These are perhaps the most challenging times for the media businesses. Advertising revenues are under stress and technology is changing faster than ever, bringing about major shifts in the way people consume media. Add to that the rapidly mounting competitive pressures and you have a terrain that looks less like business and more like a free for all. While it’s easy to get caught up in the hype around the emerging platforms, it’s harder to work out how to drive value from new digital media. In this interview to Alokananda Chakraborty, Ashish Bhasin, chairman, India, and chief executive officer, South East Asia, Aegis Media India Group, talks about the new challenges before the media agencies and explains how the industry can run the rapid safety.
In their report “The Future of Digital Media Buying”, authors Joanna O’Connell and Michael Greene assert that programmatic buying is the future. How is programmatic buying different from the way media has been brought and sold traditionally?
Programmatic buying is the process of executing media buys through digital technology platforms like ad exchanges, agency trading desks, DSPs (a demand-side platform or DSP is a technology where buyers seek online advertising inventory and the exact right target audience) or SSPs (sell-side platform: a technology platform to enable publishers to manage their ad impression inventory and maximise revenue from digital media) rather than through manual RFPs (request for proposal), negotiation and buying, as has been the process in the past. It has been advocated for several years now by industry futurists and analysts and Aegis Media globally is at the leading edge in this area.
Programmatic buying, analysts say, improves operational efficiencies and reduces waste commonly caused by multi-network buys. Does this mean that the advertiser will now get more bang for his advertising buck?
I think what programmatic buying will do is that the advertising will be a lot more targeted and the buys will be significantly more efficient and hence, you can say, that the advertiser will get a bigger bang for his buck. We are already seeing benefits of this, wherever it has been applied.
The same report also says that planning and buying as we have known it —decision-making based on understanding media properties and the targeted audiences they attract —will be replaced by quant-based (and cookie-reliant) technologies. How will all this change the role of the media planning/buying agency in the future?
First of all let me clarify that what you are referring to is only in the area of digital, which, at present, accounts for approximately 5 per cent of the total advertising market in India. Having said that, digital, in my view, is likely to grow explosively, particularly in the area of performance marketing, search and social media and hence this will become very relevant in the years to come. What this will mean is that even the process of executing and planning for media buys for digital will be through technology-based platforms and this is already in operation in several countries in the West.
Unlike traditional marketing, social media marketing can present many different challenges and distractions. What are the top issues media agencies are grappling with today when it comes to the social media? All the new challenges thrown up by the digital media also means the new planner/buyer has to have completely different skills.
I think social media is a high growth area. One of the key obstacles is that the understanding of social media at the client end is often limited and most of them are in the “Let’s make a Facebook page” mode, pretty much like a few years ago when digital was coming up it was “Let’s make a website”.
As far as media agencies are concerned, barring a few agencies there is complete dearth of talent in this area because I feel agencies have under invested and haven’t really understood this. We have heavily invested in training our staff not only in India but globally using the best practices and that’s true for both Isobar, a trading division of Aegis Media, and iProspect, the digital performance agency under the group. We are also lucky to have several tools within our international system which we are able to take advantage of and learn from.
Are agencies working to develop some metrics to gauge and measure the efficacy of a social media plan?
Good question. I don’t think the metrics to measure social media have evolved to their fullest as yet particularly in India. A lot of it is evolutionary even in the more developed markets but quite soon, with the benefit of several companies that are monitoring the social buzz, I hope we will have an agreed set of metrics, which should become a currency in India.
Many consumer electronics companies are investing in rolling out smart TVs for our homes. What can your fraternity do to take TV into the social space?
The next wave is all about screens. There will be several kinds of screens. The big screen, including smart TVs, the smaller screens of tablets and laptops, and the even smaller screens of mobile phones. In addition, even outdoor in several places is becoming digital and hence is about screens. I don’t think the issue is about taking TV into social spaces it is about social media permeating all aspects of our lives, including television.
As you mentioned, technology is changing and so is your business. What myths about media planning are you constantly debunking?
Several media agencies in India, particularly those that have legacy agency groups in their networks, are still living in a “30-seconds TVC and a 100-cc ad” world. I think the advent of technology and the advent of media agnostic companies like Aegis Media and the rapid developments in this area have effectively debunked this myth and hence I feel that the days of several of these large-sized ‘dinosaur’ish old-world agencies are clearly under threat.
You say “large sized ‘dinosaur’ish old-world agencies are clearly under threat”. Is size an issue or is the new debate about capabilities?
It’s a factor of both. Many agencies that have evolved from creative agencies simply don’t have the wherewithal to think independently. Agencies that have evolved from creative agencies or are part of a bigger agency network have to deal with a lot of pulls and pressures that media independents don’t face in the regular course of work. If, say, a business newspapers comes to me, as an independent media outfit, I will probably ask it to go for only-digital — that way it can target the bulk of its consumers without running the risk of spillage or wastage, whereas a media agency which is part of a network and earns commission from creative work, may advise TV and print… the works! They have a huge network to sustain; they may say these are independent units, but you and I know how agency group with many departments operate!
I (Aegis Media) don’t have such issues. I think the idea is to have one P&L (profit and loss account) and hot have silos like print, digital etc. The clients don’t want the hassle of dealing with silos — they want solutions, the best possible way to reach the biggest chunk of its consumers.