L to R: Nitin Mathur, Sanjay Tripathy, Sameer Satpathy, Suresh Venkat, Prahlad Kakkar, Gowthaman Ragothaman, Graham Kelly
Digital advertising is the new kid on the block, and like some new kids, it seems to be having some trouble fitting in. All the challenges faced by digital advertising were put under the scanner at a panel discussion on 'Science + Art + Scale', held as a precursor to the Yahoo! Big Idea Chair Awards on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 in Mumbai.
On the panel were Sameer Satpathy, executive vice-president and head of marketing at Marico, Sanjay Tripathy, executive vice president - marketing and direct channels, HDFC Standard Life, Nitin Mathur, senior director, marketing, Yahoo!, advertising filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar, Gowthaman Ragothaman, leader, South Asia, Mindshare, and Graham Kelly, executive creative director at Ogilvy One. The discussion was moderated by CNBC TV18's executive producer Suresh Venkat.
The first question was whether digital advertising is caught in the trap of old people programming for the young. Mathur said, "The big challenge at Yahoo! is how to get young people to come on. It's a combination of content and programming; we have to talk to them with passion and about what they're looking for - cricket, Bollywood or news."
Kelly pointed out, "Earlier, media agencies used to give anything to do with digital to the youngest people at the agency, thinking they know about the Internet. It may not be the case now. I don't think media buyers are doing a particularly bad job."
Coming to the utility of digital, Tripathy said, "We're focussed on getting the maximum out of digital. For the financial sector, digital is the best way to get responses at a cheaper cost. It's a good medium for a 360-degree campaign. Also, with people having moved on from search to social, a lot of questions about the sector can be answered through the medium."
Satpathy emphasised the importance of digital was because of its focus on the consumer. "Digital in India hasn't worked as a mass medium. The potential we see lies in the mobile. Because with things like voice SMS, you can cut through and reach the target." He went on to add, "From the marketer's perspective, it's shangri-la, because you know every single consumer and can target him or her, and there's the return on investment perspective as well."
Mathur said, "Advertising on the Internet is about deploying the right tools with the right message to the right person at the right time. Science on the Internet permits that. Internet advertising is moving towards user behaviour and mapping it. So, as long as you're doing that correctly, you're doing a good job."
Ragothaman said, "Addressability is the next step in digital advertising. But there are still technical issues with bandwidth and speed." In terms of measurement, he felt web rating is essential for the medium to grow. He said, "This medium goes much beyond the youth and traditional media metrics. At Mindshare, we use metrics like cost per click and cost per response, but we're nowhere near measuring the medium really well."
When quizzed about whether creatives in India were equipped with the necessary skillset for digital, Kakkar stated, "People in creative are not technology-proficient. They have to reinvent the medium and learn from the stars in the system, like the Fake IPL Player, and embed the message correctly."
The other creative Kelly added the problem may lie with the client as well. "One of the challenges is that clients grew up on traditional media like television, and don't want to walk into a room and not be able to talk about a new medium digital. Hence, the creative agency may have to do some handholding there," he said.
Ragothaman felt clients are not thinking beyond Facebook, Twitter or the banner ad. "From a media planner's perspective, it's possible to have a digital strategy today, and hence the medium is more about marketing integration than just advertising."
On digital strategy itself, the conversation has shifted from just selling digital to "Show me the possibilities", said Yahoo!'s Mathur. "Consumers and clients are spending time on the Internet and the medium is growing at 20 per cent. The problem is only if you try to drive consumption of a particular product."
Satpathy said, "The medium can make or break a brand as it is still a credible medium and no one can figure out a way to control it. Hence it puts pressure on the marketer to be straight, honest and do the right things." He divulged that Marico was working on an idea for one of its brands that would use consumers who are passionate about the brand and want to contribute to it, as advocates.
From the macro, the discussion concluded by shifting the micro, or mobile internet devices. Kelly said, "In India, it comes back to the mobile. The mobile category still sees the weakest entries in awards globally and that's where the strength of the idea could level the playing field with other countries like Japan who're ahead of the curve in terms of digital. I'm hopeful of the mobile's potential though spam could cripple it. Advertisers have to adopt best practices and make communication permission-based so they don't kill the medium."
However the idea of getting one idea and extending it didn't find favour with Ragothaman. "At one end, we're struggling to get channel-neutral ideas. Platform-neutral ideas are a long way off," he said.
Mathur concluded by saying, "The broader theme of connected devices has to stay (mobile, the PC and the tablet). There is a strong proliferation of content. The primary worry is getting the consumer on to the device, and then monetisation."