Challenge Advertising: A marketing partner with its finger on the customer pulse
A never-ending zeal and passion to learn and explore new concepts in media and advertising impelled R Sakthivel, the Founder and CEO of Challenge Advertising, to turn entrepreneur. His keen observations on the emerging media scenario and Tamil culture, coupled with his innate interest in audiovisual media, compelled him to become a the first generation businessman in 1990s. It was no coincidence that this was the era when the cable TV revolution kicked off and the first of the private TV channels emerged.
Fascinated and convinced by the emerging importance of advertisements, Sakthivel started his cable TV operation as a one-man show. This grew into an organization in 2000.
Today, Challenge Advertising is an INS-accredited advertising agency with a team of young and vibrant professionals functioning with one the unified goal: client satisfaction. Challenge rolled out with headquarters in Chennai with the vision of producing more creative campaigns than what existed, at an affordable price. It aims to identify small brands and to help them bloom, while according young aspirants an opportunity to shine in advertising.
With a centralized operating structure and dedicated resources for business development, creative, AV production, media planning, buying & operations, Challenge nurtures a culture of co-creation and collaboration. The agency has engaged with a large number of trusted external partners, which allows it to punch well above its weight when there is a critical client need. This is an area where larger national or network agencies may not be as nimble-footed. The agency’s flexibility lies completely in the hands of its 25 employees, who have taken the effort to create an organizational structure that empowers collaboration.
Foreseeing an Emerging Media Paradigm
Continuous emergence of TV channels in the ’90s had many ramifications for marketers. The cable TV network revolution paved the way for new brands across categories to reach the nook and corner of the country. While identifying clients who strive for a presence on television, Challenge started as an ad agency that made and released ad films on TV. Sakthivel’s dedication made him recognize the consumer pulse and pull off the entire planning and creative of brands hankering to make a mark in South India. A huge gap continued to exist between small and medium manufacturers, TV channels and national agencies. That was until Challenge identified upcoming brands in Tamil Nadu across Coimbatore, Trichy, and Tirunelveli. It subsequently made its humble beginning by signing low budget ad films and placing these small enterprises on smaller channels, at a tenth of the cost of the top channels. Currently, the agency offers end-to-end solutions.
The Silver Screen
Challenge Advertising has pioneered movie promotions in Tamil Nadu, which has now grown to a Rs. 150-crore vertical in the state. Around the year 2005, movie promotions on electronic media such as TV were unheard of. It all started with Cheran’s Autograph. At that time, distributors and others were not convinced about the film. The agency created a strategy to break the jinx and showcased the film being endorsed by popular directors like Balu Mahendra and K Balachander. It worked wonders and the film went on to make history. Today, Challenge work with banners like Fox Star, AGS, 24 AM Studio, Dream Warrior, 2D Entertainment, Red Giant Movies, Company Production and Studio Green.
An Integrated Approach
Media and creative duties were previously handled by the same advertising agency, which was bifurcated as ‘creative agency’ and ‘media agency’ over time. This divorce has led to a lack of comprehensive understanding of the marketer’s challenge for both the agencies involved. Today, larger agencies and brands have started realizing the need for a holistic view and agency across functions. Challenge is one among few advertising agencies that is authentic to the integrated approach to creative and media, enabling it to guide clients on not just the most cost-effective media buys relevant to their audience but also to the most impactful creative messages. With its bird’s eye view, considering the clients’ perspective and a hands-on understanding of local media, Challenge effectively strategizes both media and creative to deliver the best possible marketing outcomes.
Thinking ‘Local’, Growing 360
The mindset of regional clients differs vastly from that of national level advertisers. Challenge clearly identifies the diverse tastes and beckons clients from various verticals including real estate, education, FMCG, home appliances, jewellery, and textiles. It is probably one of the bigger agencies by media billing in South India, one which has successfully coped up with the distinct languages, tastes, and cultural attributes of different markets and sub-markets.
The launch of its Delhi branch in 2006 marked the agency’s foray outside Tamil Nadu. The strong bond between Challenge and its clients from the day one allows the client to see the agency as a partner to the business, one that takes care of the creative and brand positioning. The take-off and success of any brand predominantly depends on the advertising and promotion. Once clients taste success, they continue giving preference to the agency over others. When it comes to competitor analysis, Challenge never fails to take the responsibility of making customers happy and assured. It started producing content for satellite channels in 2009, which were the initial days of advertiser-funded programs, connecting brands with consumers through content in the right context. As of now, Challenge Advertising has maintained a healthy, longstanding and personal rapport with all media, be it TV, print or outdoor. There lies a deep sense of trust that has been built over time.
The Road Ahead
In the past few years, the course of advertising has changed and innovation has become the norm. Digital marketing will take few more years to get really big in Tamil Nadu, with the majority of the state being rural. There is still space for good creative spots on TV, radio, in print and outdoor. Challenge is working to increase advertising in films, which otherwise has not been taken very seriously by brands or producers. Within conventional advertising, Challenge is seeking to increase the scope for innovation. For example, instead of a 10-seconder, innovation like integrating the brand within programming content will tend to increase this year. Meantime, the agency is going to produce digital content for YouTube, social media and also programmes for TV.
Tamil Nadu is a big retail market. Therefore, Challenge is devising a strategy of appointing agents to represent the agency in a first-of-its-kind profit-sharing arrangement with retailers from different South Indian markets. And besides its clientele from Delhi NCR, Challenge is working towards increasing brands’ attention from other parts of North India. The agency is also seeking for Government clients.
Milestones and Recognition
- The first big milestone of Challenge Advertising was bagging of a brand like CSC Computer Education. The agency has been working with the brand since its inception and has seen it grow to 350 centers in three years. The brand’s humongous success brought Challenge recognition, growth in billing and helped generated new business. The partnership with CSC has served as a precursor to Challenge Advertising incubating growth of categories like education and real estate on electronic media.
- In 2010, Challenge Advertising was empanelled by the Tamil Nadu Department of Information and Public Relations for Government ads. The very next year, the agency was empanelled with the Ministry of Panchayat Raj, Government of India. Despite the huge competition, its public awareness films for sanitation were amongst 20 films picked by the Ministry to run as part of the campaign and gained appreciation from by then Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
- In 2012, Challenge forged its first international association. Challenge Advertising Singapore was born with technical know-how and support from Challenge Advertising Chennai. It was also the year when the company commenced operations in Bengaluru.
- Challenge became the authorized agency representing Media Corp Singapore in India in 2015. The following year, it bagged exclusive Indian marketing rights for the Malaysian channel, Astro.