AdEx in 2021: Surging ahead, but digitally trapped

Gopinath Menon | Updated on February 21, 2021

Screen ka-ching: Will digital be the death of the salesman   -  ISTOCK.COM

A peek into where ad spends went last year and where they are headed tomorrow

Till the eve of the lockdown, India was close to $2.94 trillion in size and trotting towards the $5-trillion glory. As the pandemic has dragged us back by over one-fifth of our economic size, questions arise on what would drive the economy towards green pastures.

The advertising industry is the health barometer of any growing economy as it promotes what is manufactured and marketed. Once sold, this consumption drives the economy.

For a prospering economy, the benchmark of advertising expenditures would be 1 per cent or above of the country’s gross domestic product or GDP. In India, it is way below — at ₹82,904 crore in 2019-20, that’s under 0.3 per cent.

Recent ad expenditure forecasts by some leading agencies predict we are out of the woods. We are still short of touching the 2019 numbers, but the digital surge has come as a welcome saviour during the pandemic. The digital category will grow to garner the second largest market share after television. In the years ahead, it is likely to leave television behind too.

Predictably, everyone is revamping their “digital marketing infrastructure”. As a result, a lot of one-man shops operated by mavericks have sprung up, promising the world to advertisers; but only time can say where they will take us.


So what’s likely in store in 2021?

Digital sales hero

The pandemic has been the sunrise phase for the digital expert who is a whiz at Master Excel spreadsheets, and can do correlation and regression analysis of any two or more variables for a specified period of time. The selection of the variables is critical and it is here that the digital person has his or her say. Marketers need to be careful about this and they can only do so once they understand the medium, the logistics and mechanics. Big multinationals have realised this and have hired qualified sales staff for e-commerce. The past year has shown a dramatic increase in e-commerce in grocery, essential supplies and even durables like television, refrigerator and other household appliances. This trend will create a silent undercurrent between the young middle-aged digital sales expert and the conventional hardworking sales manager who has been toiling in the sun for years.

Health products will boom

‘Immunity’ is the new buzzword for positioning products, and marketers are using it across categories. It is here that advertising comes in to make the brands and ensure inelastic pricing. Compare the price of water purifiers, air purifiers, honey, health medicines, chyawanpraash, health apparel, cycles, and so on before the pandemic and now, and you might be surprised. A bicycle with some cosmetic changes to suit the youth has become a status symbol, and sales have zoomed.

Innovate now

TV and the print medium were, till 2019, garnering the lion’s share of the advertising pie. This has changed and their market shares will erode faster if they do not innovate and reinvent.

Print’s share almost halved to ₹10,350 crore from ₹18,164 crore in 2019 (see chart). Print’s marketing and sales tactics need to address the current attention span of the reader. Content should be more viewpoint-based so as to create the noticeability of ‘breaking views’ vs ‘breaking news’. This viewpoint will help viewers create new heroes in their peer group and benefit the medium.

Dividend from social capital

Companies that show concern for the environment will benefit significantly. Labels on consumer brands will start highlighting this good social deed. But the establishment needs to put systems in place to ensure what is claimed is practised.

Widening Net in small towns

This is a double-edged sword. Low prices offered by cellular service providers are spurring usage by youngsters. However, consumption and dissemination of objectionable content among the youth is a concern .

Battle of screens

Advertisers will be investing in understanding screen time and usage per device. The share of mobiles vs the laptop vs the tablet vs TV. It will vary dramatically across different age groups and profiles. Understanding this behaviour will optimise returns for marketers.

Gaming will be the new spot in the sun

It has caught on like wild fire among youngsters as the sense of competitiveness and monetary benefits pumps the adrenalin. Once you win the addiction process starts kicking in unconsciously. This is why in some states policy makers and regulators are acting. The middle-aged groups are the late adopters. But gaming platform will see many innovations in monetizing using brands.

Losing the creative edge

Creativity is the first step towards grabbing attention or building receptivity with the consumer. This has suffered in the digital medium as instant gratification rules in the mind of the marketer. Instant impressions, clicks and lead generation procedures need to be re thought as they dilute the equity of the brand. This transformation may take time as you need marketers with a vision and passion to build brands. Currently we are in a phase of immediate results and this is a disguised form of greed. Digital planners who think long term will be eventual winners.

Buyers are the New Media

Lastly, we have entered an era where we are more important than ever before.

This means we will be stalked and controlled by digital experts who track and analyse our gadget usage and surfing patterns. Marketing of this “social content consuming behaviour” and matching it with specific brand profiles, makes it a goldmine for marketers but with no benefits to you and me. We have become victims of historical data, and algorithms rule our life. We are trapped — much like Abhimanyu caught in the chakravyuh in the Mahabharata, with no means of escape until he dies.

Gopinath Menon


Gopinath Menon is a Delhi-based advertising and media strategist

Published on February 21, 2021

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