Have Indian advertisers missed the digital bus?

Source: Business Standard| View Online Article

Not a single hit in ‘Cyber’ and ‘Mobile’ out of 33 metals won. The writing is on the wall: Indian agencies have failed to impress the jury in the digital and the categories at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2013. Indeed, the country’s good showing in the ‘traditional’ categories may be an indication that Indian advertisers and their agencies are betting on media that their counterparts in other counters have stopped taking seriously

We have the talent, not the attitude
Anuj Khanna Sohum
Founder & chairman, Affle

The mobile and industry in India has been burgeoning over the past few years. The consumption of rich media and content has increased manifold in the Indian market. However, when compared to markets like the United States, the quantity and amount of exposure that the Indian companies get on this medium is very restricted. This has a negative effect on the amount and the scope of work in the domain.

The total mobile and digital advertising market in India is about $350 million, which is a much smaller amount when compared to, say, the US market, which is almost around $37 billion. Even a consideration of the relative ad spend in the mobile and digital domain with respect to the total marketing expenditure puts the Indian industry at a much lower notch compared to its US counterparts. If you were to look at the comparative figures, in India, mobile and digital advertising comprises less than 2 per cent of the total advertising, while the same ratio in the US stands at more than 20 per cent.

Therefore, when it comes to forums and awards such as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the number of entries in the digital and mobile advertising segments received from the US agencies is much higher than those from the Indian agencies. Numerous entries obviously boost the probability of winning an award as the odds are in the favour of the agency that sends more nominations. Having said that, when it comes to the qualitative aspect, I would like to mention that the Indian agencies are in no way inferior to their global counterparts. The talent, the content and the technology involved in the Indian digital and mobile advertisement domain is on par with some agencies in the US or in Europe.

Also, we are definitely seeing an increase in the resources being assigned for digital and mobile advertising in India and this trend will gain momentum. Even now, a lot of the work done by global agencies is actually outsourced to some of the Indian players because of the quality of work they produce and the talent that we possess.

Indian agencies have to master integration
Prasanna Singh
COO, afaqs

We no longer have the excuse of low internet penetration to explain our performance in the ‘Cyber’ and ‘Mobile’ categories at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2013.. Markets that are much smaller than ours, notably Sweden, have done very well at the Cannes Lions. The fundamental issue here is that digital is not ‘mainline’ enough. First, digital’s overall share of the advertising pie remains relatively low in India compared to the other markets, with a focus on the so-called lead based campaigns that all but kill creative thinking. As a major part of the budget is exhausted on traditional media, there is little left over for research or creative for digital.

It was a revelation to see (at Cannes) the kind of integrated approach that is taking shape in most other developed markets, with the digital teams truly involved from the first brief on. In some cases, the lines were blurred completely under a common leader. In India, digital teams still work more or less independent of the mainline agencies. Traditional agencies, with their much longer association with the brands and access to a bigger body of research and intuitive tools, can bring a lot of value to enhancing digital campaigns than they are currently doing.

One area we can always improve on is our presentation. Winning campaigns are invariably presented magnificently, which matters in tight contests. Finally, keep in mind that markets like the US have a huge advantage in the ‘Cyber’ category with most of the bigger publishers and spenders based there. Not to mention the leading platforms in the ecosystem that have been incubated in that market.

The access to ideas, thoughts, technology and resources is simply superb there. Even firms in India prefer to serve the overseas markets right now rather than the domestic market due to the difference in the risk-rewards ratio.

Things, however, are set to change quickly now with MNCs sharing learnings with their local counterparts, which will clearly place digital in the spotlight in the coming years. On the content side too, we are just beginning to discover the best ways to effectively integrate advertising with quality content. Global platforms like or will ensure that exposure to that happens quickly.

Digital has to become the CEO’s purview to succeed
Ramesh Chembath
Assistant Vice President, Marketing, Godrej Appliances

Consider these numbers to understand why we failed to impress the jury at this year’s edition of the Cannes Lions. In a country where 150 million people are online, it would be a blunder on a marketer’s part to treat ‘digital and mobile’ as part of a brand’s peripheral strategy. At least that’s what a large number of marketers are doing here. There is no room for excuses, especially ones like low internet penetration. Because of a huge population, even 12 per cent of internet penetration in India can provide numbers comparable to some European markets. Internet penetration among people in the 18 to 24 age group is almost 50 per cent; with mobile gaining prominence. Social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook can track engagement better than television.

Armed with such insights, marketers choose to build brand stories around traditional media and plug in digital once everything else is taken care of. Can any brand create groundbreaking digital communication with this approach? Finding recognition on international platforms is a lost battle even before it can start.

At the organisational level, the senior management has limited interest in the digital medium and it may not be a shocker to see junior executives managing the digital mandate. Digital has to become the CEO’s purview if a company is serious about it. The other problem is with the way companies approach digital. When will I reach 1 million fans on Facebook? It is all about reaching milestones. A company should either have a complete digital strategy or stay away from it completely.

The second problem is how mainline agencies treat digital with limited focus. Stalwarts in advertising are more worried about getting the 30-seconder (television ads) right. The digital arms of these agencies are not good enough to take on the responsibility of pitching digital as a lead medium to clients.

Companies and agencies have to get these things right before fretting over their metal tally at the Cannes Lions.