Kaushik Prasad
Guest Article

The Idiot Box in a Smart World

Is there room for TV in the life of the always-online consumer?

Search for influence of the internet on car buying and you will be deluged by studies and reports by media companies, consultants and self-styled internet gurus, all unanimously declaring digital as the path to marketing nirvana. The digital medium may seem like manna to marketers with triple figure ROIs, Chris Kyle-like targeting, and tons of data and metrics to keep one happy and tantalisingly confused at the same time.

The Idiot Box in a Smart World

Kaushik Prasad

Agencies and creative directors (many closet Sanjay Leela Bhansalis) make "digital films" unfettered by the constraints of duration associated with a TV spot; 'YouTube pe chala denge' is what you commonly hear. Conversations in marketing echo chambers revolve around how "traditional" mediums like TV are dying and how the Garden of Eden beckons marketers with houris like content marketing, UGC, hyper local, micro influencers, and AI, among others.

In 1897, when Mark Twain was on a speaking tour in America, a local newspaper printed his obituary, to which Twain famously quipped, 'The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated'. Despite multiple data sources and evidence of growing spends on TV, voices that are constantly declaring TV dead are simply crying wolf... or have something to sell to you.

The consumer today, while shopping for a car or anything else, doesn't ask just his neighbour, but asks Google too; car aggregator portals helpfully compare brands and features, online review forums rate everything from brands to dealerships to ownership experience. Consequently, consumers walking into dealerships today are tremendously well informed. This is probably true for many other product categories as well - research online, purchase offline. So is there a role for the Idiot Box in this smart world? Where does television fit in, with an always-online consumer?

For starters, TV is the Godzilla of reach. Television offers the opportunity to broadcast your brand's message and reach vast swathes of people, rapidly and efficiently. While OTT and streaming platforms are rising rapidly, consumption of content on these platforms only supplements TV watching. If you want wide reach for your message, TV gets you that.

The environment in which the consumer watches TV and receives the brand message is unique too. For the consumer, after having leaned in all day, over his or her computer, phone or tab, watching TV in the evening is an opportunity to relax, lean back, and get the daily entertainment fix - from Arnab to Big Boss. And there is some ineffable value in your brand's communication filling up all of the 42 inches of a TV screen versus an online ad occupying 25 to 30 per cent of a 5.6 inch mobile screen.

TV builds brands. Humans are social beings. We often measure personal success and status 'versus' others, using yardsticks that include what Mr. Khanna in the neighborhood thinks of us, basis the things we buy or the cars we drive.

Let’s consider the Ford Endeavour advertisement aired on TV; the spot shows the SUV effortlessly taming terrains with its first-in-class Terrain Management System, as the protagonist flips a switch to open the Panoramic Sunroof revealing extraordinary vistas - bright blue sky skies and Hot Air balloons floating overhead. The communication invites you to enjoy extraordinary experiences with the extraordinary Ford Endeavour.

This ad would have been watched by millions on TV, including Mr. Khanna, our friendly neighbour. So when you buy the car and drive it around, he and others around you notice it. They see the car you drive, what the brand means and you... and you, dear consumer, come out feeling like a winner. (And I'm sure, you also noticed the not-so-subtle brand plug above). It's no surprise that even the so called digitally native brands use television extensively to drive awareness and build their brands.

Of course, a Luddite is no marketer. All of this does not allay the tremendous influence of the internet and the digital medium. Both digital and television have their roles to play in the media mix. There is tremendous value when mass reach via TV is combined with sharp targeting on digital or when upper funnel messaging on TV is combined with lower funnel tactics on digital.

While critics argue with its pace, television is evolving too... it's getting smarter.

Mobile internet has been the great disruptor. Take a stroll in your building compound late at the night and you will see your building watchman glued to his mobile phone watching videos. Increasing penetration of mobile internet and dropping broadband prices means consumption of content anytime, anywhere. Star bundled TV and Hotstar for advertisers during IPL 2018 and Tata Sky offers subscribers access to channels on mobile devices too. Netflix will invest $8 billion to develop original content, and television will go beyond formula 'K' serials, because very soon the consumer will move on too.

It's no surprise that Netflix and Tata Sky got into a partnership earlier this year; one's got content and the other, scale. 'Time shifting' and 'binge watching' are now part of our lexicon. Smart Set Top Boxes that connect televisions to the internet will open new formats for advertising, such that audiences can be targeted via programmatic on television in addition to mass reach.

And finally, the 'C' word. Content (what else did you think this meant?), clichéd as it might sound, is king, as it's always been. Make good content and you will always find people to watch it, and advertisers to pay to reach them. Anyone who splits mediums as traditional and non-traditional is a charlatan; the only medium that should matter is what your TG consumes. Any marketer who doesn't know this yet is the only idiot in the drawing room.

(The author is General Manager - Consumer Marketing, Ford India. His message to readers: "The opinions expressed in this post are my own and other such disclaimers.")

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