The online media campaign by L.K. Advani, the prime ministerial aspirant from the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, is among the many high-voltage political activities being undertaken by parties ahead of the general election starting next month. BJP’s online advertisements on Google, the global search engine, are looking to drive traffic to the official blog being written by the octogenarian politician. This online involvement by a mainstream political party comes on the back of growing interest in the medium by a host of companies across sectors such as consumer goods, telecom and technology, all of whom are reaching out to young Indians.
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In January, Google opened its social networking site Orkut to advertising campaigns. Google’s optimism is shared by other online media companies such as Yahoo! India Pvt. Ltd, which has hosted nearly 25 new product launches on its website in the last three months. According to Internet marketing research firm comScore Inc., at the end of December, about 78% of the country’s 50 million online users accessed Yahoo! Mail and instant messaging services in India.
Creative pitch: The Web is really a form of direct marketing that offers the power of 1:1, says OgilvyOne Worldwide’s Mohanachandran. Ashesh Shah / Mint
“Google search and Yahoo! are at the top of my media plans at present,” says Vishal Chinchankar, assistant vice-president, Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, or R-Adag.
It’s not as if the digital advertising industry is immune to a slowing economy. According to the Pitch-Madison Media Advertising Outlook for India 2009, Internet or online advertising grew by 45% in 2008 to touch Rs363 crore, accounting for a 1.7% share of the total advertising pie estimated at Rs20,717 crore. The current economic downturn is expected to peg its growth rate down to 25% in 2009—but online advertising will still register the highest growth rate compared with other media such as print advertising (0%), television (7%) and radio (15%). Outdoor media and cinema ad expenditures are actually expected to shrink by 20% and 5%, respectively, according to the report.
It is this economic dividend that online media companies are looking to reap as they woo the high spenders in the consumer products, telecom and technology sectors. “With about (a) 2% share of the total advertising spend, (the) Internet as a medium is not getting its fair share of spend,” says Pearl Uppal, director, sales, Yahoo! India—particularly as online media companies believe the digital platform has reached a tipping point. With 35 million active users out of an Internet user base of 50 million, online platforms now offer targeted reach to urban consumers that rival mainstream print publications.
Piquing interest: An online advertisement can kill the distance and time between seeing an advertisement and actually going to the shop, says Madison Media Plus’s Sharma. Rajkumar / Mint
“In Mumbai city alone we have about three million users,” says Ajit Balakrishnan, founder and chief executive officer of Internet portal Rediff.com India Ltd.
“Web is really a form of direct marketing; it offers the power of 1:1. So in a period of slow growth, when advertisers are trying to hedge investments, this medium is generating interest,” says Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director, digital services, OgilvyOne Worldwide, India, and Neo@Ogilvy, India (Neo@Ogilvy is the digital media division of OgilvyOne Worldwide). Mohanachandran’s team has created online ads for consumer brands such as Cadbury 5star, Mentos and cellphone brand Nokia.
“While the online medium is still in its infancy, definitely we’re seeing things change very, very quickly in the last eight months,” says Rishi Srivastava, consumer and online marketing officer, Microsoft India Pvt. Ltd, who attributes the interest in online media to changing consumer tastes and the need to get higher returns on investment, or RoI.
Tipping point? With about 2% share of the total advertising pie, the Internet as a medium is not getting its fair share of spending, says Yahoo! India’s Uppal. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
According to industry experts, the biggest advantage that the online platform offers is measurability, followed by interactivity. “An online advertisement can kill the distance and time from seeing an advertisement and actually going to the shop. This conversion from generation of interest to actually buying a product is limited only by the adoption of e-commerce by companies and acceptance of it by consumers,” says Praveen Sharma, chief operating officer, Madison Media Plus.
Currently, ads from Web portals, financial services companies, information technology and automobile firms rule the online media. Telecom and consumer goods are expected to enter the space in a big way. “Sectors such as consumer durables will become big online as consumers first get online to research, compare and then buy, for instance, products such as LCD TVs, handsets,” says Sharma.
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“The product and the target audience are the main factors for adopting online advertising early on,” says Hemant A. Soreng, head, global interactive hub and Asia Pacific interactive, Lenovo Group Ltd. The transnational computer maker works closely with online media companies such as Google Inc. and MSN, using multiple online platforms such as search, display, email and mobile Internet advertising to reach customers, get a response and sell to them.
“Our goal is to leverage each medium for its strengths, which often leads to the highest marketing RoIs,” says Kshitij Mulay, head, Asia, digital marketing, Procter and Gamble Co., or P&G. “In picking the Internet, we are looking for targeted reach and interactivity.” P&G tied up with Zapak.com to promote its shaving razor, using online casual gaming as a peg to reach consumers.
