Shweta Mulki

“Digital shouldn’t be treated as a shiny new object that’s just about participation,” Anand Chakravarthy

The India MD at Essence – GroupM’s fourth-largest agency, adds that in digital, if you don’t invest to threshold level, you can’t see the impact...

“Digital isn’t just about a marketing edge but a business edge too,” says Anand Chakravarthy, MD at Essence India. He explains that agencies need to ensure that clients are looking at the efficacy of what this is doing to their business and see where the ROI is. “At the end of the day, digital shouldn’t be treated as a shiny new object that’s only about participation,” he asserts.

In 2015, WPP acquired Essence, a global agency that first expanded across APAC (Singapore, Australia and Japan) between 2013 and 2016, largely to service a high profile client - Google. By end-2017, post GroupM's restructuring, Essence is now its fourth-largest 'pillar'. Mid-2016 in India, it put up an integrated team in Delhi for Google and it has now added offices in Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Besides Google, it has Britannia, Flipkart, Honda Motorcycles, Zee, and Nokia SCN as clients.

Chakravarthy, who was managing partner at Wavemaker (earlier Maxus India) since 2014, began his career in research with the Kantar group then moved to planning at Lowe, post which he was EVP- marketing at Reliance Broadcast. “Quantitative research gave me a great understanding of statistical models. Planning at Lowe was about rigour, strategy and the chance to work on Unilever brands. At Reliance, we launched the largest radio network and television channels - it was about implementation, speed-to-market and bias-for-execution,” he recounts.

It’s been a year since Chakravarthy was appointed MD at Essence India. “While we’ll be part of global and local pitches, we will spend time and effort in understanding existing client businesses and bring early events to them,” he says of the company’s plans for the coming year. We catch up with him on that and more.

Edited Excerpts

You’ve said earlier that P&G pulling out of digital is purely brand specific. But is there still some hesitation in the market when investing in digital?

Marketing budgets are not really increasing, so before you take out the money from your media mix which has been working for you and put it somewhere else, you need to be sure. However, in digital, if you don’t invest to threshold level you’ll never see the impact, and vice versa! So it’s the chicken and the egg. That’s where the agency needs to come in and guide clients on how to invest in a meaningful, measured way leading to business ROI.

There have been categories which have quickly embraced digital - whether it’s e-comm (at 45 per cent), Telco, Auto, or BFSI that have gone up to 20-25 per cent. CPG (packaged goods) brands have gone from 8-10 per cent to double digits now. But there are enough players who haven’t aligned to it yet - as they’ve no clear understanding of what it can do for business. In some categories, consumers are still transitioning from traditional media, not to mention the role of TV and print (in certain categories) has unequivocally, across the world, been reinforced.

Bots and inappropriate content also remain hindrances undermining the digital process...

The truth is that in the trillions of impressions online, there will be a certain percentage of IVT (invalid traffic). Using platforms like a DBM, AdWords or Facebook - all who now apply stringent measures to see what inventory flows through their platforms - protects you. Plus, in tools, platforms like Moat Analytics allow you to look at your BAV (Brand safety, avoiding Ad fraud and Viewability). At Essence, we have BAV standards via a process that vets every single platform and new publisher. It’s a fairly robust tool to identify impressions that are real. So, the use of technology is key.

For evolved players, how does programmatic advertising pan out now?

The programmatic landscape here is still evolving. It’s defined as being able to target the audience at the right time, in the right context and it’s automated. A lot of times the first two alone are considered programmatic. But automating those campaigns is ‘true programmatic’. For instance, DBM (Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager) allows you to marry your first party data and create cohorts of your own audiences and even export those onto another platform for targeting and so on – so there’s huge flexibility, but that’s only the first step. You also need to Ad Serve so that you are able to track every step in the digital pathway and see where the consumer is actually converting.

So why isn’t Ad Serve being adapted that enthusiastically?

That’s because Adserving cost is typically a percentage of your spends. But unless you do that, you aren’t really able to calculate true ROI. Let’s say I’m running a campaign through DBM (using both Google and non-Google inventory) and talking to five publishers; now if I’m not Adserving - even if I know my campaign is translating to a certain number of conversions or traffic on the website or certain walk-ins, I don’t know where the conversions are coming from. You can also identify behaviour at a granular level - knowing things like how long they stayed, can help you make clusters that behave differently and target sweet-spots accordingly. It’s about attribution to the last link.

And the attribution journey varies from online to offline...

There’s digital being spent for an online action and for an offline action. While it’s used to drive footfalls into stores and auto dealerships, the attribution journey is tougher for offline action. However, as digital becomes more centre-of-plate in the media mix, agencies and brands are asking for more products that provide granularity. And publishers are also improving their products. Also, E-com brands have emerged as media platforms themselves -while Flipkart and Amazon use Google to promote themselves, they sell their inventory and compete too. So Google in India now also has Shopping formats – ads which (through search or display) give you one-click purchase links of the product you’re searching.

Vis-a-vis global, does India have enough premium online inventory for things like private marketplaces?

In the US digital is 42 odd per cent, and in China it’s 60 odd per cent of total Adex. But the size of US spend is 3 or 4 times of China (which is 10 times India). As the digital footprint in India grows, that scale will enable premium inventory and private marketplaces. Brands who are sitting on data will eventually see opportunities to monetise it. And unexpected collaborations will continue-OTT guys with telcos, telcos doing content and so on.

Essence’s genesis is in Google. What edge does that give you, how does that shape your approach?

Google is, of course, a dominant player, as far as digital ad dollars go. Having worked with them for over a decade and being their largest spender (a large amount goes into Google platforms, but it’s managed by Essence), we’ve been able to really understand how the Google stack works and build solid best-practices and tools that maximise the value of the Google cent. We are also developing tools that look at an integrated view – how do offline and online media work together, what are the best touch-points, how much to invest on each, and measure the contribution of each to a brand/business KPI.

In digital, many say the gap between media and the creative needs to reduce...

The whole marketing journey is moving away from just ‘start with communication’ to first seeing where is this consumer and accordingly communicating to them, so the marriage of creative and media is even more essential today than ever.

Big consulting firms are getting into media... any concerns?

Marketers do want integrated partners who can provide answers throughout the land. I think the ‘big four’ are taking a part of THE digital bit and trying to create a business out of it. But media organisations like GroupM - with over 15 years of managing offline-online, are in a far better place to provide marketing direction. Consultancies have the advantage of making something process driven and they work closely with top management for that. But, this is not their area of expertise, you can build a team but you can’t build a unique organisational mindset that is designed to deliver marketing solutions.

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