Maurice Lévy, chairman of the supervisory board, Publicis Groupe, spoke to Biz@India about the digital media, how social media giants are taking away business from traditional media and ad agencies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and also how the Indian market is doing.
The global economy looks quite positive this year, how is that reflecting in your business?
We have some interesting prospects because for the first time in many years we see that not only the US or China are doing well but there is Europe that has started to pick up and there are some good signs regarding Africa and other countries. So over all, it looks like 2018 will have a better growth than expected.
Normally there is a co-relation between the GDP and advertising. When people say that growth is coming, they want to take the best part of that growth and they have to invest in advertising. So I am quite optimistic. However, the situation has changed dramatically with digital and the way we are spending money today is very different. So I am not sure that growth will be absolutely co-related. We will have better growth, that’s clear. But how it will be measured is another question for which I don’t yet have the answer.
Talking of digital, is it not true that the giants like Facebook, etc., are taking away large parts of business from not just traditional media but also ad agencies per se?
They are not taking a small share they are taking a big share because they are picking around 70 pc of the growth in digital and that is something which is a bit concerning and clearly all the other platforms have to fight hard and I think they have to be more inventive to create more opportunities for advertising.
Regarding the situation with the ad agencies, it is different. They are not yet taking business from us. They may, in the future. May be they can find a new approach but for the time being they are not doing it. I doubt that they can do it because there is a service that we are rendering that they are not interested in.
What they are doing is mostly based on algorithm, and what we are doing is mostly based on people. I know that the AI may change a lot of things in the future but there are not yet first signs that AI can be emotional. And what we do is all about emotions and for the time being it is irreplaceable. So we have at least 10 years of great future for us.
Last year saw a lot of blowback on digital media especially on Facebook because of the fake news, etc. How does that reflect on ad revenue on digital media?
This is something that is extremely important and we should not look at this as a small phenomenon. Not only fake news but we also have some information or declaration with which our brands do not wish to be associated. So we have a situation whereby we are pretty much concerned about how communication is spread; we need to be extremely cautious. Everyone is trying to find the right solution and Facebook is really looking into this as a serious matter because they know that the billions of dollars that our clients are spending are things that may not continue if they have the risk of having their brand associated with terror, violence, fake news, etc. So it is extremely important for them to fix the issue and they believe that they are determined to do it. It is not easy because you cannot have an algorithm, which says this news is true, and this one is not. It is important that they find the right solutions because credibility of information is essential to make them a credible support for our clients.
Can we depend on self-regulation in this business because ultimately they will be cutting their bottom lines in half?
It is difficult. For example, we know that the French government wants to have a law on that. Honestly, I don’t know how to determine a law and there are facts, which are facts. We still have books, which have been printed regarding 9/11 saying that all this didn’t exist and it is made up.
But it’s not made up and everyone knows that but there are people who are buying those books. So we have to be extremely cautious about the kind of law that we can create because it is very complicated. We are in a world with freedom of speech, where digital has opened a channel to voice of the people. The problem is to make sure that they are not spreading fake or wrong news. So first we need to see the industry coming together at large to an agreement and if they can’t, then maybe it will be a discussion amongst the governments. It cannot be a decision of one government. It has to be a common agreement, which is extremely difficult.
Has this also led to the revival of some kind of traditional media?
In traditional media there is a decline that is quite strong since many years and you see a revival, which is interesting because these are professional media with professional journalists who have been trained and educated to have a strong opinion and to look and double check that a fact is a fact. Then separate the facts from their own opinion. That is something extremely positive. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and many others are progressing. So what we need to do now is to make sure that there is a solution by which the free press can grow, invest, and deliver some profits to in order to invest better. This is something about which we don’t have the solution yet.
What about the gulf countries as a market for you this year? Has the war of words between Qatar and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia impacted the business?
It is a war of words for the time being and I hope it stays at the level of words. Despite the problem of Syria, Iraq and everything that’s happening in this region, we had a pretty good year.
Middle East is really important for us, both the Israeli part and the Gulf. I am going to Dubai for the government summit as a speaker I will take advantage of my visit to see some of my clients. My sense is that this region is extremely vibrant. I had a conversation with King of Jordan yesterday and we see the chance of emergence of the region to be more modern, to create start-ups, to be entrepreneurs, and also to change a lot of things. So the position that is taken today by the one we call MPS is impressive because we see that equally Saudi Arabia wants to change the situation. This region is buoyant with a lot of energy and we should see them back on a positive aspect. All the problems of Islamism, of terror, is something that has been very negative for the region but the fact that they are fixing it is positive. This region deserves to have a good future and to grow, and I hope that will happen.
Are you looking at any acquisitions?
We have no plans for large acquisitions.
What about the Indian market?
India is a market where we are playing a very big role now and we are extremely pleased with our numbers, the growth and the prospect.
What is the share of the revenue globally?
It is complicated because India is also where we have our resources, and we do not allocate the revenue on the basis of who is doing the job. But India is a key strategic country for us. We are growing and we are investing and we are hiring.
Your creatives come from regions or is it something global?
Creative are always done in a region but at the same time there are some that are done at the global level.To View the article buy our magazine