Abid Hussain Barlaskar

"Digital marketing is a complicated ecosystem and marketers need to upskill." - Oscar Garza, global head, media activation, Essence

In our latest interaction, Garza speaks about how it takes more than traditional marketing to level up in the digital game.

Amidst all of the bustle and confusion around programmatic advertising in the industry, we caught up with Oscar Garza, global head of media activation for Essence, GroupM's data and measurement-driven arm, to understand what marketers in India need to be wary of before stepping up their digital game.

"Digital marketing is a complicated ecosystem and marketers need to upskill." - Oscar Garza, global head, media activation, Essence

Oscar Garza

"AI does what humans can't on such a large scale and at a high pace. Primary uses in advertising is determining the impact of media exposure. Essence currently ingests over four terabytes of data a day. That's the biggest opportunity in advertising. We can use it for adjustment in targeting or to determine the impact on the outcome," Garza says.

But how often or what chances does it have of going wrong?

"Humans would do it more often," is the reply.

So where does India stand in the race?

Garza points out that technologically, there's nothing that's holding India back from participation in AI/ML in advertising, but then it's largely a traditional market. "Advertisers spend a lot of money on television and the granular information required for machine learning doesn't currently exist for traditional channels. Whatever is there is an aggregate and lacks specific information about interaction with the media," Garza says.

A little while into our conversation around AI's leverage and the drive of programmatic advertising, Garza opens up about the way marketers need to equip themselves for a better understanding of digital advertising, to deal with ad fraud and to match the ROI game. "If I had to counsel advertisers today about what they can do, I'd suggest they educate themselves and gather new skill sets. Most people we encounter in marketing positions have come out of business schools and have an MBA and that's fantastic. But for the world of digital marketing, artificial intelligence - machine learning, you also have to understand computer science to some degree, advanced statistical methods for understanding the math, telecommunications, database management, and understanding how the internet works," Garza explains.

"Especially for determining the ROI, it's not sufficient to put a tracking pixel on a website since understanding the interaction with the media that led to a sale is a complex process. It's important to understand how an impression flows throw multiple systems and back to the advertiser. If one can associate a sale with an impression or the series of impressions that led to it, it creates the opportunity of a statistical analysis. If advertisers don't understand all of this, they are going to fall victim to fraud," Garza adds.

Next, we talk about programmatic in-housing and the mix to building a digital media planning and buying scene in-house.

"Agencies should primarily be selling their service as advice; in our case, it is media buying, which might not be a field of expertise for a brand and it needs some help with it. The brand, before in-housing, has to understand the full range of services that it has to provide for itself. One of the biggest mistakes I have done in the past is firing agencies and going in alone. But agencies also have to be wary of people coming in and taking those services away if they are not good. Not so long ago, I recommended a client who wanted to do in-housing to pitch against me. For now, I would suggest a hybrid relationship between the brand and the agency," Garza says.

For India, programmatic is still catching up and is not yet the 'in thing' and the market still keeps traditional advertising on the lead role.

"I had been buying programmatic for nine years. I took the job here at Essence to run programmatic and it's the first job that has 'programmatic' in the title. Now, gradually, we recognise it, it is popular enough and a significant part of the industry," says Garza.

He further explains that because of the larger chunk of traditional media in the market, investment in digital is lower compared to markets in Europe, Singapore and also the US. But as digital grows, brands need to invest in expertise as well as new skill sets.

Before ending our interaction I asked Garza if there were any final words of wisdom he could share with us. "I could go on and on for hours, but that's also I am really suited for this. Just keep in mind that digital marketing, in total, is a complicated ecosystem," and with that, he signs off.

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