The pandemic highlighted the lack of a measurement system that puts emphasis on the quality of attention towards ads and content
We need strong measurement frameworks that measure how advertising builds memory structures and sales through time across categories from an Indian perspective
By Mallikarjunadas Coimbatore
We are moving towards the closure of what has certainly been a challenging year for the media business and all entities associated with it. Enough and more has been written in detail about the specific issues that 2020 has wrought upon this industry. While working towards the formation of the United Nations with other world leaders, Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a crisis go waste”. In sync with that spirit, I will focus on issues that have surfaced to the top, thanks to the crisis; solving for these issues can possibly help chart a new and better world of media planning.
IPL 2020 was a resounding success, both on linear television and OTT. What was also unique about IPL this time around was the entry of several FMCG clients; these include categories that, in the past, have been enchained by a cost narrative which has prevented them from investing in advertising that runs on top of premium content. The question to ask however is: do we have a measurement system that accurately measures the quality of attention that great content gets? Our measurement systems across screens emphasise time-spent and quantity, rather than quality. Content sells on the plank of attention, but what is measured is a coarser metric of eyeballs and time-spent. As marketing becomes more data-driven and evidence-based, it is crucial that we have measurement systems that showcase content in the right way to advertisers.
In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the old and familiar question of investments behind branding and performance advertising came up. Should one double up on brand building in such periods? Or does one increase ad spend on demand fulfillment and performance-based advertising? While there is a surfeit of data on the performance side of the business, the causal link between brand building ad investments to sales is still tenuous.
We need strong measurement frameworks that measure how advertising builds memory structures and sales through time across categories from an Indian perspective. Not having this data-driven narrative could severely limit CMOs in securing brand building ad budgets. New breakthroughs in sensors that can passively measure biological responses and computer vision could dramatically lower the cost of single source measurement. Collecting consumer response data using these sensors could give us the scale of data to deploy deep learning methods and a predictive analytics narrative that matches what performance advertising can showcase to clients.
In this period, we saw time spent and advertising grow across multiple screens. However, given the disparate units of measurement across all of them, advertisers once again were limited in having an integrated view. The industry needs to urgently set up this common calculus to measure consumer attention and sales response across screens. Given the scale of digital and mobile in India today, solving for just incremental reach has the danger of being tautological. Multi-screen planning has far more important questions: how is consumer attention harvested different across screens; do size, position and duration of ads matter across screens; how do we normalise for these effects and come up with an acceptable unit of measurement? We should use this crisis to reignite work on these questions with renewed vigour.
Revival in sight
The media agency business is a crucial player in the business of building brands. It has been under severe pressure over the last few years. Rampant pitches, reduced client remuneration, over-reliance on trading income, talent flight and competition from consultancies have made things difficult.
However, what the industry has shown in the last eight months is that remote working and video calls are good enough to get a significant part of client-agency work done without too many hassles. Remote working arrangements provide agencies an opportunity to surmount barriers of geography and time zones. I could potentially think of setting up the Navy SEALs equivalent within the agency workforce for one’s key clients. This would help in cross-fertilisation of talent as well as get agencies back into the game of knowledge arbitrage — to be able to add significant planning value to clients, especially in domains like digital transformation and analytics. This, in turn, could potentially open up a virtuous cycle of being able to charge more remuneration.
The author is a media practitioner, and former EVP, Star India