Mumbai: Die-hard Aussie cricket fan Mark Henning does not discuss his passion for the game following Australia’s recent drubbing by India in the T20 series. However, the head of media and digital (Africa, Middle East, Asia Pacific) for Millward Brown (the brand communications and media research unit of WPP-Kantar), is happy to talk about his other passion: new media. Henning was in Mumbai on Tuesday to announce the launch of the India chapter of Millward Brown’s global partnership with ComScore, he talks about the changing role of digital media in brand strategy, the challenges for brands as consumers use ad-blockers, and choosing the right metrics to measure the impact of digital. Edited excerpts from an interview:

If digital media is so critical, why do the e-commerce firms in India use print so heavily to build their brands?

I think what the e-commerce companies are doing right now is building a big base of consumers. The focus is essentially on sales and not so much on brand building. It’s about getting new consumers to their platform. That necessarily means also getting people who are not already on digital into downloading their apps and shopping. For this, they need to use mass media like television and print.

What is the changing role of digital media in brand strategy?

I think it really opens up a range of different ways to communicate. This year, one of the things you will see as a big change is that rather than digital media being seen as one big whole, people will start looking at the different elements that digital has—social, search, YouTube versus Facebook etc. And start looking at them as individual pieces in their own right, understanding how to work within each of those pieces to get the best out of them in terms of what they communicate and how consumers are utilizing them.

“One creative fits all" has been the strategy for some brands that use shorter edits of their traditional media campaign for digital. What are the dangers of that?

Each platform that you put your video on is different. The way it is consumed is different, the mindset that people are in is different, therefore the way it communicates on that platform is different as well. Take YouTube for instance—it is a skippable format so if you don’t grab someone’s attention and get your brand in the first five seconds, then you might miss your opportunity to communicate because not everyone is going to watch the remaining piece. If you are on Facebook for instance, and you don’t have an image or the start of a video that will grab someone’s attention to get them to click on the ad, then you’re not getting your communication opportunity through. You really got to think how do I adapt what I’ve got to work best in that environment.

As consumers use ad-blockers and start paying for ad-free content, what are the key challenges for brand managers?

There are a couple of pieces to that. If the advertisements being created were better, more entertaining and relevant to consumers when they are viewing that platform, then they would probably not feel the need to implant ad-blockers. Point two, is that in an environment, we are competing for people’s attention and therefore we have got to earn that. There is no environment where consumers have as much control as they do in the digital environment. So we need to make sure that any content we bring in front of them is relevant. It could just be in the form of entertainment, amusement, a special offer or some new information they can know about a brand. But there has got to be some sort of transfer of ideas and utility for the consumers.

One of things we found from our AdReaction study earlier this year is that receptivity to advertising in digital environments was lower than in traditional media. The answer to that was not to force ads on people. The recommendation was...to give consumers an opportunity to engage with our ads and if they choose not to, let’s not force them to. Instead, create ads that are engaging, entertaining and relevant.

Everyone seems to be chasing clicks and likes on new media which don’t always translate into higher sales for the brand.

Choosing the right metrics is very important to measure the outcome of a digital campaign—something that we haven’t always got right in the digital space. We tend to use the metrics that are available rather than using metrics that are tailored to the objective. For instance, if I am a toothpaste brand, do I really care about how many people have really clicked on my advertisement? Ultimately, I am probably trying to make people aware of my brand and think differently about my brand. I don’t need someone to click on that ad to know that my ad was successful, I just need to know that I have got the message across and it has changed the perception about my brand. So, that kind of advertisement needs to be measured in a different way to assess attitudinal changes. On the other hand, if I am an e-commerce site, then measuring the clicks and purchases are the perfect measure.

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