In another era, every marketer worth his salt would work relentlessly to crack that great creative insight that could then be amplified across media starting with a burst on television. Then he would drive his agency to integrate the creative thought across above-the-line and below-the-line media in a forceful way. That was more or less the standard approach to media planning half a decade ago, before the grand arrival of digital and social media into the mainstream. Post the Lehman collapse, as the world began to turn upside down and advertising dollars became hard to come by, corporations and their agencies began looking at the digital media in right earnest.
In the following years, almost every major event in the media and advertising world had at least one panel discussion on digital media. As a result, the significance of digital went up several notches in the media plans of different product and service categories. Despite the interest, this area remains troubled as a large majority of marketers in the country are still hesitant in allocating sizeable portion of their media budgets to digital. One reason why digital advertising is still at 10 per cent of the overall ad pie in the country, which stands at Rs 31,877 crore (according to the Pitch Madison Media Advertising Outlook 2014, which expects the market to grow strongly at 16.8 per cent in 2014 to reach Rs 37,000 crore). By the end of this year, companies would have spent around Rs 14,300 crore in buying airtime on television, and Rs 15,405 crore in print. Radio will see spends in the region of Rs 1,097 crore by some estimates.
This is in sharp contrast to what is happening globally. In 2013, for the first time ever, interactive advertising revenues in the US touched $42.8 billion, exceeding broadcast television advertising revenues of $40.1 billion (according to the IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report, prepared by PwC US).
Despite all the talk, the digital - or interactive - medium remains thoroughly under-utilised. Barring few truly remarkable digital spots, as an advertising medium, the internet and the mobile have been in some sort of a time warp, with television and print taking precedence, both at the agency and the client's end. Much of the time, 'digital' has simply been used as a 'reminder medium' - a fate FM radio was relegated to in its early days.
Anshuman Singh, head, digital business & consulting group, Mindtree Europe, says the problem is that digital is often mixed up with below-the-line communication. He says, "It is like mixing the means with the end. The question to ask is if the media used is targeted or not. A lot of digital media is still treated like above-the-line. For example, just because I am visiting Business-standard.com from the UK, doesn't mean that I am interested in enrolling for Barnet College (Barnet and Southgate College is a further education college in North London). This ad is no different from what might appear in the education section of your newspaper. That is because the space is bought in bulk. Even today, most social media campaigns rely on extrapolation of reach. You can leverage custom URLs in TV and print campaigns to calculate the same."
To an extent the problem with digital is not just about focus; it is also a factor of reach. Of the total population of 1.27 billion in India, only 243 million people are internet users. (Source: Internet and Mobile Association of India)
Beyond ATL and BTL
A lot has changed in the last 10 years though. Earlier, as part of a pan-India plan, a media planner would cover 20-30 markets in a year. Usually television was the lead medium and print followed with long copy ads; radio and outdoor were slapped with similar creatives without much innovation. Today, plans are more fluid and may change several times in a given year and are designed according to the profile of the consumer targeted.
Take Germany-based Lufthansa, which has been running operations in India for 55 years now. It is an example of a brand which has relied on short-duration media plans to deliver results. Over the years, the brand has learnt a key lesson in media planning: a solid media plan varies from one set of its target group to the other. For instance, a first class customer can be targeted more effectively with direct mailers and below-the-line initiatives. In fact, the engagement level of its direct mailers is 28 per cent.
Television's dominance in an average media plan is undisputed in this country. Consider e-commerce companies as examples. When they started appearing on media channels like television and print, many eyebrows were raised. Why advertise on a passive medium? Aren't they mass and therefore impersonal, the anti-thesis of the internet as a medium? Yet, after the success of Flipkart's 'adult-like children' campaign in 2011, almost every e-commerce company with a sizeable media budget has hitched its fortune to television.
Says Raghu Bhat, co-founder of Scarecrow Communications, which handles creative duties for online classifieds company Quikr, "If one player's TV commercial hits the bull's eye, other players in the category jump at the first opportunity of achieving something similar."
Bhat has a point, especially in the context of e-commerce companies. Instead of focusing on profitability, which is still a couple of years away for these companies, owners of these businesses are keen on driving maximum user traffic.
Since internet penetration is still low in India, the challenge for shopping portals is to be the first destination for someone who has never shopped online. That explains why this online battle is being fought on television, and to some extent print. The likes of Flipkart, Snapdeal and Jabong are learning fast by observing leading players in FMCG, retail and telecom. They are launching quick follow-ups and myriad edits of a campaign in the same year.
Short-term sales pressure is visible in a lot of these commercials that harp on limited-period sales and deep discounts. This also marks a major shift in TV advertising as players from across categories are moving from brand building on TV to more tactical pieces of communication. Says Amit Tiwari, director & country head, media, Philips India, "Television has become a snacks box for viewers. Dwell time is as low as 30 minutes per day or even lower."
Since its launch in 2011, GSKCH's oral-care brand Sensodyne has stuck to showcasing testimonials from dentists. As part of its research, the company saw that the awareness level regarding teeth sensitivity in India was low - at 17 per cent. Instead of relying only on television, the company decided to focus on below-the-line initiatives to build awareness about dental problems.
Digital and radio are similar, especially in terms of their consumption patterns. Both the mediums can be consumed on-the-go, their appeal is personal and the content can be localised to a large extent. That is exactly what Hindustan Unilever (HUL) achieved with its Kan Khajura Tesan (KKT) campaign. KKT or 'The Earworm Channel' is HUL's very own structured, branded media channel on the mobile platform that offers jokes, music and Bollywood content. This content is interspersed with advertisements for HUL's mass consumer brands. This was done through a missed call campaign.
Now look at what Philips did recently during Jamai Shashti, a festival celebrated in West Bengal and dedicated to sons-in-law. Philips decided to push the shavers from its personal grooming range as a gifting option during this festival. As part of this pilot, two local radio stations were roped in. RJs spoke to the viewers about the festival and recommended Philips shavers as one of the gifting options.
Says Singh of Mindtree, "I think a mix of strategy is what works. A company may create awareness using mass media, but may leave a hook for targeted messaging. Simple missed call campaigns have far wider reach than apps or websites."
So there you have it: no point in thinking TV, print, digital. The best way to deal with the customer who jumps in and out of different mediums is to follow them around like the Vodafone pug. In sum, use all the mediums seamlessly.