New Delhi: Although spendings by consumer goods, telecom and automobile firms drive advertising revenues in India, it is social advertising that leads the industry when it comes to volumes.
According to data released by Mumbai-based television measurement agency TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, commercials with social messages took up 2,800 hours of TV broadcast time in the first six months of 2008, a rise of 18.5% over the same period last year.
This follows a trend set in the last two years. In 2007, social advertising topped the list at some 4,960 hours of airtime, compared with 3,965 hours that aired commercials by mobile phone services companies, followed by consumer goods, soft drinks and two-wheeler ads. In the previous year, social messages were aired for 3,130 hours, that grew by as much as 58% in 2007.
Experts say these impressive volumes were achieved largely on the back of discounts and bonus airtime.
“The government gets enormous discounts from networks who have a special government rate card that is different from all other categories,” said Chirantan Chandran, general manager at MindShare, a media-buying agency.
The low advertising rate for social messages are agreed to by networks which use these advertisements to service their own corporate social responsibility initiatives, he added.
Social advertising is primarily funded by the Indian government through its Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity, or DAVP.
Eight of the top 10 advertisers in the social advertising category stemmed from government ministries and agencies that include health and family welfare ministry, National Aids Control Organisation, consumer affairs ministry, National Food Security Mission, department of women and child development, agriculture ministry and Bureau of Energy Efficiency.
“We have increased our presence on television because there are more government programmes of social benefit to communicate to the masses and television is the best medium to reach out to them,” said Ira Joshi, additional director general at DAVP.
However, the impressive volumes this category represents is not reflected in the value these advertisers pay for the airtime compared with what a company or industry segment has to pay.
For instance, a media buyer who wished to remain anonymous estimated that consumer goods firm Hindustan Unilever Ltd, or HUL, alone spent Rs500 crore on TV commercials in 2007. In comparison, the government’s budget for social messages was no more than Rs80 crore in that year.
State-owned broadcaster Prasar Bharati, that manages close to 30% of the government’s advertising spends, offers 60-250% of bonus airtime.
“If the business is worth less than Rs2 crore, the government gets 60% of airtime free, and if it is over Rs15 crore, then they qualify for a 250% bonus,” said Sunil Jain, program executive at development communication department, a unit of Prasar Bharati dedicated solely to government business. Jain added that while big advertisers such as HUL also get free airtime for bulk deals, “the government’s ad schemes are far greater and fixed, no matter how big or small the spending is.”
“All our channels have a special tie-up with DAVP, where we offer them advertising deals which are 30-40% below market rates,” said Rohit Gupta, president of network sales at Multiscreen Media Pvt. Ltd, earlier known as Sony Entertainment Television.
“Our channels have to enlist themselves with DAVP and usually they give you a rate, which is about 20-30% lower than the regular rate for the particular channel or the time band the ad is appearing in,” said a spokesperson for Star India Pvt. Ltd, who declined being named.
Besides lowered rates, industry experts believe it is also the growth in the number of television channels that provided greater opportunities for the government to communicate its efforts.
“The surge in government advertising is incidental to the growth in the TV space where the hundreds of new channels have also made advertising on TV more affordable,” said Prathap Suthan, national creative director at Cheil Communication, who had managed the government’s “India Shining” campaign in 2003.
“Till a few years ago, the government communicated mainly through print or public radio,” said Basabdatta Chowdhuri, chief executive of Madison Media Plus, a unit of Madison Communications Pvt. Ltd, “but now the government is adopting television as their primary media because it gives the government the visual benefit to show rather than tell the masses of the efforts undertaken.”
Meanwhile, experts also belive that the reason for the growing volumes of government ads could very well be next year’s general election.
“There is no other way for people to know what the government is doing unless they advertise,” Suthan said. “However, the negative side to this is that these ads are also a way to woo votes — the implied message is ‘this is what we’ve done, so please vote for us.’”
“The Bharat Nirman campaign that was aired regularly during the most popular TV event, Indian Premier League (cricket tournament), is a clear campaign for the Congress party telling viewers the progress they have bought about in rural areas. It was clearly Congress propaganda,” said Madison’s Chowdhuri.