afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

"Our homes are being ‘Alexa-fied’, ‘Google-fied’, ‘Siri-fied’"

An interview with Jyoti Kumar Bansal, CEO, PHD India. This is a part of the special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 2 of 31.

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

There are many, from ‘Skobot’ (AI powered chat bot for Skoda) to ‘Chasing the Sun - Dong Valley’ for Volkswagen, to the deep data-driven marketing work for HP. My personal favourite was conceived in 2019 but will come to life in this year – watch out for it.

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

If the last couple of years have been about video, the next big wave is voice – be it in a new smartphone, gadget or in an AI-enabled avatar. PHD’s book Sentience had projected that voice-enabled assistants will permeate our lives in multiple ways by 2020. And today, our homes are being Alexa-fied/Google-fied/Siri-fied. Just as Millennials and Gen-Z can’t imagine a world without mobile phones, people born in this decade won’t understand a world without voice-commanded devices.

My seven-year-old daughter thinks nothing of talking to the search bar in her tablet to find the video she wants to watch, or telling Alexa to play a song she wants to dance to, or discovering that she can listen to bedtime stories at her command, or telling Miko to help out with her homework. A whole generation is growing up talking to machines and gadgets as naturally and comfortably as they talk to human beings. So the questions for marketers are: How will my brand talk to consumers? Am I ready to leverage this?

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

The collision of OTT, CTV (connected TV) and linear TV is creating a new world of planning, buying and selling. The opportunities and challenges that come with this are exciting. Addressability and precision marketing are going to challenge us to create new ways of defining and reaching people. This new world will belong to brave advertisers who don’t get stuck in TV rating-based transactions and metrics.

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?

Products that people can defer purchasing, or reduce their consumption of, will be affected much more than those that are ‘immediate’ and utilitarian. As technology changes the way people eat, shop, browse and consume content, product groups that enable these behaviours will see an upsurge in spending. Segments like education, online shopping, and content consumption have been on a growth trajectory, and are upending categories that have traditionally been high spenders.

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

The mobile screen is narrowing the gap between urban and rural markets; intent and desire are similar across the two, and are constrained only by the availability of disposable income. Across brands, while urban and higher income audience segments continue to hold strong, growth trends are coming from farther out. Technology is allowing companies to reach wider audiences faster. As e-commerce players enable rural Indians to buy the same product at the same price as their counterparts in large towns, the democratisation of consumption will soon be a reality.

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

A mix of technology and human vigilance. Technology will provide the tools. At the human level, having a deeper understanding of this technology will allow us to take quick action, and put the cost associated with deploying such technology into perspective.

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

Truly creative digital talent is definitely missing in media agencies. Also missing are creative technologists and people who can unleash the power of AI and machine learning for agencies and advertisers. We also need to upgrade investment teams and bring in a mix of Spock and Captain Kirk – immensely logical, yet focused on humans… in a data-driven world it is easy to lose sight of the humans who generate all that data in the first place.

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.