New Delhi: Christian Juhl, chief executive of digital agency Essence, is bullish on India. Juhl was in Delhi between 5 and 7 March to review operations, meet clients and understand the market. Essence, which was acquired by WPP’s media agency GroupM in 2015, entered India in 2016. “India is our highest growth market. Globally, Essence is growing at 35% and I expect India to grow faster than that," Juhl said.

Essence works with clients across brand categories including tech giant Google, e-commerce platform Flipkart, auto major Honda Motorcycles, biscuit maker Britannia Industries and broadcasting firm Zee Network among others. In an interview, Juhl talks about key consumer trends. Edited excerpts:

What is Essence’s forte in India?

We are a digitally focused full-service agency which offers services both in traditional as well as digital media buying. At this point, we have done billings of $3 billion worldwide, half of which is in analog media (television and print). What makes us different is that although we started this agency based on data, technology and measurement but we are not naive to think that all television and print is going to be served digitally.

How big is content in advertising today?

As paid advertising has become more intrusive, we have seen the rise of ad blockers and skippable ad formats. In such a scenario, brands have to use content integration to connect deeply with consumers and be more meaningful.

We will continue to play major role in this area. The best place to integrate a brand message is content which a consumer is leaning forward to consume. It could be an article about fashion where an ad from Flipkart fashion can be subtly placed, or a web series about a married couple where running an ad of Google Home would fit brilliantly into the context. Anything that engages consumers either in form of text, pictures or videos is content and that’s where the brands should be.

Any interesting consumer trends specific to India that you can share?

I believe Jio offering cheap data has dramatically disrupted the market which has in turn spurred the video consumption which also penetrated smaller towns in India.

This assumes importance because households in these towns are mostly single television with an erratic supply of electricity which is leading to massive consumption of content on mobile devices. Since the Jio launch, the amount of data consumption has gone up by ten times. The cost of data is down to 17-18 cents per GB which is one of the cheapest data cost worldwide.

Social has always been big in the country with the popularity of Facebook and WhatsApp. Search is also growing rapidly. Social and video will drive growth for digital advertising in India. Brands are increasingly spending their ad money in these areas.

Where do you see video advertising going?

Fewer people are watching television that is definitely one of the trends which has driven the ad spends of digital video advertising. The rise of over-the-top (OTT) platforms and online video will see ad dollars shifting and we are closely watching the opportunities that will be available on these platforms.

But the crucial part here is that agencies and advertisers have to tweak the ad formats for these platforms. Mobile, as a platform, offers multiple options for advertisers from apps to paid content.

We have to be mindful and respectful of consumer journey and understand what formats will work for them. A forced pre-roll on a 15-second video is not a great idea. The biggest challenge with video advertising is brands editing 60-second television ads into 6-seconder ads for digital because it just doesn’t work.

Brands must also realize that context plays a huge role in video advertising. For instance, an advertising campaign on food recipes appearing in front of food content video is way more relevant than it appearing before a fashion video.

When will digital media surpass traditional advertising in India considering TV is still very strong?

I don’t have a date for you. Time is ripe in India. Last year, we have seen all big broadcasting networks aggressively entering the OTT space. They already know that the consumers are moving towards online and with the industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) introducing digital measurement, advertisers will be able us to measure both big (television) and small screens (mobile devices). Therefore, the evolution of both data and measurement ecosystem is going to enable us to plan better for clients. The share of digital will continue grow but globally analog and digital has reached a point where they are working together. Television is not dying and I believe the value will be delivered when we can combine the power of analog and digital media.

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