afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

"Publishers should open themselves to third party monitoring"

An interview with Vikram Sakhuja, Partner & Group CEO, Media & OOH, Madison Media. This is part of a special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 6 of 31.

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

My top pick would be the ‘Missing i’ campaign that we did for Tata Salt to bring out the importance of iodine deficiency; we wiped out the letter ‘i’ from all text the consumer read. It was done at scale, it was optimised for multiscreen presence, we utilised partnerships to make it work, and also used contextual triggers. That’s how we found the right consumer insights.

The other campaign we are very proud of is the BJP 2019 Lok Sabha campaign. It comprised seven mini campaigns, each corresponding to a phase of the elections. It involved planning and scheduling of several hundred creatives across TV and print, customised to different markets, while maintaining very strict implementation guidelines. This was operational excellence at its best.

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

Fraud and lack of viewability of digital media. Digital is a powerful medium that’s growing very well. Malpractices have the risk of eroding trust. And when you lose trust, the fall is off a cliff. Publishers should open themselves to third party monitoring. It’s equally important for advertisers to get agencies to invest in these tools.

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

Using data to deliver insight. Currently, DMPs are the new toy and we are mining data to target better. But the trick lies in uncovering an insight based audience profile rather than an affinity based one.

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?

Everybody is affected. The issue seems to be a combination of consumer demand and inadequate liquidity in the system. The FMCG segment is impacted relatively less. High outlay categories, where purchase can be postponed, are affected more.

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

Earlier, rural was growing much faster than urban. But in the downturn, rural is probably impacted a bit more than urban. That said, it is still performing a tad better than urban.

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

I would love to say that digital majors will open themselves to third party measurement, and that it will become the standard, but they will resist it. Ultimately, advertisers have to put their foot down. It is their money. They have to be reassured that their communication is being seen by the right people and being reported correctly. If a critical mass of advertisers, as a group, stands up to the giants, I am sure they will be listened to.

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

The combination of EQ, traditional planning skills, and digital planning skills is missing. Currently they operate in silos.

I wish clients would….

...spend more time asking how to spend marketing money more effectively, rather than wondering how to save marketing money. Which means, I wish they prioritised effectiveness over efficiency.

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.