Advertisers have come of age and out of the shell of traditional advertising - and digital is one of the many new media that has benefited from the phenomenon. At the Goafest 2009, afaqs! caught up with Sean Finnegan, president and chief digital officer, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), while he enjoyed his first visit to India.
Worldwide, SMG claims to have a total billing of US $2 billion from digital advertising. Some of the clients that invest in the medium include GM, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Wal-Mart and P&G. Excerpts from the conversation:
afaqs!: Is this your first visit to India? What do you think about the media environment here?
Finnegan: Yes, this is my first visit to India. I'm very impressed with the people - everyone is young and vibrant and looking to create change and innovation. Innovation is based on some of the numbers of the population that exists - which is a sizeable amount. But the growth is continual and the urge will only explode.
I see the current (online media) situation in India as the YouTube right now, where there is a wealth of inventory and video usage - and yet only a small percentage is being monetised. About 3 per cent of what is utilised is reported. With about 1.1 billion people here, a small percentage is accessing online.
The creative and intellectual spirit of the Indian people is poised to capitalise on the growth. The Indian market has the benefit of the many years of toil that mature markets have gone through already, deciding on how to perfect advertising. Despite its size, which is quite large, it is still in a process of development.
afaqs!: Till some time ago, specific creatives for online media were not common and were mostly adaptations of print and TV campaigns. How do you think things have changed since then?
Finnegan: The truth is that this occurred in the beginning in places such as the US, where you used the existing assets that were available just to pug some holes and get the messaging in. Over time, the innovation and evolution of advertising became much more customised and applicable to the web as a specific medium, and not simply a translation of the other traditional stuff.
You see that in the form of gaming, mobile, long form video, certainly in rich media assets, and also in some other regular text-based products - the Twitters and the Facebooks of the world.
I'm very supportive of innovation in online video - I feel that's going to be a common denominator of the future.
afaqs!: Due to the slowdown, digital is becoming the preferred media. How do you view this from the Indian clients' point of view?
Finnegan: What we have seen here and which we are happy to report is that we have clients who are wise marketers and they are investing more in digital because it is an accountable medium - you can see both the ends - what you put in and what comes out from the other end - in terms of clarity of ROI (return on investment). It is less of a risk in a downward market to invest in something that is as accountable as the web medium.
afaqs!: You have another specialised digital agency, Spark, in the US. Any plans to bring it to India?
Finnegan: Well, Ravi Kiran would be the right person to answer that question (laughs).
Spark, in the US, is a different offering altogether in terms of its service. It is designed to suit the needs of niche clients and the budget levels make it niche. It has digital at the core - and specific client requirements need quick and fluid actions.
afaqs!: What is the pricing mechanism for online advertising and how different is it from traditional media?
Finnegan: Digital is subject to a different metric system altogether. The inventory in this media is almost unlimited and it's not necessarily priced like print and television. One needs to work on a system which is beneficial for both the advertiser as well as the publisher, based on different parameters such as impressions, reach, time spent, engagement, CRM and more.