afaqs! news bureau
The Planner’s Special

"This year will be tougher than 2019"

An interview with Nandini Dias, CEO, India, Lodestar UM. This is part of a special series of conversations with media agency heads - interview 30 of 31.

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

Early last year we won Spotify; the global music streaming service wanted to enter India, with a mix of Indian and international music, with over 40 million songs. We made the simple yet decisive call to go with an audience-first approach, leveraging data to identify a personalised connection with content, and eventually linking it to every single instance in the consumer's life.

We used neuro-imaging techniques coupled with mind-and-mood studies to co-relate music content with finely split user micro-moments, thus moving seamlessly from mass to individual content. With over 1,000+ micro-moments mapped across over three billion playlists, we personalised content at an unprecedented scale, through our People-Place-Moments (PPM) framework.

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

It’s exciting to see the coming together of two strengths, from the past and the future – the scale of legacy media with the personalisation of new media. Personalisation at scale is like an open and shut case for the future.

Here’s what should concern us: While marketers know that technology and data stacks will raise their brand scores, barely nine to ten per cent of them have a stack that they're using optimally. Brands that move with speed to put together an optimised, inter-operable marketing stack will have a major strategic advantage over brands that don’t.

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

That India is a complex and vast country is so true that it's a cliché. In many aspects, some of our databases are far more evolved than globally available ones. However, the global learning curve on digital, mobile and e-commerce is way ahead of ours. While in India we are comforted by the fact that traditional media - TV, print, radio - is still growing, we must pick up global lessons on digital. Our raw material is far superior but our mining processes are fairly dated. However, even globally, they haven't been able to agree on a common measurement metric for digital.

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?

This year will be tougher than 2019. While last year saw a decline in GDP, the fall in consumption was also due to emotional sentiments. This year, due to the global health crisis and the dependence on manufacturing from China, we will undoubtedly face added challenges.

While last year saw a dip in auto, BFSI and real estate, this year we will see challenges in durables, travel and tourism, fashion retail and pharma. Even if the consumer regains spending power, he/she is certainly spooked; it will be a while before they feel confident again.

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

In most downturns, high-income urbanites can withstand a depression far better and recover faster than their rural counterparts. The intensity is usually more in rural areas. Moreover, the monsoons haven’t been consistent, so the agri-economy has not had a very good time.

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

With advertisers investing more and more on digital it is inevitable that audit and transparency will have to come into play. While technology companies are working on this aspect, I think for every solution a new trick will emanate from somewhere. In India, BARC has been pushing for digital ratings and transparency for two years now. I truly hope we find a solution that is accepted unanimously across large digital companies.

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

That media has proliferated is beyond discussion. Lodestar UM, for instance, tracks over 68 touch-points through a single source study - Moments. Thus, specialists and integrated strategists are direly required. Also missing are data scientists and analysts.

I wish clients would...

…invest a bit more in research.

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.