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Meet the Media Minds: Dentsu X Sanjay Nazerali: 'Don’t get lost down the product rabbit hole'

Sanjay Nazerali, global client and brand president, Dentsu X

Adland has a penchant for celebrating creative, but those planning, buying and executing the campaigns are often forgotten. Meet the Media Minds sees The Drum address that imbalance and dig into the models and strategy of the world’s biggest media agencies.

This week we catch up with Sanjay Nazerali, the recently-appointed global client and brand president of Dentsu X.

What would be your first lesson for a newbie media type?

You’ll learn a lot about data and technology, which is essential, but make sure you link all of that back to people. What does that mean for consumers, for clients, for society? Don’t get lost down the rabbit hole of product at the expense of people.

What are the biggest challenges facing the business?

Trust and relevance are what keep me up at night. Our industry has transformed from creatively-led seduction to data-led stalking, and that has damaged consumer trust in brand communications. We’ve not played the immense power of data and technology, such as programmatic, to our best advantage. We’ve used them to drive efficiency and reach, rather than consumer relevance and engagement. My mantra here is “being personalised doesn’t make you personal".

As for relevance, if consumers can find out about products from each other, why do they need brand communications anymore? Have we collectively created a unique enough and valuable enough role for our business in the world?

What platform or channel excites you the most (and why)?

The potential of Facebook’s Oculus is socially transformative. The cure for the polarisation which dogs our world is, quite simply, empathy. Oculus has the ability for us to walk in each other’s shoes, at scale; to generate the kind of empathy and consciousness which can help to bring us back together. Imagine if we could get classrooms and parliaments to experience the impact of climate change (almost) first-hand?

What’s the most clever or innovative use of media you can think of?

From our own stable, the use of deepfake technology to bring an iconic Flamenco singer back to life. Lola Flores was Spain’s Edith Piaf or Vera Lynn. She was also famous for having a strong, Andalucian accent. To relaunch the rather tired Andalucian beer, Cruzcampo, we brought Lola back to life to talk about the importance of accent, repositioning Cruzcampo as “with a strong accent.”

What’s clever about this is the hijacking of a toxic technology, deepfake, to create the exact opposite: authenticity.

How is your agency evolving and how’s that differentiated from the competition?

At Dentsu X, we’re evolving in two ways, both equally important. First, we’re getting ever deeper into understanding people. In a world awash with data about what people do and what people like, we’re the only agency that’s grasped why they do it – at scale.

Second, we’re driving radical collaboration into the heart of the agency. As specialisms have grown, so have siloes. The resulting complexity kills innovation, consumer experiences, and client value. The only way to address this is cultural: create an army of radical collaborators who check their egos at the door (tough in our industry, I know) and who’ll partner with everyone to drive measurable growth for their clients.

To that end, as well as working with partners, specialists and agencies outside of our teams, we’ve also ensured there’s a seamless set of scaled services and skillsets we can tap into from across our entire global Dentsu network. We are the bridge builders for clients, we’re the agency that creates a clear path across and over the innate industry challenges.

The brand relationship: how’s the power dynamic, pay and the payment changing?

If you look just at the brand relationship, there are endless power dynamics that have been playing out for a while, from in-housing to service automation to margin transparency to outcomes-based payment. If you look instead at the client relationship, you start to see a healthier future: agencies acting as trusted advisors and integrators of services who deliver value to clients. The latter is where agencies need to focus, rather than the – ultimately – zero-sum game of media pricing.

Is tech making your job easier – or complicating matters?

Of course, it’s doing both. It’s like fire; it heats your dinner, but it can burn. We’ve made the mistake of putting tech in a tech box, rather than integrating it better into what we do: delivering amazing consumer experiences which create client value. Our challenge now is to do precisely that integration; to show that technology powers what we do but doesn’t exist separately or lead what we do.

I would also say this extends to data and not just tech and for brands to not get overwhelmed and drown in a deep pool of data and insights for the sake of it. At Dentsu, we’re fortunate enough to have one of the best ways of understanding customers, through our proprietary M1 Platform we have a vast amount of data on individual attitudes the world over. The key here is about smartly using this data to understand the motivation behind a person’s action and how that applies to a client’s business.

Where’s the money going? What’s the shift over the years?

If we get it right, commerce, commerce, commerce. Shopping has become far more convenient, but it has also become less fun, particularly online. We have less of the serendipity which we used to enjoy when mooching around a high street or market. That will change: discovery and serendipity will – if we get it right – put joy into online commerce. If we’re creative, we’ll go far further than the simple commerce content formats which are currently being explored.

Make a big prediction about the sector.

I’d say we could see the rebirth of mass marketing. It’s a bonkers scenario, but possible – especially with what’s happening around the removal of third-party cookies from our tracking and targeting mix. Perhaps we’ll fall out of love with person-based, PII marketing and remember that human beings are members of communities. Sure, those communities morph from work into home into gardening club into football supporter. But at every moment, we’re shaped by the communities we belong to. And marketing will start to market to us as community members, not individuals.

Last week we spoke to Marcos Angelides, chief strategy and innovation officer at Spark Foundry.

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