This post is a response to Mansi’s post titled ‘An open letter to digital agencies in India’. The views expressed in this post are my own.

I started keying in my response in the form of a comment, but felt that it deserves the stature of a post. Hence this. Must say, I am really interested to see that people working on the digital side of advertising are beginning to express their opinions with regard to the state of the industry and the challenges it is facing. This is encouraging and deserves attention. Unlike the opinionated posts like ’10 things X brand could have done on social media’ by the self congratulatory digital revolutionists, Mansi has really tried to ask a few tricky questions here. Will try to address it with my limited knowledge of this kickass medium – digital.

a) The growth of Facebook was quick and dirty. Quick because it grew aggressively. Dirty because not many people knew how to deal with it. Anybody keeping a close watch on the unique users and time spent on sites like Facebook via tools like comScore would know that Facebook was like a giant staring into the media planner’s eyes in a digital agency. The numbers for portals were seeing a sharp drop when compared to Facebook. But the media planner didn’t think like the brand planner / strategist. Hence tactics like ‘Facebook apps’ were sold as strategy. Advertising on Facebook also grew. Note – no room for story telling and culture vultures here. Also fit in a ‘tweeter feed’. We don’t even have the brains in the industry to identify trends and come up with original planning formats like propagation planning.

b) As Shirley commented, digital advertising in India is looked upon as mere extensions. Thankfully it is changing at a rapid pace. One of the primary reasons behind this is the failure of traditional agencies to exploit digital. Even if the traditional brand planner / strategist understood digital, ideas were merely limited to microsites – because a chunk of money needs to be made on the traditional medium as digital was always outsourced to a third party. The mandate was to concentrate on mediums that gives the moolah. Enter the rise of stand alone full-service digital agencies that offer anything and everything on the digital space. This is changing the game, but at a slow pace.

c) Technical issues. Apart from social – what are the other platforms that digital advertising uses? They are banners, EDMs, Mobile, e-PR articles, etc. Have you seen a banner from an international agency for an international market that made you go ‘wow’? It must be at least 50 MB in size and the awesome internet speeds makes the experience even richer. The size of a banner in leading portals in India – 40 KB. Yes 40 KB if you are lucky. This limit is set by the publishers. And its better not to talk about streaming speeds in India. Can justice be done to an earth shattering idea within these limitations? No. But we try anyways.

d) Lack of a dynamic environment that rewards creativity – not just from the creative team. I must confess that I must be one of the few lucky ones in the industry who is exposed to a dynamic environment that rewards creativity. And the creative team is not always the generator of great ideas. I am surrounded by technologists, gamers and geeks. They don’t necessarily understand brand planning / strategy. But they know the solutions. The role of the digital brand planner / strategist is to be the enabler in a silo-less environment. How many agencies do these?

e) The role of digital as a performance medium. In India, many people have evangelized the digital medium as a performance oriented one. Each click can be tracked, each view can be accountable to the marketing dollars spent behind it. Ask any client with regard to the role of digital medium and they will pop up words like “lead generation”, “CPC”, “CPA”, etc. ‘The cow gives milk? Milk them more’ seems to be the attitude. Thus, the digital divide emerges. Where should the client tell stories? On T.V. or digital? Can we think long term here? Can we think big here? There is very little room. But that doesn’t stop us from thinking. Great ideas and digital strategy are encouraged to breathe only within the boundaries of a power point presentation. If lucky, they see the light of day. Again, within the limitations.

f) Lack of group sharing and learning. Our traditional predecessors of the Indian Advertising Industry (including the stalwarts) have not been successful in establishing a culture where sharing and enabling is encouraged. Constant bickering about each others work, dog-fight for agency commissions, poaching each others talents, institutionalizing creativity and scam advertising seems to be their forté. Thankfully the digital medium offers so much of possibilities that we will never see a Piyush Pandey of digital advertising. It will not, at least in the immediate near future. (Apologize for taking his name. I have the greatest respect for this man.) In scenarios like these – knowledge and information gets limited to certain hubs or groups of people – who, ironically, seldom meet.

g) And finally – add to all this – the rise of the self proclaimed social media expert. They have an opinion on every brand and agency. As a matter of principle, I try not to analyze someone else’s work by writing posts on the basis of what is good or bad. I must confess that I am not a social media guru. I understand brand communications and is able to decipher, monitor and exploit evolving mediums that enables brand engagement. Adding to the woes, there also seems to be a sharp rise in the training and advocation of the “right social media practices” by certain experts. And they even charge a decent sum of money for the workshops conducted by them. Does this add to the confusion or does it help to solve the issues?

There are many more questions and many more challenges. Having a background in traditional advertising, I could easily identify with Shirley’s concerns. Yes, it needs to be addressed. And the answer lies in collaboration. A fluid exchange of learnings and insights. Who knows it might even be better than Hyper Island! And I see potential in young people like us – who are witnessing such changing and exciting times in marketing / advertising and branding. I offer my full support for such initiatives – however minor it may be. I’m shouting “ACTION”!

Comments and criticisms are welcome.


~ by rb on November 22, 2010.

One Response to “”

  1. Amazingly insightful Piece Rohan. As someone who is often caught on the delivery aspect of the digital mediums, I can empathize with this post. So much of it strikes true on a surreal level…

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