afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

"Fraud is always going to be a cat and mouse game"

An interview with Ashwin Padmanabhan, head of trading and partnerships, GroupM India. This is part of a special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 10 of 31.

What, in your view, was your agency's best campaign of 2019? What about it impressed you?

One is the ongoing Myntra campaign, which is not a ‘campaign’ in the traditional sense. We created content and produced a reality show with Myntra, in which designers competed with each other to create new looks and styles, that were then amplified by influencers. This campaign used content to engage with consumers, as opposed to traditional forms of advertising. Similarly, the ‘Big Billion Days’ campaign for Flipkart was supremely successful.

From the P&G portfolio, Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’ campaign made waves. In fact, we’re seeing that grow into a bigger theme. It’s an example of a campaign that’s changing and creating culture.

In 2020, what is that big trend that ought to concern or excite media agencies?

Addressability is a big trend, not only with digital consumers but in the non-digital space as well. Second is the role content is going to play. I strongly believe advertising is going to move away from its traditional forms to resemble content pieces. It's not about doing four campaigns a year; it's about working together to create exciting content.

In the context of media planning/buying, what's the one global practice/trend India will do well to catch up with fast?

India will be one of the fastest growing markets in terms of ad spends. As an industry, we have leapfrogged two to three generations and are far ahead of other markets in terms of spending on digital. Focus is going to be on reaching the large volumes of people who are online today.

From a media spend perspective, which product groups do you suppose will be most affected by the economic slowdown that has crept up on us - and least?

No product group is unscathed, but there are some that are less affected, like the FMCG sector which has remained relatively stable. But for other consumer groups like consumer durables, auto, telecom, etc., it has been a bloodbath.

But instead of looking at product groups, if I look at ‘Indian companies versus foreign multinationals’, I think Indian companies are more stable right now. Indian corporations are aggressively maintaining their spends and are continuing to acquire more customers. Their inherent belief in the economy is stronger.

And within that, what consumption trends are you seeing in rural versus urban markets?

Let me take the example of our client Emami – mid to smaller towns is their key market. Despite all the economic stress, they’ve still maintained reasonable growth. The space is so large that we’ve been working continuously to grow different markets. Overall, strategy and execution are going to be critical for growth.

In the next 12 months, the solution to the digital ad fraud menace will come from…

We’ve been extremely paranoid about ad fraud. Brand safety is a big one for us, globally. We’ve partnered with multiple agencies and third party tech providers to ensure we provide the safest environment for the brands we manage.

We’ve launched an influencer marketing tool called INCA, which uses AI to find out which influencers have a genuine following and detect which ones are sourcing followers through bots and fraudulent sources. We as a group are investing in technology to fight ad fraud.

You have to constantly play this game. You’ll innovate to beat fraud, then the guys who want to carry out the fraud are going to innovate further… so it’s always going to be a cat and mouse game.

Note: This interview was conducted for the mid-March edition of our magazine afaqs!Reporter. It is a special issue dedicated to the top media planning and buying executives, who service some of India's largest advertisers. Market conditions have changed dramatically since this interview was first written and any apparent obsoletion therein must be seen in that context. To read/download all 31 interviews, please click here.