Pricing drives more than 80% of digital pitches: Gopa Kumar, Isobar India

Gopa Kumar, EVP, Isobar India, speaks about the current status of the digital media industry in India, Isobar’s focus areas for 2019, and more

gopa kumar

Gopa Kumar, Executive Vice President, Isobar, was part of the founding team of the agency in India. For ten years now, Kumar has played a key role in Isobar’s growth and expansion. In a candid interview with exchange4media, Kumar spoke about the current status of the digital media industry in India and Isobar’s focus areas for 2019. 

He said that as clients are increasing their spends on digital, they are more keen on extracting more value for their money over choosing a better strategy. “While the demand is for exclusive resources, the pricing is very clearly not measuring up to the business demands,” he said. Kumar further said that Isobar is going to selective about the pitches it takes part in and will prefer to work with brands that need assistance with business transformation involving digital tools and services. 

Edited Excerpts: 

You lead the Delhi business for Isobar in India. Can you give us an overview of the Delhi operations of Isobar?

From the business perspective, Isobar Delhi doubled its growth in 2018; we exceeded our expectations, so that is a great moment for us currently. We have been able to close clients across categories - that was one target which we were aiming for in 2018 and we are glad to have achieved this objective. In 2019 also we plan to pursue this same objective; to have fewer but clients across a wide spectrum. Last year in the second half we were making a lot of pitches, but this year we will be selective in the pitches we make, ensuring that every pitch is in line with Isobar’s overall objectives and focus on bigger categories. 

It is interesting you mention that. In the last quarter of 2018 agencies were kept busy by around 10-15 digital media pitches...

The focus among marketers is increasingly on digital. There are cases now where clients are looking at integrated agencies and some continue to have their digital initiatives kept separate from the mainline work. So there are a high number of pitches in digital in particular. 

In fact, the digital pitches sometimes are done merely for the heck of it and nothing conclusive comes out of it. It actually takes too much effort to work on those pitches and sometimes when you see that the scale of certain digital businesses is low, it is not viable to put in a big effort behind those pitches. 

Currently, the scale at which Isobar is operating, we would like to work with clients who are able to let us make a meaningful difference to their business. If we are able to do that on a project basis or on a long-term AOR basis, only then will we want to engage with clients. 

Traditional media buying is heavily dependent on clout. How does it work in the digital media space?

Since the digital pie has been increasing over the years and is now a substantial expenditure for marketers, price has become a key criterion for clients. We are now seeing clients and marketers trying to drive the price down and looking at more value for their money they spend. While the demand is for exclusive resources, the pricing is very clearly not measuring up to the business demands. 

Only 15% of digital pitches are based on strategy. Brands that are focussed on driving business results are looking at the strategy aspect more closely and long term-partnerships but these are few and far between. Eventually, price rules because advertising and marketing is an expense for clients. 

Digital has for too long been perceived as a medium for performance campaigns and not so much for brand building. Is this outlook changing now?

Yes, the mindset of marketers towards digital is surely changing. Digital has always been about performance, but as more people come online and spend more time online clients are looking at the various ways in which they can build brands online. We now get a good number of briefs for brand building. 

This mindset shift also needs to come from the agency side also. We (digital agencies) have always been seen as execution agencies; a digital agency enters at the last moment when the brand positioning is done, the creative agency has already come up with the idea, and the media plans have been drawn up. Now that digital has become a central part of a client’s marketing initiatives, we need to think about making strategic contributions to the brand in every aspect. 

The options for digital video ads are now varied, what are marketers most excited about?

Google and Facebook remain the standard destinations for clients. That said, live-event telecast on OTT platforms sees very high interest from advertisers; of the live events, cricket rules. There is also huge interest in big-ticket shows like Big Boss or Koffee with Karan which have huge resonance online and are massively consumed through OTT channels. Advertisers are now also very keen on content integration in original OTT content. This is a long-term process and the opportunities are limited because the script has to align with the brand. 

There is a perception that the lack of uniform measurement is holding back marketers from increasing digital spends. Your thoughts?

Yes, everyone is asking for a uniform video measurement solution. It would be great if the international tech giants and the Indian OTT players could all agree to share data and help the ecosystem. That said, we cannot stop our digital video spends in the meantime. Until we have the solution agencies and clients need, we are looking at third-party measurement - while this is not foolproof, it is one solution. Till the time we don’t have a complete solution we are looking at these platforms at their merits. 
 
Do you trust these walled gardens and their claims? 

On television, for example, the measurement is based on a sample and then extrapolated to the universe of TV viewers in India. That’s an estimate and not an exact figure, but advertisers are investing money in the television medium despite this fact. On digital also we have a ballpark figure that we are able to follow and use as a guideline. 
 

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