“Our pitch begins with creativity, finally it is a question of perception; companies must believe that they can build brands online,” says Mohanachandran. “Look at what we could do with (the) Nokia enterprise series—by using the Dilbert character, we built a campaign where consumers could make a significant choice—on both the E71 and the E51 (models). Finally, it is up to the marketer (to decide whether) online is just a medium to sell or one to build a brand.”
“Lenovo has arrived at an optimal spend mix for each of the online media vehicles such as search, display, email and mobile,” says Soreng, who expects to add social sites into the ad mix this year.
Such tweaking of online platform spending will grow more intense this year as marketing professionals face increasing pressure to squeeze as much value as possible from their online spending, says the Online Advertising Predictions for 2009 report by Forrester Research Inc. “They will be looking to make more of technologies like targeting and measurement,” says Emily Riley, lead author of the report that was released in January.
The ability to tweak campaigns and add creative features is the reason that online spending is kindling interest among traditional businesses. For instance, Tata Tea Ltd has made political activism the centrepiece of its marketing campaign. “The Jaago Re One Billion Votes campaign seeks to empower and facilitate the citizens of this nation to cast their vote and fits in with our core brand proposition,” says Sangeeta Talwar, executive director, marketing, Tata Tea. The company’s one-stop online website for all voter queries has received 1.5 million visitors and has 350,000 registered users, says Talwar. “The Internet is a unique medium that enables targeted advertising, immediacy of messaging and provides a direct measure of return of investment,” she says, listing the reasons why the tea company advertises on online platforms such as search engines and social networking.
To be sure, the lack of an industry-wide standard for audience measurement is hurting digital marketing in India. “Also, there is the question of what should be measured—should it be sales or leads?” asks Balakrishnan.
“Most mature markets have a choice of two or three measurement standards that are widely used,” says Amar Goel, chief executive officer, Komli Media Pvt. Ltd, which has launched Komli ViziSense, an audience measurement tool that tracks visitor demographics to help advertisers access and understand their online audience better.
Points out Forrester’s Riley: “By ignoring cross-channel or multi-ad effects, marketers are literally leaving money on the table by not knowing which of their brand or display media buys were most effective.” Riley expects measurement tools such as Atlas and DoubleClick, which now offer measurement of a chain or path of messages, to fare well in the global online advertising market through 2009.
That cybercafes remain the most popular way to access the Internet has had its effect on online advertising in India. “This reflects in most of the personalization elements of Web 2.0 like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and widgets failing to take off,” points out Mohanachandran. The other difference is Google’s near monopoly in search in India. So media planning using search is usually a one-vehicle show, he says.
However, it is advertising on mobile phones that is set to be the big draw for companies. A February study on mobile phone usage by Nokia India Pvt. Ltd and TNS India Pvt. Ltd found that mobile users accessed the Web for 2.4 days a week compared with 2.7 days for those accessing the Web via personal computers, or PCs, while 28% of users accessed product information on the Internet via their mobile phones compared with 26% via PCs.
“We believe mobile is the medium which will help our brands connect with the next one billion consumers,” says Mulay. “Given (that) 1.2 billion of the world’s 2.4 billion mobile subscriber base is in Asia, we see a strong upside for this in markets like India and China.”
It is this mobile Internet opportunity that D. Shivakumar, vice-president and managing director, Nokia India, expects to translate into business on the ground. “By 2011, there will be 500 million mobile phone subscribers in India, of which 50 million will be accessing the Internet on their phones, another 200 million will be listening to the radio on their phones while 100 million will have music-enabled handsets. This is the most obvious medium to reach a consumer,” he says.
These are trends most marketers are waiting for. “Mobile Internet advertising is the future. With the launch of iPhone and now 3G, usage of Internet through mobile will only grow,” says Lenovo’s Soreng.
The other online platform that is attracting attention is online video, with Rediff’s iShare and MSN Videos grabbing eye share. “Online video can be a great complement to sustain a campaign, as Unilever Plc. showed with the Clearasil campaign on MSN Videos,” says Srivastava, talking about how a recent video of Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni speaking at the New Zealand parliament was featured on the MSN website with a Clearasil advertisement preceding it.
“The bread and butter (for) online platforms now are search and display but the faster growing element is online video and I think it is the role of agencies to get marketers to appreciate the possibilities this medium offers,” says Mohanachandran.
Clearly, as the need to optimize advertising budgets increases in a slow-growing economy, the attraction of online media, with its reach, flexibility and measurable RoI, will make this the medium to watch out for.
Graphics by Monica Gupta / Mint