MultiChoice CMO wins AdFocus Shapeshifter Award
Yatish Narsi moved from architecture to advertising and admits that he doesn’t think like a marketer
A shapeshifter is defined as a fictional being that can transform itself from one physical form to another. Zeus, god of the sky and thunder in ancient Greek religion, was apparently a fantastic shapeshifter, taking many unexpected forms.
This year’s Shapeshifter is far from a fictional character, but he embodies the term as far as taking unexpected forms is concerned. Yatish Narsi trained and practised as an architect for 15 years before moving into advertising as chief experience officer at multi-award-winning agency Grid Worldwide. He is now the chief marketing officer (CMO) at MultiChoice.
Narsi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and then joined Design Partnership, an international architectural firm.
It’s quite a jump from architecture to advertising and running what is arguably one of the most demanding marketing portfolios in SA. Narsi doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m not a huge fan of disciplines,” he says. “I prefer to look at it as problem-solving. What I love about architecture — and what drew me to it — was its combination of engineering and design aesthetic in service to humanity, and the creation of something that would be used every day.”
Design Partnership was involved in a number of retail redesigns, during which time Narsi realised how important the role of the brand is in a consumer brands’ retail offering. After a chance discussion with Grid Worldwide founder and chief creative officer Nathan Reddy, Narsi accepted the offer of becoming the agency’s chief experience officer, working on some of the country’s most admired businesses and brands, including MTN and FNB.
He learnt a great deal at Grid and says what sets it apart is that it trains its people to change the world, whereas so many other agencies train their people to win awards. “I like to think that what I helped bring to the table was nontraditional category thinking.”
It was while working on the rebrand of Showmax with MultiChoice that Narsi met Marc Jury, the SuperSport CEO who took over as MultiChoice South Africa’s CEO earlier this year. Jury offered Narsi the long-vacant position of CMO.
Narsi warned Jury he was not a career CMO. “I said I’d accept the position and stay for as long as I think I’m adding value. What was remarkable about Marc’s people vision is how much he valued curiosity and attitude over your CV and qualifications, which made this opportunity an absolute no-brainer for me.”
Another thing that appealed to him was the ability to influence more than just the brand but also other business levers that affect the customer.
I’m part of a team of incredibly talented and smart people at MultiChoice trying to solve problems and add value to customers
His mandate as MultiChoice CMO is twofold: first, to rebuild belief that the best days of MultiChoice are still ahead of it and, second, to play an authentic, meaningful role in adding value to the lives of its customers.
“There are very few businesses on the continent that have the scale and credibility to genuinely change the narrative and harness untapped potential, with the exception of a handful of banks and telecom companies,” he says.
MultiChoice, he maintains, needs to get back to its core business, which is entertainment. Even its marketing needs to be entertaining. The fact that it’s not entertaining is a travesty, he says.
Against all conventional metrics, Narsi is an unexpected choice as the CMO for MultiChoice. He doesn’t have a CV and has been told that his LinkedIn profile is not particularly good. (His response to that was that the only people who have updated LinkedIn accounts are those who have have a great deal of time on their hands.)
He has neither the inclination nor the patience to discuss awareness, consideration and conversion.
But perhaps that’s why he is exactly what MultiChoice needs: someone who does not come from a traditional marketing background, has no formal academic marketing training and, as a result, thinks outside the box of conventional marketing thinking.
He’s the first to admit that he doesn’t think like a marketer. In fact, he doesn’t even know what a CMO is supposed to do. “But does that really matter? I’m part of a team of incredibly talented and smart people at MultiChoice trying to solve problems and add value to customers.”
As a client, he gets exasperated with his ad agency and can’t understand why, after discussing the business challenges facing MultiChoice for an hour with the agency team, they still request a brief.
“Why request a brief when I’ve just spent the past hour explaining the challenge and the problems we need solved?”
It’s these kinds of experiences that have him shaking his head when he hears agencies complaining that the client doesn’t get it. “I’m discovering that it’s actually agencies that don’t get it and don’t understand the challenges that the business needs to solve.
“I keep hearing agencies saying that the big trend right now is for brands to be customer-centric. If that’s the case, why are agencies not better at understanding the issues facing their clients?”
That’s not to say that marketers always get it right. For too long, he says, marketing has focused on being a discipline rather than understanding that it has a role to play in linking the customer and the business.
“Marketing as a discipline in South Africa has lost its seat at the table. It’s not close enough to its customers or the business and tends to mark its own homework,” he says. “The fact that I was able to step into a CMO role is symptomatic of the problem. It says something about the state of the industry that a business such as MultiChoice has had to take a chance on an architect who used to do some branding and made some logos.”
He maintains that the ad industry is being myopic about the perceived threat of AI. The rise of AI is not a sign that creativity is losing, he says, but instead represents the democratisation of creativity.
The big take-out: For too long marketing has focused on being a discipline rather than understanding that it has a role to play in linking the customer and the business.
Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.