Sanjay Nazerali, Chief Strategy Officer at Carat Global, believes that the best blueprint for a media plan is life. He does not subscribe to the idea of chopping up mediums into standalone entities and feels planners should look at media plans as one seamless medium which reflects the consumer’s life. In India recently, to participate in Goafest 2017, we caught up with him for a freewheeling discussion that touched on the recent issues surrounding digital advertising, the future of advertising and the elusive God Metric, among other things. Excerpts.
Where do you think advertising is headed, considering we live in a world where people increasingly think ads are intrusive?
I think it (The future) is so beautiful. I think it comes down to one word – value. We need to give the audience value. The days of we being able to shove our commercial messages down people’s throats are, beautifully and happily, coming to an end. Now, we are having to do information, education, utility. We are having to offer value to the consumer and the audience. For me, that is a beautiful place to be, because it is making us less lazy. We were lazy once upon a time when we felt that we could just say, “Hey listen, we can make your clothes a bit whiter.”
Now, we are having to say, “We know you are busy. We know you have that terrible stain on something. You want to come here, we will give you 4 tips on how you might be able to deal with that better than ever before, and if you have any friends, you might want to share this button with them if it helped you save time. If you want to stay in touch with us, we will let you know about any new scientific developments that will help you save even more time.”
This is true added value and it is about brands having humility, honesty, and decency. It is very old fashioned in a way. I know it is new, but it takes us back to the very old fashioned values. I think that will happen with content marketing primarily, rather than a traditional 30-second ad.
How do you take something that is a mass media like TV, print or OOH, and something like digital, which is more targeted, and generate this value?
I think a media plan is a fake approximation for a person’s life. Throw away the media plan, look at how they are living their life moment to moment and minute to minute, and at the point where we can we add most value. For me, that starts to create the connection between offline and online, and between digital and analogue, which is, how can I tell a story across these mediums.
We haven’t cracked that yet. We haven’t cracked how to use life as a media plan.
Why is this so?
Because we commoditized the world into television, print, and digital. We chopped up life into an Excel spreadsheet. And the reason why I am so passionate about Carat is because I feel Carat is an agency that gets closest to real people and how real people lead their lives. What they want at a particular moment in time and how you go beyond media plans and look at life as a media plan. That is why I am excited about the work Carat is doing in India, especially in the outdoor and experiential space.
Do you think advertisers and agencies are giving too much leverage to a few digital platforms?
It is an interesting question and I do not know whether we are giving too much leverage or power. In the end, we pursue two things – reach and relevance. If someone is delivering to you the right eyeballs and the right audience, then it is not very different from what we used to do with television. So, I do not think we are giving away too much power, we are just transferring budgets and following the consumers. If they are increasingly spending more time on Facebook rather than television, then it is right that the budgets should move from one to the other.
Is there a need for oversight or regulations when it comes to these platforms?
My one word answer is yes. But, I will challenge one thing you said earlier when you said that Facebook and Google are still young companies. I think they are very mature companies. Their growth rate has started to plateau, the number of employees, the rate at which they change organizationally; these are now big, fat establishment companies and I do not think of them as young upstarts anymore. What generally happens in industries is that you get a young upstart, it comes into the industry, takes everybody my storm, becomes big and then, what happens is that the government comes in and begins to regulate. Fundamentally, whether they like it or not, what you are now seeing is that once upon a time, at the birth of digital, there was a disconnect between the platform and the content, and now you are seeing them come back again. I, personally, believe that you are going to see that the major platforms have to exercise editorial responsibility in the way that old media used to do.
Think about television stations in India. All the stations are governed, they have to maintain some standards of decency and that is something we are going to start seeing on the digital platform. And, I think this is a really good thing because of one reason, viz brand safety.
We have seen brand safety being talked about in the last few weeks, but does it go way beyond what we are hearing about?
Here is my worry – how many YouTube views globally in a day? A lot. We have seen just a few that contravene this (brand safety). What about all the others that we haven’t seen that might also be doing so? I am quite scared about that. I am not going to beat up YouTube for this because I believe that they are horrified by it as well, but I think we, as an industry, need to come together and help them. And, this includes broadcasters as well, who understand standards around taste and decency and editorial policy. We need to support them and help them reach an environment which is brand safe.
It is interesting that you mention broadcasters who see platforms like YouTube as challengers to themselves. I assume they would be happy with any problems that digital platforms face.
Yes, they do, and they say it quite openly. Fox Networks, at a conference I recently attended, made a joke about it saying that they are brand safe and that they are sure that there are no robots watching their shows. Part of me thought it was funny and part of me also thought that this is not how we are going to build a digital future. People are going to watch YouTube regardless and people are going to watch TV regardless, and we need to come together and just for a period of time drop the competitor issues we have around ourselves and just ask ourselves what we owe society. We owe it certain standards of taste and decency. We owe society not spreading hatred and falsehoods. We need to come together as an entire media sector to do this.
How many of the various issues surrounding digital advertising can be ascribed to the advertiser and the fact that many of them don’t seem to want to dig too deep into issues of transparency, etc.?
Personally, I have not come across this kind of attitude on the client side. What I have seen from the client side is “We don’t want to wreck our relationships” and “There is no other option.” Sometimes there is a little bit of acceptance for it. I think whatever has happened is actually, in a weird way, good news because it will make us better.
I refuse to beat up Facebook for whatever has happened recently because, of course, they do not want issues around visibility or around dreadful racist and hateful things being propagated. So, let us work with them to work around this and to come up with metrics that really are transparent and are verifiable by third parties.
I do think there is something weird about marking your own homework and reporting your own data. Do I think that it makes people evil? Absolutely not, but I do think that gives people an opportunity not to be subject to scrutiny. We have TAM here, we have BARB in the UK, Neilsen in America, and at least it is some independently verifiable view.
You spoke about transparent metrics. Which kind of metrics would you like to see getting adopted?
That is the single most difficult question that anyone can ask and I do not know the answer. I can tell you a couple of dreams that I have. I would love to work, first, with the business outcomes we have. Forget about media, what is the business outcome I want? And then, what is the metric common across media that helps me arrive at this outcome. And, this metric might be something that I have never promoted before. On the basis of this exposure, would I recommend it to someone? Now, this could be anything, a banner ad, a television ad, a piece of content, etc. So, this is a common metric, but is it the right metric? I don’t know the answer to that.
One thing I do know is that it is not about taking one lump of data, which is ratings, and one lump of data, which is impressions, and saying how do we hotch them together. Neilsen has tried to do it in the US and I find the methodology flaky. I wish I had the answer. I sometimes call it the God Metric.