Marketing

Ad spends migrate online, but are brands digital-ready?

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 10, 2021

Hit makers: Digital advertising still awaits the kind of superstar creatives that rocked print and TV   -  ISTOCK.COM

Digital is becoming dominant media, but are companies and their ad agencies transforming fast enough to make a splash

All the projections — from India and worldwide — say the same thing. That digital will drive the advertising rebound in 2021. According to GroupM’s estimates, ad revenue for digital media companies (notably Facebook and Google) will surge 14.1 per cent in 2021.

Zenith Media forecasts that digital media will command 58 per cent of total global ad spend by 2023. At nearly $360 billion, that’s no small change.

In India, ad network Dentsu’s projections point to digital media surpassing TV by 2025. It is already at the number two spot, having crossed print in 2020.

The question is whether brands have a clear digital marketing strategy yet. Where exactly will they be parking their digital advertising monies? Also, as veteran marketer Lloyd Mathias asks: “Where are the superstar digital advertising creators?” TV commercials have had their Piyush Pandeys, Balkis, and Prasoon Joshis, but we have not yet seen their digital equivalents. Mathias grouses that advertisers and brands have not fully leveraged the vast potential of digital, and only have a “post facto” strategy.

Questions abound. But first let’s explore where the digital ad spends are likely to go in 2021. Given the accelerated adoption of e-commerce, retailer media (search ads on retail platforms) is obviously going to grow. Social commerce, influencer marketing, OTT platforms are all going to see increased play. The focus will be on performance marketing, experts say.

According to Ashish Bhasin, CEO Asia-Pacific and Chairman India, Dentsu, with e-commerce becoming a part of the Indian consumer behaviour, it will be a big thrust area for brands on digital. “There will be an element of short-termism,” says Bhasin, “as in the initial months of 2021, people will look for result-oriented advertising on digital.”

As he explains, “Liquidity is the grease that keeps the economy going and we are short of the grease. So the thrust of advertising in the initial parts of the year will be performance-oriented.”

Everyone realises the benefit of brand building, but this will probably come in the third quarter of the calendar year, feels Bhasin. So far the big spenders on digital have been BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), e-commerce, auto categories, but Bhasin feels that as digital’s reach widens, it will become very attractive for FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods).

“By 2025, digital will become the largest medium in India. At the moment TV reaches about 750 million Indians. Digital reaches about 450 million people. In the next three years there will be more than 300 million new users of the Internet. Once the reach of TV and Internet start converging, it becomes interesting for categories like FMCG, which typically want mass numbers,” explains Bhasin. Especially, as he points out, with the next hundred million users coming from Tier 3 and 4 towns and rural areas.

The Formula 1 model

It’s the short-termism Bhasin talks about that fires up Naresh Gupta, COO of Gurugram-based independent agency Bang in the Middle.

We need to break the mindset of digital as a broadcast media, says Gupta. According to him, very few brands have bothered to create their own platforms on digital and instead left it to Facebook, Amazon and Flipkart to capitalise.

It’s not very difficult to build a community on digital and own it, argues Gupta. Giving the offline example of Formula One, a property co-created by auto companies that has raised the profile of auto brands, he asks why we have not seen similar communities or platforms on digital. “Why have camera brands not created a photo community on digital,” he queries. Like Mathias, who feels advertisers have not learnt to explore the vast potential of digital, he feels brands are missing the digital opportunity.

Get the digital natives

Advertisers are still repurposing traditional media offering into digital, says Mathias. Whereas the digital medium is vastly different.

So how can they harness this opportunity? “Getting digital natives should be the core of the strategy. If they get people who live their lives on digital, it will be more natural,” says Mathias. “Don’t retrofit creatives built for television and print. It won’t be seamless. That is the critical part,” he says.

Growing DIY

Long-time digital evangelist Shubho Sengupta feels that this whole talk around social, AI-driven content marketing and so on are self-indulgent statements that have nothing to do with reality. The reality is that digital has evolved from brand building to generating leads to now using digital technology for every activity a brand does.

He cites the example of the owner of a small lubricant company who has created an interesting app that tells him how much he has sold. His challenge is in getting people to download the app at a POS (point of sale) level.

The other thing, Sengupta says, is that a lot of companies are deploying in-house capabilities for digital marketing. “I get at least one or two calls every week for help with handling social media. The more the ROI (return on investment), the more the clients get involved and want to do it themselves,” he says.

Should ad agencies be worried? Not yet. But they clearly need to put a lot more creative energy into taming the beast called digital.

Published on January 10, 2021

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