No duopoly in users mind, they are spoilt for choice: Aditya Swamy, Google India

Head of Agency Partnerships, Google India, on the Google-Facebook duopoly, partnering with agencies and uniform measurement on digital

Aditya Swamy Google India

Google recently appointed Aditya Swamy as Head of Agency Partnerships, who joined the tech company as Industry Lead in 2017. At Google, Swamy leads the partnership with creative and media agencies to drive digital transformation for the advertiser eco-system. Prior to his work with Google, Swamy was Senior Director with Flipkart, in-charge of digital media and content marketing.

In an interview to exchange4media, Swamy spoke about how digital has gone mainstream with the growing Internet user penetration in India. Supporting agencies in their digital transformation journey, as a marketer Swamy talks about how the role involves partnering with agencies to help them enable their clients embrace digital innovation. Also, discussing the challenge of uniform measurement, he spoke about Google's active involvement in maintaining measurement metrics and how a single source of of measurement was key to bring equality to the market. Excerpts:

How have you seen the adoption of digital grow and evolve over the course of your career?

When I started my career working as a brand manager with Coca-Cola, back then print and television were considered to be mainstream media whereas digital was viewed as niche. 16 years later, today with 400 million plus people on the Internet, digital has gone mainstream and is driving a huge shift in the industry. These days almost all brands, big or small can be seen embracing digital innovation to a large extent.

For a long a time, the Internet was about the 3 Ms- it was dominated by male, was limited to metros and millennials where the biggest user group was. Now, with the democratisation of Internet, we have seen Internet user expand beyond metros, Indian language users today form majority of the user base, and they’re driving huge consumption of online Video, and voice input is growing rapidly. 

With respect to Video, India is a video-first country, for the first time Internet users are also accessing videos primarily for any kind of information. Today, YouTube alone sees over 245 million monthly unique users as per ComScore and is growing at a great speed month after month.

Secondly, as language users have grown, consumption of language content especially in online video is growing phenomenally. Thirdly, Voice enabled search is highly efficient in breaking down the literacy barrier, helping out users who cannot read or write access data on voice commands. E.g. Google Assistant, which helps one surf the Internet on voice command.

These three factors are defining India’s new Internet user behaviour – and while the reach has grown – advertisers and agencies need to understand how to decode these new user behaviours.

What are Google India’s growth aspirations with regard to agency partnerships and ad sales?

Our focus is on supporting agencies in their digital transformation journey. Agencies come with a specialised skill set wherein they understand media quite well. With the rapid evolution and growth in digital, our focus is to partner agencies, so that they are able to fully extract value from this medium and help their clients.

Our approach is based on 3-Ts:

Talent- We help agencies to skill up their current talent to be the best in digital. We do a lot of workshops, hackathons, specific product sessions, certifications and programmes for the same. Through our Digital Insider Program, we are training the top 50 young digital influencers in the industry similar to how Gogglers are getting trained. Our Digital Gurus Program also provides a special certification for branding and performance both. Our primary aim here is to scale and skill up talent.

Technology- Media buying is really moving from manual to an automated format. Google being a tech company, our responsibility is to bring the best of technology to our agencies, in order to make them efficient enough to be able to drive more value out of their investments.

Trading – This is the core of any media business. It’s a commercial relationship that we share, where in we see how we can partner them to grow their engagement and understanding of the platform. Our aim is to ensure that we deliver the best commercial value to our partners through this.

How are you planning to improve/change the current engagement model for Google with the ad agencies?

We have had a robust engagement with agencies. Google is one of the early companies in India to have a dedicated agency team. We are constantly measuring feedback from our agency partners regarding how they see our relationship evolve with time. While we have had deep engagement with the media section of agencies, we are now looking at engaging heavily with the creative side of agencies. For e.g. the Creative Intelligence Project, a first of its kind partnership between a creative agency Ogilvy India and Google.

This is where we share best creative practices on digital platforms – developed overtime by our teams from ignition labs. These  insights help creative folks at Ogilvy to develop creatives that are designed to get more of their investments.

Secondly, there’s huge value that can be unlocked by focussing on programmatic advertising. This will provide one with frequency capping giving a larger reach at the same cost without over exposing your creative. Programmatic in automation is something we are scaling up.

Thirdly, we are trying to figure out how small and medium businesses today can get the expertise of large agencies. Hence, we have a business development arm that is trying to bring these accounts and clients into an agency fold, growing coverage of their clients as well. These are the few key areas that we have invested in recently.

Having been a marketer, how are you addressing the looming brand safety concerns that advertisers have? How large a team does India have to monitor user-generated content uploaded on YouTube?

We don’t take our advertisers trust for granted, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that videos on our platform are appropriate for our users and the brands. By deploying New machine learning systems and new controls for advertisers, we have made significant progress both in capturing inappropriate content and what brands find unsuitable for advertising by raising the bar for our ad policies and enforcement. 

Just last year, Google blocked 320,000 publishers from our Display Network along with 90,000 websites and 700,000 mobile apps — all for violating our content policies. We’ve even brought in more transparency and choice by offering brands third party brand safety reporting on YouTube and by working with leading industry partners. We are moving in the right direction and we will continue to monitor and adjust as new challenges arise. It’s a global team that manages content being uploaded on YouTube.

In addition to brand safety, the other huge concern for marketers is the measurement of the medium itself. How does Google approach this challenge of uniform measurement?

The success metric for any campaign is to drive business impact, and that’s what we’re focused on. We are very open to working with third party measurements. In fact, looking across the 55 global Nielsen MPA studies we’ve run to date, we see that over 70 per cent of YouTube campaigns drove a significant lift in offline sales.

In India, we believe a single source of measurement is the key to bring equality to the market. We are working very closely with BARC India, that has a digital counsel. This is an ongoing project where we hope to achieve best results for brands and consumers in another 6 to 12 months time period. Meanwhile, we heavily engage with leading measurement bodies such as Nielsen, Kantar Milward Brown etc. We do a lot of business study for clients wherein we perform matched market test for them. Again, mix media modelings also help us measure the impact of media independently. We believe an external view point is important.

Increasingly, advertisers are seeing OTT platforms and e-commerce sites as alternatives to the Google-Facebook duopoly. Do you think the duopoly is under threat? If not, why?

Viewers and advertisers have tons of choices online today. There’s no duopoly in a user’s mind, instead they are spoilt for choice. With more number of OTT and e-commerce platforms, it only brings along more opportunities and not threat. This clearly reflects that we today are operating in a multimedia environment  with several TV channels, many online destinations that puts out the best of content for the consumers. Such launches make the space more rich and advertisers then tend to turn towards digital with many players and brands investing in it. This is primarily pointing at how the digital experience and trends are going mainstream.

Digital agencies are increasingly talking about donning the "strategic consultancy" role. How can Google support agencies in this new direction that they are taking? What role can Google play here?

I think that’s the right direction to take, I would say let’s move the proposition from media metrics to business metrics. We can continue engaging with not just advertising solutions but also work on the business solutions. If agencies are able to pull this in the right direction, we will witness much wider engagement with partners and openness to working together.

Talking about how we can help agencies, Google is a global company which has access to global case studies, best practices, market scenario, potential possibilities, cutting edge tools and technologies.

We work with agencies across these three areas - how to change the discussion from media to business, secondly with access to global best practices, we can equip the agencies in India with the wealth of information and lastly automation, machine learning and technology etc. these will be true business enablers that will take us beyond media buying and advertising.

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