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V Achuthan Kutty

CEO | 12 May 2003

Many traditional media planners and even clients would be familiar with that old chestnut - I know half the money I spend on advertising is a waste, the trouble is I don't know which half! Not true in the case of the Web. We deliver results and we get paid accordingly.

Bridge over TW is a full-service Internet Audience Development company. It helps clients develop interactive marketing strategies. V Achuthan Kutty, CEO of Bangalore based BridgeOverTW is an advertising veteran, and was working with Leo Burnett as Vice President before moving to his current assignment.

Internet strategies and marketing are topics closest to his heart. In this interview with Ritu Midha of exchange4media, he talks bout the growth of Internet in India, web beyond dotcoms, advertising options and payment models , B2B opportunities on the Net, importance of good creative in online advertising and lots more.

Q. Do you see a revival of dotcoms in the country?

It is unlikely that we will ever again witness the kind of frenzy that marked the appearance of dotcoms in the 1999-2001 period. That was a time when common sense lost out to greed and high expectations. Far too many business projections were made assuming that the eyeballs would follow automatically.

The key point to remember when re-appraising our perspectives towards dotcoms is that a dotcom is just that: a web address that happens to have a 'com' suffix. It is a business medium like any other. Having said that, it is unique in its applicability to each and every business and industry. Its focus must be defined by distinct objectives that it seeks to achieve.

If we use the Gartner's Hype Cycle model to explain where we in India are at the present moment, I would say that we are approximately at the fourth stage, the 'Slope of Enlightenment' stage where people and organizations put in a lot of hard work in understanding and using the technology and gaining a fuller understanding of its benefits.

However there will be more number of "Company Ware" websites that will come up. This is a natural follow up from the growth of private enterprise in our country and elsewhere.

Q. How would these sites be different in structure?

A large number of these Company Ware websites will borrow elements from regular portals to further their business interests. Let me give you an example, if a particular company is interested in a particular community then it could have a chat option, email, and bulletin boards etc., all of which are featured on regular mainstream portals.

Q. Increasingly, the dotcoms are disagreeing to charge on the basis of cost per acquisition. What is the best fee/payment model for the dotcoms according to you?

I guess what you are asking is that the dotcoms are disagreeing to be paid on the basis of CPA. Websites must realize that they are not exactly advertising vehicles; they are more akin to direct response vehicles. They lend themselves excellently to this concept. In direct response, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. Rather than fight a system which world over is increasingly looking at a completely number-driven, achievement-based, bottom line where established advertising agencies are being asked to be accountable for their tasks. Websites should, in my opinion, gear themselves to be in alignment with the marketing objects of clients.

Q. What has been your experience in the specific area of internet advertising?

Bridge has been involved with the Internet for the last four years and is currently one of the biggest buyers of media on the Internet in India. In this period of time, we have seen various advertising models such as CPM/CPL/CPA and hybrid models emerge. Today, we have reached a stage where a fixed plus variable model seems to be in favour. Bridge works with clients for whom the cost per acquisition model is being implemented successfully. We tell sites that this is the best and most transparent way of genuinely demonstrating their reach among audiences and to convince clients that their money is being well-spent. We have also increasingly begun experimenting with a performance-based fixed fee as a way to build relationships with sites.

Q. What is your opinion on pop-ups and other intrusive advertising? Does it not spoil the viewer experience?

You must bear in mind that the Internet is perhaps more than most other media, a technology-driven medium. Advertisers and organizations such as ours are constantly pushing the envelope to try and see which innovation helps us increase incremental efficiencies in addressing audiences. We cannot stop experimenting with techniques such as pop-ups, pop-unders, take-overs and the like because there is potentially a loss of opportunity. It is important to remember that much of traditional advertising media such as print, radio and television are intrusive media too, which allow the reader or viewer limited choice in "choosing" to receive the message. On the other hand, your browser does allow you the ability to control your surfing experience. As with other media, the essence lies in self-regulation. If advertisers believe that browsers are voting with their feet, believe me that that technology innovation will not last for very long!

Q. What are the best forms of online advertising in your opinion?

As consultants, we do not have an independent point of view on that question! Our job is to analyze and to recommend to our clients the best possible options in the light of empirical evidence. Banners were and continue to be a favorite, but worldwide their effectiveness has been at best, limited. Click thru rates are currently in the range of 0.5 - 0.7% for banner campaigns and range between 3-25% for email campaigns. However effectiveness of email campaigns is sometimes limited because of non-availability of well-profiled databases.

