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E-commerce and elections.

That’s how most media buyers Mint spoke to characterized 2014, a year when advertising spends were expected to increase 12.5% according to a GroupM estimate issued in August (the original estimate of 11.6% growth issued earlier in the year was revised).

Instead, the business ended up growing 10% at the most, according to a several media buyers at leading advertising agencies.

“Advertising growth in 2014 was slower than expected," said Mallikarjun Das, chief executive officer (CEO) at media-buying firm Starcom Mediavest.

And that too came on the back of a 300-350 crore blitz by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the parliamentary elections that it won, another 200-250 crore by the Congress, according to a leading media-buying agency that declined to be identified, and around 750 crore by e-commerce companies including those that run popular sites Flipkart, Snapdeal, Jabong, Olx, and Quikr, according to data compiled by TAM Media Research, the television viewership-monitoring agency that also monitors advertising.

“The elections and e-commerce spending saved the day," added Das.

“E-commerce was clearly the dominant category showing a significant increase in spending," said C.V.L. Srinivas, CEO at GroupM, a media buyer.

Several E-commerce companies launched TV commercials. And, in the run-up to the festive season that started in October, many e-commerce companies went into advertising overdrive.

For instance, Snapdeal, owned by Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd, launched its most ambitious campaign in the build-up to the festivities for Diwali. “We strategically chose 28 of the most popular characters from the best-loved television shows across India to connect with our wide consumer base. The idea was to talk about Diwali Bumper sale, using characters that everyone relates to," said Sandeep Komaravelly, senior vice-president, marketing, at the company.

Das is not sure if e-commerce companies will remain as aggressive with their advertising in 2015, although many media buyers think they will.

Indeed, given that the economy is expected to grow faster in 2015-16 (by 6-6.5%, according to most estimates), they anticipate higher growth in advertising spends next year.

Interestingly, for a party that leveraged media to the utmost before the elections, the BJP went the opposite way once it came to power.

According to data from the Directorate of Audio and Visual Publicity, a part of the ministry of information and broadcasting, the government spent 251.9 crore on print advertising between April and November, 20.3% lower than in the same period a year ago. Spending on television also declined by 8.43% to 197.5 crore from 215.7 crore between April and November last year.

Print media saw revenues shrink owing to lower expenditure by the government. “Government advertising is almost at a standstill from the time the elections started", N. Murali, co-chairman of Kasturi and Sons Ltd, said in an interview in September. Kasturi and Sons publishes The Hindu and The Hindu Business Line.

The other big reason for print flagging was the move to digital.

“Media plans for most brands now begin with television followed by digital except for categories like education and real estate that still indulge in print ads," said Anisha Motwani, director and chief marketing officer, Max Life Insurance Co. Ltd.

At the beginning of the year, GroupM estimated digital advertising would account for 8% of all advertising in the year and grow by 35% compared with 2013. In reality, it ended up accounting for roughly 7%, and growing by 30%, Das said.

That will continue into 2015, says Srinivas of GroupM, who expects digital advertising to grow in excess of 35% next year.

“Digital is evolving as a flexible medium that allows consumers to engage with content in different ways, without being restricted by time or space as in traditional media. This makes it easier for brands to express the ‘Big Idea’ and generate a richer brand experience," said Chandrasekar Radhakrishnan, head of communications at Nestle India Ltd, in an interview in October.

Nestle was among the brands that took to YouTube in a big way.

Nestle’s Nescafé campaign on YouTube clocked more than 2.5 million views and over 50,000 shares, Radhakrishanan added.

Beverage maker PepsiCo India also launched two digital only ad campaigns during the year—“#GharWaliDiwali" and “#BackToSchool".

“One of the big shifts we are witnessing is the increasing adoption of digital by fast-moving consumer good (FMCG) brands. In fact, they have been a lot more innovative on digital media than most other categories. FMCG constitutes the bulk of the advertising expenditure, so even a small shift to digital media will have a big impact," observed GroupM’s Srinivas. Native advertising is beginning to take shape, he added.

Brands spent 750-900 crore on online video ads, Das said.

In 2013, advertising revenue, according to GroupM was 38,597 crore with television’s share at 16,860 crore, print at 15,068 crore and digital at 2,520 crore. Cinema, radio and outdoor, among others, made up the remaining. Ad revenue growth was an anaemic 4.6% for print while television grew at 13.8%. Digital revenue leapt 30% from a low base in 2013. GroupM declined to share the advertising growth rates for 2014 and said it would make its report public in January.

Srinivas said digital media advertising will continue to grow at over 35% and TV will show good double-digit growth. As for print, “regional language dailies will ensure print media grows though at a lower rate than television and digital. We expect cinema to have another good year, going forward. Overall, the ad sector is expected to maintain growth levels similar to 2014", he said without sharing numbers.

Experts see better times ahead. “There is a very high probability of interest rates being cut. If the Reserve Bank of India continues on this path, it’ll be a good catalyst for consumer spending to grow," said Jehil Thakkar, a partner and head of the media and entertainment practice at KPMG India.

Motwani, too, remained confident, “Optimism has increased largely due to the new government. We remain a sentiment-driven country. Everybody is hoping that more money will come into the country with new reforms," she added.

And e-commerce companies said they would continue to spend. “Those who have the willingness—and the wherewithal—to spend will likely continue to spend aggressively. The industry is growing fast and it makes total sense to invest in growth at this point. Even more so for players like us that are growing faster than the industry," said Pranay Chulet, CEO and founder of Quikr.com.

The forthcoming cricket world cup alone will attract ads worth 300 crore, according to a sports marketing expert who declined to be identified.

An Indian win would help.

Shrutika Verma contributed to this story.

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