Removing questionable publishers & inventory a top priority: MD, Essence India

Anand Chakravarthy spoke to exchange4media about the rise of digital advertising in India and also about issues related to impact measurement and brand safety

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Updated: Apr 23, 2018 8:58 AM

As the steady rise of digital ad spends continues in India, expected to cross the 19 per cent mark of total adex in 2019, there have been concerns raised about the use of digital practices, especially in the wake of questionable ad inventory. The problem has been compounded after the recent Facebook Cambridge Analytica data leak.
Given this backdrop, Anand Chakravarthy, Mananging Director, Essence India (part of GroupM), spoke to exchange4media about the rise of digital advertising in India and also about issues related to impact measurement and brand safety. Excerpts:
There have been a lot of concerns raised about digital ad spends, for example P&G recently took a big decision regarding effectiveness of digital advertising. In this scenario, how are planners keeping the faith in digital?
Let us look at the adex growth over the last three years and how the share of digital has grown. In 2016, we were at 12 per cent, which moved to 16 per cent in 2017 and it will be 19 per cent by the end of this year. By 2020 our estimates suggest that it will go to 22-23 per cent plus.
The reality of digital is that it is touching consumers across the board. For advertisers and marketers, who are looking at new ways to engage with the consumer, digital has a natural role to play because we are talking about almost a billion Indians connected in some way or the other.
Given all this, there is clearly a very strong rationale for the growth of digital. If a brand has taken a call to pull back on digital spends, it may be because it does not give them the expected returns. But if you look a majority of Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands, nobody is talking about pulling back. This (P&G) is the only brand that is talking about pulling back. I think such decisions are very brand specific, and perhaps because of the specific decisions they took it did not work the way they wanted to. 
How big is the challenge of questionable inventory in the online space, how are you ensuring accuracy for your clients?
There is definitely questionable inventory available in the market. In Essence, one of our biggest philosophies globally is how to ensure that we have 99 per cent accuracy in terms of the inventory we buy. What we have done to mitigate this challenge is to build tools that operate on all of our campaigns. These tools are constantly checking the quality of impressions which we are buying, correcting and removing questionable publishers, questionable inventory etc, to ensure that when we deliver to the client we are operating at 99 per cent accuracy. I think automation and technology allows you to do that today.
Also, digital allows you to track from the first interaction of the brand till the final interaction of the brand conversion and also allows you to make many of those linkages. Moreover, I think the way of looking at impressions has changed. Now they don’t mean anything. Evolved brands have stopped looking at these metrics. Now they are looking at a very fundamental business metric today. 
What would you say are the three biggest challenges in digital marketing, purely from the Indian context?
The first is that as clients are building their digital transformation journey, I think they need to think through. In other words, they should put more thought behind the digital strategy. Secondly as clients evolve, the willingness to invest in technology needs to go up. Not investing in technology will only limit their capability. The third factor is that the industry as a whole has to come together to address specific challenges and involve clients in the discussion too.
How is Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Big Data changing the landscape of media planning in India?
AI is a new shiny object on the horizon. It is definitely a great part of the future. The most important thing to ask is: is it relevant to all brands? Is it relevant to your business?
You can use automation and AI to remove non-value adding processes and using AI will also allow you to bring in a certain degree of consistency. Overall, AI in India is still in a nascent state. There are some brands which spend a lot on digital performance, for them there is a much bigger role that AI can play. For CPG brands, which are still using a lot of traditional media channels, the role of AI is still very limited.

What about ad blockers which are increasingly being used by customers? How are marketers and planners looking at this challenge?

It is a reality. Nobody comes anywhere to watch advertising. Now digital allows you to pay for only the time people actually watched your ad. That is where viewability comes into play. The other fact is that more and more people are also using ad blockers and I think that is where the marriage between creative and media has to become far stronger.

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