Lead generation or lead-capture forms work well in select industry categories, where the browser is in 'information-search' mode. Bridge continues to back and run with significant numbers of lead-generation campaigns currently and with very high levels of performance and success.

Other forms of advertising such as screen take-overs, wipes/dissolves, interstitials etc are at best curiosities.

Q. What, in your view, are online B2B opportunities for corporates?

As I said earlier, the best thing that has happened to the Web is that businesses have now become serious users of Web functionality and its benefits. With e-business beginning to assume a level of seriousness and acceptability among many large corporates, they are finding interesting ways of deploying or even migrating some of their business applications on to the Web.

There are several publicly-documented examples of success stories: B2B auctioning is one such area, with purchase managers able to obtain the best prices for surplus or damaged inventory. Tendering by several large public-sector corporates and in some cases, Government bodies, is also bringing in transparency into the process.

Q. What B2C opportunities are available on the web for the corporates beyond advertising?

Use your imagination, I tell our clients! The Web is not only a communication medium, but a business medium as well. We are working with one large national brand to help them move a significant part of their customer loyalty programme on to the Web! This will help us build digital relationships with key customers on a one-to-one basis and at a significantly lower cost.

Q. What is the scope of work in your organisation and what clients are you handling?

Bridge is a digital branding and marketing support Services Company. We handle the entire gamut of activities involved from strategy to creative to technology to fulfillment. We have dedicated teams spread across our three offices in Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai. Our client list currently includes Citibank, McDowell, Asian Paints, Wipro Technologies, Hindustan Lever and many more.

Q. How do you decide where to promote a brand? Is enough data available to make right decisions or is it intelligent guesstimates?

There have been several studies conducted by well-known research organisations to measure audience habits and we have access to several such studies. However, media research about the Web in India is an altogether-neglected area of research; over the past few years, we have acquired unique and specialist expertise on which sites work and which ones don't. And we are able to use these learnings to make predictions for specific categories and products/services in which our clients are interested.

Many traditional media planners and even clients would be familiar with that old chestnut - I know half the money I spend on advertising is a waste, the trouble is I don't know which half! Not true in the case of the Web. We deliver results and we get paid accordingly.

My advice to clients is this: the Web is an accountable medium. Demand performance from your agency, they must be able to put their money where their mouth is!

Q. How important a role does creative play in making online promotions work?

Very important. The Web offers unique opportunities in the sense that if you can dream it, you can do it. Having said that, I must add that creative needs to be tightly reined-in by a well thought-through strategy. If it is relevant and fits the audience profile, it will definitely work.

In traditional advertising, creative is 'King'. But on the web creative is usually sold by the kilo. And I believe that clients have to give a thought to this. They have to loosen their purse strings if they want better thought, leading to better creative execution, and better end results.

Q. What are the necessary ingredients of a good site?

The 3 C's: Conciseness, clarity and credibility

Q. Anything else…

One last word of advice to anybody who's thinking of putting up a website: avoid Flash animation and heavy graphics! It may look cool and snazzy, but serves little purpose. It is self-indulgent and rarely adds to the viewer experience; very often, it also detracts from the site's ability to deliver effective numbers of audiences because of significant dropouts.

Gartner's Hype Cycle is actually a five-part sequence:

1. Technology trigger. A breakthrough, public demonstration, product launch or other event that generates significant press and industry interest.

2. Peak of inflated expectations. A phase of over enthusiasm and unrealistic projections during which a flurry of publicized activity by technology leaders results in some successes but more failures as the technology is pushed to its limits. The only enterprises making money at this stage are conference organizers and magazine publishers.

3. Trough of disillusionment. The point at which the technology becomes unfashionable and the press abandons the topic, because the technology did not live up to its over-inflated expectations.

4. Slope of enlightenment. Focused experimentation and solid hard work by an increasingly diverse range of organizations lead to a true understanding of the technology's applicability, risks and benefits. Commercial off-the-shelf methodologies and tools become available to ease the development process.

5. Plateau of productivity. The real-world benefits of the technology are demonstrated and accepted. Tools and methodologies are increasingly stable as they enter their second and third generation. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or only benefits a niche market.

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