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Embrace powerhouses like Google and Facebook for best results: Jack Uppal, General Motors

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Embrace powerhouses like Google and Facebook for best results: Jack Uppal, General Motors

Jack Uppal, ‎VP Marketing and Customer Experience at General Motors, spoke about the scope and challenges of digital advertising in the context of the automotive sector on Tuesday at the presentation of the DAN E4M Digital Report.

He began by saying that the auto industry has been a laggard when it comes to adoption of digital and mobile advertising. He attributed that to the distribution model of the auto sector where the retailing sits within the business and the OEM is primarily the wholesaler. This he said has enabled the sector to deliver a seamless experience to the consumer offline.

The digital transformation is now in its second revolution, he said. Recalling that in the 1980’s companies were just setting up the efficiency and effectiveness of desktop websites, he said that we are right now in a place where we are pretty much digitised but really moving on to be mobile platforms. “That will continue at an even more rapid pace as bandwidths expand from 4G to 5G.”

Uppal said that over the coming three years share of ad spends on the digital medium is expected to increase to 30 per cent from 12 per cent driven by the digital and mobile platforms. “You cannot approach digital from the aspect of display ads or just a certain part of the customer journey. You really have to build an internal strategy to digitise the entire customer journey,” he said.

Digitise entire customer journey

Uppal stressed on the idea that digitisation needs to be looked through the lens of the entire customer journey and not just as the advertising phase or the awareness phase or brand awareness. “In the last 10-12 years what has really happened in the digital space is that a customer looking for an automobile makes half the buying journey online and then completes it offline in a traditional brick-and-mortar retail store. E-commerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart have revolutionised that by digitising every touch point in the customer’s journey. “We are looking at giving a customer a similar experience at every point in her journey like finding financing options, test drives, and eventually delivering the product. It will end up becoming a customisable and personalied experience,” he said.

Measurement is a challenge

Uppal said that one of the challenges in digital advertising is the measurement of return on investment in the digital space. Intuitively, because everything is data driven and there are tangible numbers to impressions, reach, and so on so forth, the belief is that measurability should not be a problem at all, he said. That is a misconception he said, explaining that it is not possible to accurately consistently predict online measurement. This is the case because the industry is still in its infancy and growing at an exponential rate, the data that comes through is inconsistent. “As organisations look at the measurement from a campaign level or transactional level, the ROI cannot be equated to what one is actually spending in the marketplace driving the sales. Couple that drawback with a sector like auto which is very capital intensive, measurability is a huge challenge that needs to be overcome,” he said.

Using programmatic buying taught us that we were no longer chasing leads in the market. “What we were doing is providing customer experience with high value content and the actual buying of the ad space or content space is being done based on the consumer behaviour and where our brand and the target audience want to interact. The net result is that we have improved our conversion rate - almost close to 4 per cent - in eight months. The benchmark in the auto sector globally is 8-9 per cent,” he said.

Uppal added that Chevrolet is also implementing the programmatic buying model in the traditional space like TV and not just in the digital space in the US market. Building in house data capabilities to analyse and understand customers is going to be key to monetise data, he added.

Embrace FB and Google

Uppal said that there is a need for standardisation and objective measurement in the digital space. “The solution does not lie in having a stand-off with the giants like Facebook or Google. We have formed a collective partnership with these powerhouses. We do not go to them at the end of our brief when the content is ready and ask for help with promotion and engagement. We invite the stakeholders at the stage when the brief is going in. We invite Facebook and Google and define what the brand goals are, what the KPIs are, and how the campaign needs to run. This has helped bring accountability to the table.” He was of the belief that rather than isolating the brand from Facebook or Google, it is advisable to collaborate and work together.


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Prior to joining Madison PR in 2012 Chaudhary was Group President Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited.