Digital advertising is picking up in India, but challenges, including the perception of advertisers, remain. Nick Seckold, head of digital (Asia-Pacific) at Mindshare, part of GroupM (which oversees WPP's media investment management), talks to Gaurav Laghate about the trends in the segment. Edited excerpts: How do you see the Indian digital advertising market vis-a-vis other markets in the Asia-Pacific? It's evolving in some areas. We feel the work coming out of India is quite good. The economy is growing. But here, the challenge in the digital space is reaching the lower classes (non-smartphone users), who account for most of the population, on the digital platform. The team at Mindshare is doing a lot of work in the mobile space, in terms of feature phones, messaging, etc. It has evolved, as a large percentage of people are accessed by these means. However, it is not as evolved as a market such as Singapore, in terms of mobiles, as the infrastructure is not the same. Also, smartphone penetration isn't the same. But it's growing with the economy, as we have witnessed in the market in Indonesia. Where does the total digital market in India stand? It stands at about 11 per cent of the population. Of those users, 75 per cent are under 35 - another reason why advertisers should be jumping. With 26 per cent annual growth, India is the second-fastest growing market, after China. India is a very different market. So, you need a multi-faceted strategy to work here. Often, we speak to clients regionally about how to manage the Indian market, to address the tier-I, II, III strategy. How forthcoming are clients when it comes to digital marketing in India? It is still a very traditional market. But what's interesting and consistent with a lot of Asian countries is while consumers have pushed ahead and are adopting technology at quite a rapid pace, marketing investment is not seeing the same growth. I would like to see more advertisers learning from other regions or markets that are probably a bit ahead, and figuring ways in which they can say 'yes' more often then saying 'no'. Advertisers in India and other parts of Southeast Asia default everything they have done previously, predominantly television. Though television is an important medium for reach, what we are trying is to encourage clients to think about more is how they can extend that reach from the first stream onto the second and third. And, in some of these markets, they are starting to get it. A lot of the advertisers are starting to look more seriously at how to extend across online video. That again comes down to an infrastructure question. It is changing; it will change. But I guess the pace of change is slow. Do you see that gap being bridged soon? Yes, absolutely. It's definitely coming together and the industry is working hard on this concept.
It's much more difficult for digital channels to factor in traditional metrics just because the platforms and inventory levels are different. There isn't an audience panel such as Nielsen, etc. I know there are a lot of people looking into this issue - Nielsen is setting up online panels in different markets and Comscore is trying to do something similar. So, there is a lot of work being done by smart people, but it hasn't been done yet. Isn't the digital medium measurable? The digital industry came out and said 'we can measure everything', but we can't. In a fast-moving consumer goods environment, where it might be running a digital campaign to support a broader television campaign or some sort of bigger activation, there is no way to map that back to the effective result of the digital campaign, without doing all the studies about research online, purchases offline, etc. But I am a big advocate of the fact that television is no different. So, it annoys me slightly that often, advertisers use this as a convenient excuse for not investing. Why are we judging digital in a manner different from how they would judge their TVC activity? It might be the fact that the industry came out and talked about how measurable it was. How much does the digital segment add to your Mindshare's revenue, in percentage terms? In total investment terms, I think digital stands at 20-25 per cent of our total billing here in India. So, it's a significant amount and we are ambitions to increase that, as we still think the figure's a bit low. Given the way consumers are moving, there are opportunities for more of our brands to invest in these areas. If you look at where the investment is coming from, it is more weighted towards some categories. The challenge for those brands and Mindshare India is how to articulate all digital in the categories in which it makes sense. We are not advocating the digital segment for the sake of it. Is the commission for digital better? In terms of fees, yes, in some cases. The challenge for us and clients is to understand it takes a little more work to optimise and manage plans and buy across digital. There is quite a lot of work involved in a digital campaign - aggregating data, etc. So, we justify the high fees for digital. We are not the only one; I think most clients understand that. Huge money isn't being spent in digital, but the segment is growing very quickly. Probably, all advertisers here don't see the value in what their digital media agencies are doing for them. The challenge for agencies is to demonstrate what that value is. What are your plans for this year? The plan is to keep convincing clients about shifting a great percentage of their marketing investment to digital channels. We are trying to help clients bridge the gap between adoption and investment. We are not saying 'stop spending on television and put everything on digital'. We are merely saying 'address the balance of your channel investment strategy'.