Shape up or ship out- Shivakumar, CEO, Pepsico, examines the future of experiential


A great orator, visionary and, as many would agree, amongthe most incisiveofferings from the world of Indian advertising and marketing, D Shivakumar has managed a diverse portfolio of brands through his lustrous career in the industry.


Chairman and CEO atPepsicoat current, a perceptive Shivakumaraddresses a full house of event professionals as he foretells the ‘future of experiential’ on the concluding day of EEMAGINE 2015- the national convention of the event and experiential industry held annually which brings together thought leaders and industry experts to speak about trends and also to share their perspectives on the way forward. In conversation with Michael Menezes, Patron, EEMA…

Would you say that the entire industry is shifting towards experiences? 

Most indeed. People are increasingly connecting with brands based on pure emotional value. Brands are realizing this trend and the immense impact of this phenomenon. So yes, experiential is definitely the way ahead.


But if that’s going to happen then experiences are going to be flooding consumers, just as well as advertising did. Can you give some direction to where the industry needs to focus? 

I’ll cite a few examples and hopefully that’ll give you a better sense of my ideologies. The foremost example is of the music service we delivered in Nokia phones. In the western world people conduct a music search with a genre, band or artist’s name. When we worked with consumers in India we realized this idea was a terrible flop. Thanks to Bollywood, Indians generally search for music by parameters such as name of actor, actress, lyricist etc. Therefore we had to redesign the whole user interface based on that and digitized almost 80% of all the music that has been in India since the 1920’s, in turn creating a great user experience.


Another example is of a Unilever brand called Three Roses. In 1996 Sun TV was running a train between Kanyakumari and Chennai with 750 people to bring them to the World Cup quarterfinals. No brand in India was willing to put money behind this idea that was costing Rs 7 Lac at that time. Finally we picked up the idea and got 30 or 40 times multiplier on our investment. Our learning from the activity was that generating the right experience is paramount. And the experience there was generated by the Media owner, not us. Right through the night Sun TV kept announcing that the world cup train is arriving and kept the anticipation going. It was such a humbling learning for all of us because most people simply looked at it as putting 7 lac and getting something in return but the surround around it was the differentiator.  For Rs7 lac we got Rs250 lac of media mileage and of course phenomenal impact.


Today there are an assortment of events and opportunities to choose from so the brand has to be clear about its objective and what its set out to achieve.


A huge amount of money goes from brands into celebrity endorsements. Do you think this trend is likely to change considering creation of holistic experiences is becoming so critical?

Lets look at this issue from 3 points of view- 1- the brand, 2- the consumer and 3- the celebrity. Brands have invested for a long time in celebrities, for right or wrong reasons, but the investment has been on qualitative parameters for the large part- which movie has topped the box office, which movie is likely to etc.

From the consumer’s point of view- for the last 20 years has had a voyeuristic peek into the life of celebrities through traditional media. Today the celebrity is on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and is an ardent blogger. Because of this development consumers don’t really need other forms of engagement with a celebrity since they have direct access to him or her. So the lifespan of a celebrity’s popularity is going to shorten significantly.

Now lets look at it from a celebrities perspective- in the past the celebrity could demand a certain sum for starring in a certain number of hit movies. Today’s celebrities are quantifying their popularity based on their social media followers and the discussion is led by how a brand can help them achieve more. There’s a science now on how the celebrities are negotiating with brands based on their social media following.

So all three forces will ensure that the whole concept of celebrity endorsements will undergo a dramatic rethink in the next few years. 

10 pieces of wisdom for the experiential community, by Shivakumar, CMO, Pepsico

1.      An experience brand makes a spontaneous and intuitive connection with consumers.
2.      Most brands are visual brands, an experience brand leverages all scenes
3.      In the attention economy, it’s less about what the brand says and more about what the brand does.
4.      Experience works on word of mouth. How you get the consumer to describe the experience makes all the difference.
5.      Design is not about how it looks, more about how it works.
6.      Innovate the experience. For example, KLM took a simple idea of seating like-minded people together on long-haul flights. It required interpretation of basic data but made for a great in-flight experience.
7.      As experience goes up, investment to get involvement goes down.
8.      Brands have moved from being interrupters of content to being creators of content.
9.      FMCG brands innovate around the event, technology brands innovate around the user interface, service brands innovate around the handling of the event.
10.  Use of data must be optimized as an experience creator, enabler.



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