a higher level. So, I think, from a merit and business acumen standpoint that's important.

Number two, and this is with incredible respect to everyone that's in the market, I'm proud that I've been at the forefront of social media from its inception. The rise of social media creative has really accelerated in the last three years. This is probably the only thing I'd be willing to bet on. Because we're very good at many things. I think we're okay at certain things. I think we're below average at some things because we haven't entered them yet. Our search capabilities are not as good as many. But there's a very big distance between our capability and what I see in the marketplace when it comes to building a brand on social media and knowing how to make what we call as SMAs (social media ads), and the creative science to be good at them.

Social media creative has become unbelievably important. We're fortunate to be working globally with the Pepsis and the Procters and many of the best brands in the world, and I think there's an appetite for us to be in the market.

Obviously to your point - a very complex market, heavy fragmentation, many different languages and dialogue, different platforms do different things. But we have our expertise on the science around the art, around social media creative brand building, and our take on creative AOR.

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So just to give you context we are the creative AOR of many brands, but we have social media creative at the center of our creative AOR product. That's going to resonate over the next few months as the market starts to understand what we're doing.

Q. What challenges do you foresee given how complex the market is? Can you crack it and how quickly do you think you make it here?
You are going to love this answer. There is not a CEO of a single agency in the world that has more followers on social media in India and makes content for the Indian market, more than me. Like in real life, not hyperbole, not theory. There's not a CEO or executive of any agency in India today that actually makes content for India and has more success with their content India than me. So do I think we'll crack it? Of course I do. I'm actually a practitioner of the craft. Unlike all my contemporaries, who are executives and bankers.

That's where my bravado is. Now let me tell you what my humility is. It's going to take time. We entered Europe successfully. We entered Latin America successfully. We entered Asia successfully. These are three parts of the world that are very different from America. India itself is more similar to those places because of the fragmentation of dialogues, the nuances and the regions.

So we definitely have the humility to know even though I, as GaryVee, knows how to make content for India, as an agency, we have to build the muscle. We've been working with our partner in India for the last two years quietly on business in the market. So between my own expertise as a practitioner and my 25 person team that makes my content, the fact we've been doing it for two years, the fact that we have the patience and the humility to know it's gonna take us 6, 12, 24, 36 months just to get our foundation down; I think that's a good formula for us.

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We're not naive. We're not cliche. We respect the truth. We've been patient. We've wanted to be in the market for a long time. India’s also got incredible global talent and that’s something everybody recognises. The person who runs my personal brand, globally, is born and raised in India.

I'm proud of our humility, patience, strategy, and understanding as we enter the market. I don't know if there's been a market we've entered more thoughtfully than how we're doing this.

Q. Why so thoughtfully, Gary? What is driving that patience and why did you take the inorganic route versus the more organic way you entered other global markets?
The answer is serendipity. I want Vayner to be everywhere in the world. Because I know I'm going to do it for the rest of my life, I'm not overtly ideological about the timing of certain places. I have incredible passion to be in the Middle East and Africa. But I don't feel like I need to force it.

There were opportunities with certain clients to expand to the market. It was really serendipity, a chance of opportunity for expansion with certain clients and the ability to make purchases that made financial sense, but more importantly, cultural sense. And even more importantly, they're built on the principles that I believe in.

We think that too many agencies are in a boardroom making subjective opinions and doing a whole campaign based on three people's opinions versus what we do for a living which is to day-to-day social media marketing, to be relevant to more consumers, and then to extract consumer insights to do better campaign work.

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Q. What client profile are you looking at here and the global clients that you're hoping to work with given your existing partnerships in other markets?
As far as hopes and dreams, to be honest, it's more about like-minded individuals than it is about how big the money is or how cool the brand is. Vayner does extremely well with people that see the world the way we do or are interested in learning about it. We do very poorly with people that believe in a form of marketing based on a craft around politics and television of the past.

I don't really have a sector or a brand. It would be interesting to see which ones are so satisfied with who they're working with in India, versus which ones are ecstatic that we're now in the market, and will want to work with us to expand our footprint.

But I don't have a sector or a sexy brand or an Indian-owned brand or a global brand in India. I don't think in those terms. I think in terms of fit, meaning people that really want to go on the journey of relevance at scale, social first, meet media and creative. Obviously, as we get deeper into the market, I'll get a sense of which CEOs and CMOs of which brands see it the way we see it.

Q. The traditional ad holding companies are grappling with several challenges. How do you see their place in the world today?
I think they're in a very strong power position. They've done incredible M&A and consolidation and the fortune 500 companies don't have many global alternatives to working with a holding company. If you are Coca Cola, if they're upset with IPG or Publicis or Omnicom or WPP, what are they going to do? Go to another one that's exactly like it?

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The holding companies are incredibly strong in their position, because they're trading clients amongst themselves. But I believe that they're vulnerable if there's a couple more of me who don't want to sell to them and want to build forever. Then you can wake up in five to seven years and there's three to four alternatives to the holding company model.

Those companies like ourselves will be incredibly fruitful. Because what I can tell you as someone who has a relationship with many Fortune 500 CMOs, they're very frustrated. But they don't know where to go. And so I think it requires us opening up markets to then give a BMW or a Mercedes Benz or a Nike, an alternative. Until that happens, the holding companies will be fine.

I'm empathetic to this. This is not a razz. Holding companies are publicly traded companies and so they have to worry more about their stock price than if the marketing they do for their clients work for their clients.

That dissatisfaction in the market exists. The holding companies are in such a precarious spot that you may see some of them go private. In my one man's subjective opinion with all due respect, I think the work they do is not good. I think that we sell programmatic digital garbage. I think we sell above-the-line garbage from a media standpoint and creatively we're still fixated on commercials. I’m going to Cannes Lions next week. And in France next week, many human beings, in 2024, are going to be fixated on commercials that no human being has seen.

The reason I'm excited about India is the acceleration of social media consumption, even in its fragmentation, collectively is extraordinary.

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Q. Coming back to your personal brand. Why do you think your personal brand has worked so well in India?
I grew up in Edison, New Jersey, in the 80s. That was literally the epicenter in America of Indian immigrants in the 80s. I do actually believe that me growing up with a lot of Indian immigrants connected me to the culture in a way that's really positive.

Even if that didn't happen, I believe hard work, love of family, entrepreneurship, really would have connected me. It's entrepreneurship, that's the connection. But finally, I do think that how I speak about parenting, resonates with a lot of people in India.

A lot of young Indians both in India and around the world, feel an extraordinary amount of pressure to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, and I put out a lot of content talking about how while I understand why parents want that and while I understand how many of these kids want to appease their parents, they need to be careful. Because if they have regret, they're going to create resentment towards their parents. I talk a lot about truth in entrepreneurship, in marketing and in parenting, and I think it resonates well in the market.