The age of integrated planning is upon us, says Essence India MD

Topics Media companies

Anand Chakravarthy, Managing director, India, Essence
At a time when traditional advertising agency structures are breaking down and there is demand for new skill sets, how should media agencies prepare themselves to make things easy for the consumer — in terms of messaging and delivery mechanisms?

Today we cannot afford to not have a digital ecosystem. We have been upscaling our digital capabilities over the last four to five years. Now, digital accounts for 27 per cent of every Rs 100 spent on media. But in a market of the size of India offline (analogue) skills continue to be very important. Television, for example, continues to get 42-43 per cent share of the total advertising spend and print, despite declining, is still at 22 per cent. One thing that happened in 2019 was that digital overtook print in terms of the share of spends. The fact is that agencies have already been changing in terms of their structure; today a good agency has 40 per cent employees in some form of digital planning, data analytics, technology and engineering. It is also important that in the age of automation, tasks that are not really value-adding but are time-consuming, need to be automated so that our teams can focus on more important things like strategy, understanding consumer behaviour better and experimenting with new emerging platforms.

Evolution of skill sets is also happening in our group. We are enabling a transition to, say, a media planner from a television planner, a person who can plan across any screen, not just TV. One who can plan on web display as well as print. I think the age of a truly integrated planning has begun. 

With all the tools you have at your disposal, how are media agencies helping consumers build a better “understanding” as opposed to “awareness” of a product on the digital platform?

More and more marketers are being held responsible not just for brand health, but business outcomes. It all starts with identifying what is the key task of a particular campaign and the business objective the brand is trying to chase. For example, the task may be making consumers aware about the benefits of the product. When that needs to be done, a combination of communication and media tactic is used. One can use view sketches, multiple short videos and multiple static communication. The second area where digital really allows you to do well is customising messaging skills. The products and services for different consumers at different life stages are very different and therefore the communication should be different. While you can’t do that on TV, digital allows you to target different consumer sets with different messages. Customised creative is one way to do it. The second way is dynamic creative where to the same audience on digital, you can serve multiple messages with different benefits of a product. For example, Google Pay. There are multiple benefits. You can’t talk about all of them in one ad, so we have multiple short ads that highlight different benefits, communicate different messages.

Many ad tech and consultancy firms have entered the space that was once the exclusive preserve of media firms. How prepared are you?

Yes, Accenture and Deloitte came into the media space sometime back. Running a good media business is not just about having people, machines and money. Most important is to have captive knowledge of consumers, category marketing/communication and how they can work together. One of the things that consultancies don’t have is the deep knowledge of how media works, how media translates into brand objectives and specific outcomes. It’s going to take them a while to learn. If you look at them, they are all focused on the “ecosystem” and executing digital campaigns for clients. Our biggest strength is the captive knowledge that is invaluable to clients. 

But it’s an interesting battle, there are challenges on both sides. As the consumer and the media ecosystem evolve, agencies are also accelerating their own revolution and combined with our captive knowledge, the depth of understanding of multiple categories really give us an advantage. It would be stupid of us if we think they are not a threat. We are going to build our defence. 

What are you doing with regard to brand safety?

We have a strong focus on what we refer to as the three aspects of BAV (brand safety, ad fraud and viewability). All three are equally important because when you are advertising in a digital ecosystem, you get the value only when an impression is served in a brand-safe environment, when it is genuine — not created by a bot or algorithm — and is actually viewable for your consumer. 

A lot of advertisers tend to ignore this and look at mere metrics, just impressions without being viewable or effective, brand safe and non-fraudulent. Our first priority is to help clients understand that it's very important to buy quality impressions and not ones at the cheapest rate because at the end of the day, as you can't control the quality of the content that's available out there, you can definitely control where your ads are placed. There are many studies that show advertisements seen in a brand-unsafe environment have actually harmed the brand in both the short and the long term.

Ad frauds are becoming more and more sophisticated, so are detection tools. It's not going to go away. The only way to beat it is to ensure that we have the right protection of campaign, continuous tracking to see how many of your impressions were served in a brand-unsafe and fraudulent environment. In 2019, we ensured 99.99 per cent brand-safe, fraud-free environment for clients who have taken our advice and built their ecosystem in the right way.

What do you mean by brand unsafe environment?

Undesirable environment like the ones related to violence, pornography, extreme political views etc. Consumers don't understand how advertising works and digital ads are placed in different environments. If they see a brand's ad in an environment that is undesirable in their mind, they blame the brand itself. They don't care that it's a machine or an artificial intelligence-run system that has placed the ad there. More and more studies have shown that it affects brand sales as well. Now half the world is online, now 3.5 billion people and soon it will be five billion; so it is important for a brand to be seen in a desirable and safe environment. The great part is that technology has improved significantly to offer protection to ads. There are platforms (like moat) that have tools that we use extensively.

With all the changes in technology and consumer preferences, what KPI do you look for to determine if a media plan is healthy?

Traditionally, we used to look at things like brand health analysis, in concentration or with specific attributes. That still continues to be one key objective, but a large amount of focus is now on business outcomes -- acquisition, organic traffic, consumption and in some cases even revenue. The media is moving towards accountability of more and more business outcomes.

Last year, GroupM had predicted that India will contribute around $1.35 billion (Rs 9,516 crore approximately) growth to the group globally, becoming the third largest contributor after China and the US. Are you on track?

Yes, last year we were the third largest contributor. In 2020 -- we have just released our annual report -- our prediction is that India will continue to be the third largest contributor after the US and the UK. China is actually slowing down. Unfortunately, because of the coronavirus threat, that slowdown will be accentuated further. In India, we had seen some amount of slowdown in 2019 compared to what we had predicted, but all the indicators for GDP growth, manufacturing and advertising spends suggest that we will grow by around 11 per cent this year.

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