In this Spotlight India edition, WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das looks at how India can emerge as a country with considerable influence on a global scale and the opportunities before Indian marketing in 2024.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on India's path to global influence.

What’s a new year without hope that it will be better than the last? There are lessons from the year gone by, there are plans to make the next a happy one. While the resolutions we make in January are often broken by the end of the month, it looks like we will see the plans for a healthy India story in 2024 through – at least, for now, as we gaze into the crystal ball. What could make the year a definitive one for India to stand in a position of considerable influence globally? We ask this simple question in this Spotlight India edition.

The country had its fair share of challenges in 2023 but didn’t fare too badly and there is a world of opportunities for India to capitalise on in 2024. The optimism further stems from the fact that India has displayed resilience in a year that has been trying for most countries.

For instance, global economic conditions were far from ideal this year and India faced the heat too. Inflation and its rather volatile nature has been a cause for concern throughout. But there is always a silver lining, it seems. Experts continue to be positive about India’s economic prospects.

Make (and shop) in India

From a brand perspective, the India story has always charmed marketers. And while the government has strived to build on the resilience of the Indian economy, its efforts to make India the one-stop shop for the world must be lauded too.

I almost always cite Apple as an example these days. Earlier this year, Apple opened its first retail outlet in India, signalling that the brand is finally moving up from its reliance on third-party sellers in the country. It's a strong testimonial to the changing global perception of India, especially as Apple plans to open more stores in the immediate future. According to reports, the company now wants iPhone batteries to be made in India as well, a move that is only going to further enhance India’s value as a market for the world.

While this isn’t new and global MNCs (think Unilever, Coca-Cola etc) have been establishing their local presence for years, the interest being shown by premium brands is encouraging.

Add to it the number of global brands waiting in line to enter the Indian market and the immediate future only seems more promising.

The 2024 general election

The Indian general election is expected to be held in the second quarter of 2024. To me, this could be one of the most crucial triggers next year, especially in a year when there will be few other major events (of course, there will be IPL!).

Both pre and post-election periods are bound to witness frenzied activity when brands might be directly or indirectly involved. Unheard amounts of money will be spent by the political parties, especially while campaigning. For some context: in 2019, the BJP (current party in power) spent a whopping INR 1,200 crore fighting the election. The next one is likely to witness a lot more. Understandably, this will be a busy time for agencies handling political campaigns.

The results eventually would be a strong indication of the nation’s mood, how opinions would be formed and, accordingly, impact consumer sentiment.

Narayan Devanathan from dentsu explained in his article how critical the elections are going to be for the country.

It’s important to remember that marketing doesn’t function in a vacuum. Thus, the criticality of the socio-political context is even more heightened. If the political climate that enabled liberalisation in the 1990s created one of the world’s largest free market economies, then the 2020s’ impetus on public digital infrastructure (PDI) will make the journey to a US$3 trillion economy by 2030 smoother and faster, spurring bigger and more sustainable consumer cycles,” he said.

Louder conversations around AI

Can you even say 2023 without thinking of AI? It surely has been a definitive year for the discipline as it hijacked conversations at most forums. I know the number of conferences I attended on the topic. AI is definitely going to continue dominating thoughts, strategies and conversations in 2024 as well, and not just in India.

For better or worse, AI and politics will set the tone for digital marketing

In India, while we grapple with adoption, we are only going to focus more energies on embracing the concept.

Continuing on the point of the general elections: it will be interesting to see how the medium is used for political campaigning and impact how it will drive adoption of new digital marketing tactics.

Naresh Gupta from Bang in the Middle is betting on the fact that it will be the political parties that will lead in the use of generative AI.

While the brands will look at the evolving regulatory framework and the issues around copyright, ethics and compliance, political campaigns will race ahead to use the power of AI. The political parties were the early adopters of digital media, social content and data-driven ad targeting, and they will add the new AI tools to the mix. The political campaigns will be watched for their inventiveness and they may drive the adoption [of] new experimental tech,” he said.

Supercharging AI-driven Indian creativity

Fighting Fit Brands’ Saji Abraham dedicated his article to how he sees AI redefining marketing and the culture in agencies in India next year. This could well be an interesting inflection point as many agencies pivot their strategy and operations to capitalise on India’s rise as a critical global market.

The rise of AI will cause ripples but couple that with the way clients are engaging with agencies, especially startups and the ad avoidance behaviour which is fast catching up in India, and you have the makings of interesting times ahead,” he said.

Interesting times, indeed. Given how Indian brands have been quick to jump on the AI bandwagon and are being recognised worldwide, things are bound to get more intense as agencies look to experiment and use AI as a competitive advantage to supercharge their creative capabilities.

Indian creativity has been the poster child and case study of how to use AI-powered creativity with the award-winning Shah Rukh Khan advertisement from Cadbury. By using generative AI, brands can make celebrity endorsements go further than a generic video message and bring to life their brand purpose in a new and engaging way,” said independent brand marketing consultant Sumant Bhattacharya.

However, he is quick to warn against the menace of deep fakes, something the authorities in India are just being wary of.

The manipulated videos of actresses like Rashmika Mandanna, Katrina Kaif and Kajol made news and it’s just a matter of time before the technology gets into territories related to brands. One just hopes that in keeping with the recent government directives to platforms to take strict action against such content, brands too will move very fast to take measures against the possible onslaught of deep fakes,” he said.

That digital is increasingly becoming an inevitable part of a brand’s marketing strategy comes through in the words of Rajeev Jain of DS Group, a leading Indian conglomerate we feature in this edition.

AI, data analysis and content will play important roles in marketing, with AI being crucial in consumer profiling, predictive modelling and personalised marketing, thereby paving the way for micro-targeting and advanced segmentation. Younger demographics seek experiential, immersive experiences, blending digital and traditional channels. Boundaries between digital and physical worlds are blurring,” said Jain.

2024: A boon for marketing

Despite concerns about inflation, unemployment and polarisation, among others, the optimism in Indians remains apparent. The country has come a long way in the last two years. The buoyant consumer sentiment is not something marketers have been blind to. And it doesn’t seem like the scenario will drastically change.

Again, with the elections looming large, it is unlikely that there will be much that might negatively impact this, at least in the immediate months to come. Therefore, the opportunity for marketers is to make the most of the positive consumer sentiment and deliver positive brand experiences and products that continue to add value to the lives of Indian consumers.

The consumer sentiment report accompanying this edition further explains this optimism. The report suggests how the majority of Indians are confident the country is headed in the right direction.

I end with the words I began with: What’s a new year without hope for a one better than the last? And I hope you have an excellent Christmas and a wonderful new year. I know we, in India, are looking forward to one.