Okay Google, show me the future
While 2017 may have been relatively quiet from an ad-spend perspective, advertisers and agencies were kept busy with exciting developments in digital technology, shifts in content consumption, the launch of new platforms and an increased scrutiny of marketing budgets, with demands for greater transparency and accountability.
What does 2018 hold? For starters, one expects a marginal recovery in ad-spend growth. The overall ad industry in India grew by 10% in 2017 (as per the GroupM TYNY report). The initial estimates by most agencies is a bit higher for 2018. India is one of the few markets where all media forms continue to grow, although digital will lead the pack. With almost all media extending into digital and almost all digital turning mobile, there is a blurring of lines. This has several implications for content owners, creators, brands and media measurement.
Keeping all these developments in mind, here are six key trends that will dominate 2018:
The Video Revolution
Enough has been written about the time spent by Indians on phones, consuming all forms of content. This rapid growth, fuelled by cheaper data costs, smartphones and a slew of content platforms has in one shot altered content consumption to make it a lot more personalised and on the go. It has brought the mobile screen to the forefront of communication planning. What started with shorter form content will increasingly move towards longer form and live content as infrastructure improves and bandwidth costs decline. We will see more television sets getting connected to the internet driving on-demand content on larger screens as well. The lines between digital and TV will blur even further. With TV + digital accounting for close to 60% of all ad spends, this figure could dramatically increase to around 80% in the near future, with the interplay of screens. As cross-screen measurement systems come into place, marketers will need to adapt campaigns to work in this environment. With many larger broadcasters launching their own OTT platforms, integrated media planning and buying across screens will take off in a big way. Savvier advertisers are playing the game accordingly while most others treat digital as a silo.
E-Commerce Becomes A Broader Change Agent
With 100 million plus consumers (still heavily under-penetrated compared to markets like China) and estimated annual sales of just under $18bn, eCom has reached a scale that makes it difficult to ignore. But beyond being a channel of distribution, it’s a broader change agent. It brings brands closer to consumers and provides a platform that closes the loop for marketers. But for many categories, the Top 10 brands in eCom are not necessarily the Top 10 in the traditional environment. This is making old world brands scamper to get their eCom act together. ‘Search’ on some of the leading eCom platforms is already reaching alarming proportions compared to regular search engines. One can expect to see a lot more media moneys being deployed to eCom platforms in 2018. Many more categories will warm up to the D2C opportunity including reimagining their brand portfolio and marketing processes.
A More Connected Adtech/Martech Ecosystem
Driven by the need for simplification through a more connected ecosystem, 2018 will deliver a more effective end-to-end campaign deployment process, with built-in accountability against viewability and ad fraud. The coming together of technology and data will help bridge the gap between strategy and execution. More media will be bought programmatically. We are seeing the emergence of assistants – if it was chatbots and recommendation engines earlier it is moving to an improved voice ecosystem driven by Alexa, Siri and others. We will start seeing brands leverage these technologies to drive even more micro-targeted messages. 2018 is also the year GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) becomes enforceable by the EU. This will have wide-ranging implications for the ad industry globally.
Media Measurement Will Plug The Gaps (hopefully)
Media measurement has generally struggled to keep pace with the changing landscape. The time is ripe to have an industry certified multi-screen measurement currency. BARC is working hard to put this currency into the market. We look set to welcome the new IRS (print readership study) after a long hiatus and the ABC Online measurement, if all goes well, in 2018. What we still need to work on as an industry is a common establishment study, giving advertisers a common base of media reach and audience profiles.
Tougher Accountability Standards
2017 was a year when many large advertisers questioned the effectiveness of digital platforms. Brand safety, Viewability and Ad Fraud are topics that grabbed headlines. Industry bodies like the MMA (Mobile Marketing Association) in India are working to develop viewability standards for India on lines of what has been established in the USA. GroupM has played an active role in developing these guidelines in the USA and is doing the same in India. These standards will be adopted in 2018.
Overemphasis On Media Pricing And Commercial Terms
We have seen an unprecedented number of pitches in the last one year. With most advertisers continuing to face severe cost pressures, we are likely to see clients get even more demanding on media pricing and commercial terms, mostly under advise from ‘pitch consultants’ looking to create a role for themselves. Tougher standards are welcome but unrealistic ones are bound to create ruptures that could damage clients and agencies.
(Srinivas is the country manager, WPP India and CEO, GroupM South Asia. Views expressed here are personal.)