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THE last advertising agency on Earth. That was the ominous title of a fairly popular video on YouTube some time last year. The film, about what the future of advertising might look like (produced by an ad agency, by the way) took potshots at the traditional ad agency folks who have ignored the powerful impact of social media on consumers and brands.
Understandably alarmist, it in a way represents one school of thought: that social media is completely going to change the way traditional advertising works and that the 30-second TV spot is dead. And then there is the other school of thought which believes that the impact of social media on brands is over-rated and is dismissive of it even. The truth lies somewhere in between. The most awarded integrated campaigns of recent years (Old Spice, Bing to name a couple) have had strong social media components built in. And most of these were created by big, traditional agencies. Marketers and agencies have come to accept social media as an integral part of consumer’s lives and believe that smart use of the medium can create impact.
While a majority of marketers seem to agree on its potential, there are several questions in their minds on the right approach, implementation, monitoring and the talent required to manage the whole process. Investments in this space are yet to see the big numbers (save for certain categories such as autos, airlines, finance and telecom). Internet advertising in India accounts for just 5% of the ad spends with TV still leading the pack. A recent industry report expects internet revenues to go up to Rs 1,478 crore in 2012, a growth rate of 50% on a relatively small base. The air of uncertainty or tentativeness about the medium also stems from lack of clarity on how exactly the medium can help brands.
An IBM ‘Global Chief Marketing Officer’ study done in the fourth quarter of 2011 suggests that most CMOs worldwide, and in India, are “underprepared to manage the impact of key changes in the marketing arena”. Data explosion topped the worldwide list of underpreparedness with 71% of CMOs indicating so. Some 68% of the international CMOs surveyed are not in a position to deal with the rapid developments in social media.
All this means that stake holders in brand strategy and brand building must boost their own digital and technological proficiency. This could include not just being aware of social media basics and trends but knowing which tools to use to suit the brand’s business objectives – be it buzz monitoring, blogs, consumer reviews and so on. A ‘one size fits all’ approach may not work at all – one needs to be clear about the objective of each medium. A Twitter handle may be used to address consumer issues, as a customer service channel by one brand. But another brand in another category may use it to provide information on deals or as pure entertainment. A blogger outreach or a brand blog may make sense for niche categories like high end IT tech or maybe travel, fashion and music. Among the various social media tools available, it appears that a Facebook fan page has fast become de rigueur for most brands, irrespective of a real need. This requirement has now replaced the earlier ‘viral video’.
Whatever be the social media tool, it is important to remember that brands are intruders in that space. Unless we provide content that gives a strong, real reason for consumers to engage with brands in that space, the engagement will be at a superficial level. There are far too many brands (especially on Facebook) which have begun to follow a cookie-cutter approach to conversations with consumers.
Another aspect is the impact on ad agencies, especially those in account management. When specialist media services were hived off, the account management folks slowly began to lose touch with media basics and trends. Now with the increasing use of specialist digital teams there is one more area of brand communication that these guys are likely to be kept out of.
Keeping a pulse on the consumer meant something different just 10 years ago. Thanks to the explosion of data and devices, it takes on a whole new meaning today.
The writer is vice-president, DraftFCB Ulka Bangalore. The views expressed here are personal.