Ashwini Gangal

What is the role of TV advertising in the revival of consumption?

Does the good ol’ television commercial have a ‘larger’ role to play today? Can it stimulate consumer demand in a precariously placed economy?

Recovering from a Rs. 14,000 crore dip in AdEx is not going to be easy for the market. But the upcoming IPL, Diwali and resumption of fresh content on TV bring hope to the media industry.

Between March and August this year, TV advertising suffered more in terms of value and “ticket sizes” than on the ad volumes front, as Prathyusha Agarwal, chief consumer officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, pointed out at the start of a panel discussion I moderated earlier this week.

I’ve captured the highlights of the hour-long session in this article. To watch the full discussion click here.

Everyone in the television business -across programming, production and sales- has started moving towards the road to recovery. In such an environment, can the TV commercial catalyse spending and nudge viewers back into the consumption cycle?

The lockdown brought the otherwise splintered family back in front of the television set as one unit; “marketers need to re-think their (advertising) language for the family as a whole – the ROI then will be phenomenal” said Zee’s Prathyusha, going on the liken popular TV soap characters with influencers who’re more relatable than movie stars and not as “micro” as their social media counterparts.

Also Read: "TV ad volumes in unlock period surpasses pre-COVID volumes by 12%": BARC, Nielsen Report

For categories like health-and-wellness, hygiene and immunity, that are already enjoying high demand, TV advertising will help sustain the momentum and fuel the battle for growth and market share, said Vivek Sharma, chief marketing officer, Pidilite Industries (parent of Fevicol). “But for categories that are not growing, like four-wheelers, two-wheelers, hospitality, luxury and durables, TV advertising can help stage a comeback,” especially on the back of promising rural consumption and the upcoming festive season.

“Demand is going to come mostly from small towns and rural areas, where the advertising reach of TV is still the highest and cheapest,” he said, adding that TV advertising will have to be complemented by digital, in the absence of erstwhile support mediums like cinema, outdoor and activation. Sharma also pointed out that marketing campaigns, including those on TV, will have to be “a lot more regional and local” hereon, due to “uneven supply” and disrupted distribution pipelines across many states. Pidilite's marketing mix is very region, city, zone and cluster-focussed.

During the worst phase of the lockdown, e-commerce played a significant role in keeping the demand for goods and products across categories going. E-commerce is a conduit for other categories to get their distribution piece right and it’s a category in itself with all the trappings of branding, advertising and competition. Vikas Gupta, vice president and head of the digital, marketing, customer businesses at Flipkart, spoke about the way e-comm became the “provider of essentials” for the nation, overnight. This mandated some dramatic changes to the business model and the P&L mechanics at the backend, especially in the case of low cost items (say, a mop).

“Existing customers were looking for more categories and more products, and a whole lot of people who were on the fence earlier wanted to buy on e-commerce,” Gupta said, about the first-time users Flipkart encountered during the lockdown, adding, “At that time it was not so much about marketing; it was more about adapting to the new reality, supply logistics and servicing the demand.”

Also Read: Producers talk about shooting in the 'new normal'

Later in the discussion, Flipkart’s Gupta added about the adoption curve of e-comm users, “There are people who buy across categories, those who’re just dipping their toes and maybe buying just one category, those who browse a lot and still don’t feel comfortable enough to buy anything, and those who’re yet to come (online to shop).” Addressing each type of user differently will be important, hereon. While the Flipkart app affords a lot more touchpoints to influence existing customers, mass media broadcast communication will help the team address the fears of those who’re very new to e-commerce.

Similarly, TV is expected to become the means through which brands will convince people to try their products, say, first-time insurance buyers. In the case of digital-led, mobile-first brands like fin-tech/wallets or e-learning apps, advertisers will need TV to target first-time users who’re not digitally savvy; for existing users, digital advertising may work better. TV also becomes important for advertisers who’re banking on low priced SKUs in small towns for their revival.

Making a case for invitational messaging over desperate ‘product push’ type advertising, Josy Paul, chairman, BBDO India, said, “TV needs to borrow more from social media – interactive and immediate…” Thus far, TV has been appraised as a long-term brand building medium, but since March, advertisers have been using it as one that offers immediacy and can change behaviour, at scale, in the here and now, especially when used in tandem with digital (say, a Swiggy TVC that makes you grab your mobile to place an order).

Television will help advertisers “take advantage of the pent up demand” that we’re about to see, according to Amer Jaleel, group chief creative officer and chairman, MullenLowe Lintas.

Also Read: What's in store for TV in the second half of the financial year?

While Zee’s Prathyusha called TV a “steady state, habit kind of medium”, BBDO’s Josy called it a “sentiment medium”. Pidilite’s Sharma said, “TV gives a sense of normalcy and scale”. Mullen’s Amer called TV ads “culture defining”.

Amer also cautioned against “opportunistic advertising”, a negative trend that’s already crept in; several advertisers are, quite transparently, taking advantage of consumers’ anxiety by making unrealistic anti-corona claims.

Amer’s team is working with Marico on a campaign for Veggie Clean, a solution that helps clean groceries. So TV will also aid the process of category creation in the days ahead.

The Panelists
The Panelists

I think the syntax of TV ads has changed since March – we no longer see randomly picked causes slapped onto products and ‘brand activism’ has fizzled out. Instead, advertisers across categories have collectively pivoted towards a new, ‘suraksha’ narrative. "The context (of the pandemic) has been thrust on them,” BBDO’s Josy explained.

Most ads released on TV today, do seem to capture the zeitgeist in some way; they either reassure, educate or placate. Hard sell is starting to appear tone deaf and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

“All brands have a responsibility towards the country – it’s not just about brand building, it’s about nation building,” Mullen’s Amer said, citing the example of his agency’s Kaam Wapasi campaign, about a tech platform for India’s migrant workers who’ve been caught on the wrong side of the pandemic.

Television Week (August 24-28, 2020) is a webinar series organised by afaqs! and sponsored by Nickelodeon.

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