Tarana Khan

IAMAI Digital Marketing: Industry gets a wake-up call

The conference started off with a reality check on the relatively small size of Internet advertising, but the digital agencies refused to let themselves feel low about it

“What is really of concern is that the size of the Internet advertising industry is so abysmally low... This is despite so many people evangelising it.”

Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director of Madison, started off the IAMAI ‘Digital Marketing: Wake Up And Smell The Coffee’ seminar (sponsored by Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions) on an unconventional note in New Delhi on Friday. For once, there was no back-slapping and congratulatory beginning; instead, there was this unsettling statement.

The first panel discussion was called ‘Digital Marketing Has Arrived: Are You Ready For Your Coffee?’ It was moderated by R Sundar, president, Times Business Solutions,

IAMAI Digital Marketing: Industry gets a wake-up call
Sam Balsara
Balsara continued, “It is only when you follow the traditional advertising model of brand building and exposure that you will operate in the Rs 17,000 crore advertising market. Right now, you are operating in a niche market.” He added that the purpose of advertising on the Internet was limited to lead generation, which was holding it back from growing.

Next on the podium, Raj Nayak, CEO, NDTV Media, picked up from where Balsara left off. “The Internet is the most accountable medium, and instead of charging a premium for this, we are selling ads at the most low rates,” said Nayak. He added that there was something seriously wrong because Internet advertising and the English print industry both have an audience of 30 million, but are so far apart in revenue.

“After the (dotcom) bust, everyone became apologetic about the medium,” continued Nayak. He added that the top six players in the industry needed to come together and push up rates. “When we get a billing of Rs 5 crore from other media, we are not excited, but if we get a billing of Rs 2 lakh from the Internet, we are happy,” he said.

Another problem Nayak pointed out was that of outstanding payments from advertisers. He said there was no forum for addressing this. He said that when companies like his have outstandings of 150-365 days, one could imagine how the smaller companies were faring.

IAMAI Digital Marketing: Industry gets a wake-up call
Dinesh Wadhawan
The other panellists – including Debraj Tripathy of OnMobile, Gurtej Sandhu of STAR TV and Vivek Kumar of Sify Ltd – were visibly taken aback by these candid outbursts. It was Dinesh Wadhawan, MD and CEO, Times Internet Ltd, who asked the audience to “keep the faith”. “We can do significantly better,” he admitted. “But we cannot control usage. We need to make more Internet access points and bandwidth available. Due to the intrusive display advertising, the user experience remains pretty bad in India.” Wadhawan added that he was open to talks with other players in the industry to tackle the issue of low rates.

During the Q&A session, Nayak suggested that the Internet industry should collectively launch a campaign to promote advertising on the Net. Balsara said that he was personally more bullish on mobile advertising and added that Madison was forming a mobile advertising industry in a joint venture with an agency in the Philippines because “Indian agencies have been slow to catch on”.

IAMAI Digital Marketing: Industry gets a wake-up call
Adrian Moss
In the second panel discussion titled ‘Creativity: Does It Only Have To Be Drunk From A Cup?’ and moderated by Adrian Moss, group CEO of Deal Group Media Plc (of which DGM India is a subsidiary), it was the turn of the digital agencies to get back at the traditional ones, but not without some reasoning by Moss.

“The real reason for the stifling growth of the industry is the lack of desire and nervousness among Indian advertisers. They are scared to look beyond Yahoo and Rediff,” he said. Moss added that Internet advertising should be accounted for, not only for customer acquisition and ROI, but “eyeball acquisition”, or brand building, as well.

IAMAI Digital Marketing: Industry gets a wake-up call
Chaya Carvalho
Chaya Brian Carvalho, MD and CEO of BC Web Wise, started with a jazzy presentation of innovative work the agency has done online. “I think we should stop looking at the traditional agencies completely. There is a new breed of agencies, like ours, delivering in the medium,” she declared.

Next on, Rahul Nanda, COO of Webchutney added fuel to the fire. “Traditional agencies just don’t get it,” he said in his presentation. “They don’t understand the medium. Creativity is not just about execution, but strategy and technology as well.” Nanda explained how tools like widgets, mashups and blogs are changing the way advertisers engage online with customers.

Raj Menon, COO, Contests2win, continued, “Users are getting more creative about the medium. Traditional media agencies thrust messages down your throat.” He added that the Internet let audiences see messages in the places they wanted to, and in the form of their choice.

Other panellists in the discussion included Bhavna Giani of Mediaturf and Subhomoy Sengupta of Interactive Avenues.

The panellists agreed that something needed to be done to push up revenues. Nanda said there was a need for more publishers because if there was no content, advertisers would not come. Moss summed it up nicely when he said, “If people who are talking to the advertisers don’t share our enthusiasm, we are in trouble.”