afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

"Media agency business margins will continue to be a concern"

An interview with Himanka Das, chief executive officer, Vizeum India, Dentsu Network. This is part of a special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 9 of 31.

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

It was our award-winning ‘Festive Treat’ campaign for HDFC.Despite the media-cluttered festive season and challenging macro environment that dampened all ‘festive purchases’, this campaign led to 15 per cent growth in the assets business and over 25 per cent growth in card spends.

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

Media agency business margins will continue to be a concern. In a digital economy, the excitement lies in empowering our people and brands, and in transforming our business through the intelligent application of talent, technology and scale.

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

We have the best and most competent talent here. The work done by our Indian leaders has been acknowledged and they’ve been assigned global roles. Having said that,I’ll add - we need to catch up fast in our ability to package our communication framework as world-class.

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?

Consumption is one of the key growth drivers of the economy. When discretionary spends start to go down during a slowdown, categories that could get affected are real estate, auto, premium mobile phones, and consumer durables,as they come with much higher price tags and are often linked to non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), that are now staring at a liquidity crunch.

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

Rural consumers strive to purchase branded, high quality products. India’s rural consumer markets are expected to grow faster than urban consumer markets. Various studies and reports clearly show that rural consumers are evolving towards a broader notion of ‘value’, which is essentially a combination of price, utility, aestheticsand features. This hasn’t happened by chance; it’s the result of the conscious effort taken by the Government of India toimprove the infrastructure in rural areas. Consequently, there’s more movement of goods and services across these regions, which, in turn, improves the earning potential of people in rural areas. As a result, consumption increases.

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

Digital fraud occurs when, using bots and fake users, the impact of a campaign is inflated and advertisers are charged unjustifiedfees. In India, mobile apps are the biggest contributors to fraud, accounting for 85 per cent of the total damage. And as video formats gain traction, fraud is becoming even more rampant. Viewability remains a problem too, becausewe don’t have a common industry currency to measure a ‘view’against; we still haven’t agreed upon what duration qualifies as ‘a view’. Solutions to these problems will come when we deploy technologyto prevent ad fraud.

What kind of specialisation/talent is missing in media agencies today?

The concept of ‘offline’ and ‘online’ has jeopardised the industry and has confused talent hunters. A hybrid skill-set is extremely valued in the emerging media agency ecosystem. Although specialists, connectors, and soloists can excel too, it’s versatility that will help us tap into the drivers of customer behaviour. We need people who can make inferences from multivariate data sources. Next-gen professionals will be adept at emerging core disciplines like mobile, analytics, social, web, search, and content.

I wish clients would...

We have to conduct ourselves in a manner that makes clients want to embrace us as true business partners.

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.