Interview: There is a lot of confidence in digital, says MD of Essence India

Global data and measurement-driven digital agency Essence has expanded into a full-service integrated agency.

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Express Photo: Amit Mehra

Global data and measurement-driven digital agency Essence has expanded into a full-service integrated agency. Anand Chakravarthy of Essence India talks to Ankita Rai on concerns in digital advertising and if blockchain is the answer to programmatic woes. Edited excerpts:

Post the restructuring at GroupM, what are the focus areas for Essence?

Essence first came to India in July 2016; back then, we had set up the team only for Google. In 2017, post the restructuring of GroupM, Essence expanded in India with offline capabilities. Erstwhile clients from MEC, such as Flipkart, Britannia, HMSI and ZEE Network moved to Essence. However, it was only in January this year that Essence donned a new avatar. Prior to this, Essence was a digital performance agency; now the transition is towards a full service integrated agency.

This is probably the first time an agency has moved from being digital-only to a full service structure. The timing is also right. When so much data is available, the ability of how you plan for all media using data is crucial. The thinking is being put into offline platforms. Data, analytics and measurement are core to our offerings. We have launched an analytics hub.

What is the roadmap for Essence in India considering that you are a late entrant? Are you biased towards digital?

Being performance driven and having worked as Google’s agency-on-record for 11 years, we understand digital and have built best practices and proprietary tools. The challenge is, we entered India late; we have to prove our capabilities and build our equity in the market.

We have developed an integrated end-to-end campaign management platform and will be rolling it out soon. We use eCPM (effective CPM), which is better than CPM. It measures how every incremental impression adds to the end metric. We are biased towards performance. It is not about buying impressions or GRPs at the lowest CPR; it is about helping clients drive their business objectives.

With concerns around digital ad spends and RoI measurement, how are media planners protecting the faith in digital?

We have very high standards of BAV — brand safety, ad fraud, viewability. We track each campaign on a weekly basis on these parameters. The clients we are working with continue to believe in both offline and digital. Most of them are increasing spends on digital. However, different categories behave differently. For example, for CPG brands, the audience is spread across the country including rural areas. There, the share of digital may not be large. I don’t think there is debate whether digital should be a part of your media mix or not. There is a lot of confidence in digital and investments in it are not going down.

Is there any change in the allocation

of budgets, with content marketing coming in?

If you look at the media mix, digital is expected to grow to 22-23% by 2020. Digital content seems to have lot of potential since it is easy to publish content online compared to TV, where the process is long. Many consumers avoid ads, but love content. The entire data explosion has dramatically grown video consumption in India. Marketers are looking at opportunities where consumers interested in the content can get the brand message in the most non-intrusive way. However, not every campaign needs to have content. There is a role for content with certain audiences and products. Mostly e-commerce companies, FMCG, CPG and auto brands are using content smartly. Branded content is still not more than 2-3% of the budget in India.

There is an issue of reliability of data in the programmatic space. Is blockchain the answer?

True, programmatic is about being able to target audiences of a certain profile, using signals and being able to automate that at a scale. It is still early days for blockchain. Its efficacy outside of bitcoins is yet to be seen. Will blockchain be the answer for creating protected ecosystems for media? There are a set of challenges. Technology is available, but where are the audiences? They lie with publishers and broadcasters. Who will bring the audiences in the blockchain ecosystem? Who will give you the inventory? If the inventory comes from a long tail of smaller publishers, it is the same issue. Pure programmatic is still in single digits in India.

Is programmatic TV coming to India?

It will take time. Programmatic is about buying quality audiences. Today, 40-50 channels account for 75% of viewership; the remaining 550 channels are a long tail. The challenge with programmatic inventory, whether on TV or digital, is that the quantum is very small. Only if the quantum allows you to get scale, where you can reach 10-20 million consumers only through programmatic TV, will it make sense. You don’t use TV to reach just one million consumers.

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