“India Is The Country Of The Future”

melt, April 5, 2019

"We think that India is the continent of the future. We are behind - in the 19th century - and you are in the 21st century".

This is a translated transcript of an interview with Jacques Séguéla (Director, Havas Group), conducted by Anant Rangaswami (Editor, Melt). Watch the interview (in English, or in French), here.

What is your vision of the future of the engagement between customers and brands?

Speaking of India, I believe profoundly that contrary to what we may think, it is no longer China’s time. China has already accomplished its transformation. I am not even talking about America, which has become an abstract island governed by a curious president. And considering the current decline of Europe, there are risks that may lead to the annihilation of Europe, for example, with the brexit. So, it is India’s time now. India for me is the continent of the century. It is her moment. Every continent has its time. It was Japan at a time – 50 years ago, it was Japan’s time. Then it was China. Now it is India’s turn.

It is necessary to not miss that shift. Because finally all the other countries have had their turn experiencing a technological shift. It is technology that advances the world. But I always forget about the passage of time.

It is like poetry. They have always forgotten the creativity. And I think that in a world that reinvents itself, it must pay attention to being a hybrid. Because as soon as technology stops affecting us, it is the death of humanity.

As soon as there is an advertisement without an idea, it leads to the death of the advertisement. Thus it is necessary that the domination of these huge American groups – the Googles, the Apples, the Amazons – they are obliged to put in their heart, values ,emotion and passion, in their technology. If not so, the technology shall fail, and transform men into robots.

So Jacques, tell me, what is the responsibility of all these technology companies, in the area of engagement with consumers?

It is a plan that goes beyond this century, and also of the contemporary era. Without asking anyone their opinion or informing anything to the entire world, the audience gives their most personal details without being paid for it. The corporates own them, and they have made their fortune based on these personal details. These personal details I’d value at neary 2,000€ every year, that is 50,000€ during the lifetime of an individual. This is a significant sum of money that every life loses, and which is stolen by the organisations like Google, Apple, Amazon, or Facebook.

But there is worse than this. There is a barbie doll that was invented six to seven years ago that captures the first steps of our babies, the first words of our babies, and this information is then stored in the cloud, and can be brought up again in 10 to 20 years to be manipulated.

Hence, we must fight against this from now on, before it’s too long. How to fight as India?

We must fight exactly the way China did, by creating its own organisations similar to the Googles, Apples, Amazons, Facebooks. Create its own technical block the way Korea is doing, which is a very small country when compared to India.

India has most of the best mathematicians in the world, the best engineers in the world. I believe that ⅓ of American engineers, those working in organisations like Googles, Apples, Amazons, Facebook, are Indians. And the rest among one of the three are French.

Our countries have done enough to redefine ourselves. And why not therefore to have such a synergy, that we could have an organisation like the Googles, Apples, Amazons, Facebooks which would be Indian, and at the same time French i.e. European. Because it takes so much today.

Even though the ban on the export of data was done in Europe, it is not like nothing has been stolen since then because now there are laws that are to be followed by all the countries.

And this is already done for Europe which prohibits this export of data thus, I think, there is a lot of good intent between the Indians and the French, which has not yet culminated into a good relationship. But it would be great to see a European-Indian synergy built to fight against the existing organisations like Googles, Apples, Amazons, Facebooks.

So today in your presentation, you showed some fabulous commercials by Havas. You showed the condom ad, you showed a Canal+ ad, and so on. At the same time, people are saying that the attention span of young people is shrinking, and you can’t do storytelling in the long-form. What is your reaction to storytelling, and the future of storytelling?

Storytelling is the future. Now, the 20th century was the era of reason. It was dominated by reason, and then by America, which is the country of reason. But us, we are the descendants of Dècartes, who was a rational man. In the 21st century, it is the media that is taking the power. The 20th century saw political power, but it is the media in the 21th century. The media is the one who fabricates public emotion. It used to be that the television would be on all day long, but cinema, music, and all that is produced for entertainment that creates emotion. Thus we are being deluged in emotions, and it is overpowering politics.

As a matter of fact, look at the elections that were held in France toward the end of last year.

Emanuel Macron was elected president at an impulse. He was elected in the grip of emotion, and not at all on the basis of reason. Like it was being said, a man who was 38 years old, who had no political base, who was never elected before. That was a moment of madness for the French. And therefore, it can become difficult to put everything into place, even though one manages to do so. Because he is the being of supreme intelligence.

It is thus important to know the right way to channelise these emotions. And emotion, it is a narration of a story. If we observe properly what it is actually is, a narrative of stories, it is like music – a song. Everything primarily narrates a story. If you see the advertisement, it is exactly like a song – it narrates a story.

Earlier, it was very strict, because the story would be for about 30 seconds, which would then be played after 100 seconds. It was extremely expensive. Therefore we never had the time of narrating a story. It was necessary to quickly disseminate information, show the product, and follow it up with an entertaining end. It used to be very quick.

But now thankfully due to social media, we can have some films which can run between 2-3 minutes. I feel it is a little too stretched, because 5 minutes is absolutely a lot to listen to on social media. Because by around 2 minutes, we get distracted, even though the cinematography may be exceptionally good. The point is that one and a half minute – between 1 minute to 2 minutes can now be done. And this is the time of storytelling which the commercials never had before.

And finally, what is your story for Havas in India? What is going to happen for Havas in India?

We have arrived. It is me who created the agency in India. It has been probably 30 years, I can’t recollect exactly. But, it never worked. We were not very successful, we were not present enough, we did not invest whilst our competitors, companies like WPP, Publicis, IPG, investedas per market price.

But we had a lot of luck. Because my agency, we fought for our best. It started with Vincent BOLLORÉ, who put everything in place, in a flow, and gave us the means today to reach where we are. Because BOLLORÉ was a rich group, which was into permanent investment, and decided to invest in Indian and advertising. And thus our prioritised investment is India.

Why? Because we think that India is the continent of the future. We are behind – in the 19th century – and you are in the 21st century. Thus, as you know, we have already started and we have already made two investments.

We have a new indian Seguela, yes an Indian “Seguela” in Bobby Pawar. Maybe it is in the trend, a new boss who is equally fantastic. And his mission is that we become one of the top 3 creative agencies in three years, because it needs time of course. And that we become one of the agencies to enter the bidding arena.

And then why not one day… Because WPP is going to have problems, and i believe Publicis will too. Therefore one day, why can’t we become the first indian agency associated with Indians?