Can online advertising build brands in India?

The digital medium can’t match print when it comes to rational messaging and TV when it comes to emotional messaging


According to an update by Madison Advertising and Pitch magazine to their estimate for advertising growth this year, TV advertising will grow by 21% in India this year, against the previously estimated 10%. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
According to an update by Madison Advertising and Pitch magazine to their estimate for advertising growth this year, TV advertising will grow by 21% in India this year, against the previously estimated 10%. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

It has become almost heretical to question the ability of the digital medium and digital business models to do anything. Yet, the question in the headline bears repetition. Can online advertising build brands in India?

The answer to that question, at this point in time, is no.

As I write this column, Madison Advertising and Pitch magazine have released an update to their estimate for advertising growth this year—from 9.6% to 13.8%.

According to the update, the change is on account of the growth in TV advertising over the past six months.

Consequently, it has projected that TV advertising will grow by 21% in India this year, against the previously estimated 10%.

Much of this can be attributed to heavy advertising by e-commerce and digital companies.

From Flipkart and Amazon to Practo and Dailyhunt to Foodpanda to Quikr, every e-commerce and digital company worth its salt (and many that aren’t) have been advertising heavily on TV.

And in print, too, although the Pitch-Madison study doesn’t say much about this medium.

Indeed, the so-called jackets (sometimes double and triple jackets) on newspapers that have become ubiquitous in India, usually sport ads for e-commerce and digital companies. There are several reasons for this (apart, of course, from the fact that some $7 billion of venture funding has gone into Indian e-commerce and digital companies since January 2014).

One, large e-commerce and digital companies are discovering that traditional media—TV and print—works best to achieve their objective of reaching a mass audiences (and build share).

Two, smaller e-commerce and digital companies that are often crowded out of relevant digital media by the big boys are taking recourse to traditional media.

Three, traditional media is still the best way to reach customers in regional languages.

Four, the digital medium can’t match print when it comes to rational messaging and TV when it comes to emotional messaging.

Together, these have benefited traditional media, although the gains are likely to be temporary. Over time, as the digital media matures in India, and branded content and native advertising become more sophisticated, advertisers will move away from traditional media.

For now, however, executives in print and TV companies can only relish the irony of the situation—and laugh all the way to the bank.

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