The Digital Direction: Introspecting on 2018 and facing 2019: Jabir Merchant

Guest Column: The Senior Vice President-Advertising, Zirca Digital Solutions, says that digital has decidedly arrived and is here to stay


Reflections are an interesting business. One can go down the path of evaluating what happened in 2018 in terms of growth of platform, users, industry, etc. For instance, Google reported that in 2018, India added nearly 10 million daily active internet users every month, the highest anywhere in the world. Reliance Jio’s introduction of highly affordable data plans has skyrocketed online participation across the country, especially in rural communities. As smartphones and internet access becomes commonplace across India, human attention is transposed to terabytes. Video, vernacular & voice have been the flavour across the year. 

However, this is common knowledge. A single Google search will reveal that digital has decidedly arrived and is here to stay. Like any all-encompassing phenomenon, the digital medium has undergone immense evolution. Its effect on the world, and particularly on economic operations, deserve consistent attention. In particular, the digital industry is set to experience noticeable changes in multiple verticals. 

Another path to take on reflecting is understanding what the key triggers were in 2018 and how they are likely to develop in 2019. The changes are manifold, influencing multiple facets of personal and professional lives. It is worthwhile to view this influence for our industry through the lens of a few key players from the ecosystem and evaluate likely direction for the industry.

To begin with, the size and impact of the industry has compelled regulators to direct their attention to its machinations. Whether it is GDPR or cryptocurrency or controlling pornography and surveilling social media, Big Brother is no longer too busy to scrutinize the internet industry. Data is playing a crucial role in winning elections and changing political landscapes. 2018 saw significant data breaches, laying the reputation of numerous digital giants open to serious doubt. Regulators are capable of inducing broad stroke reform and radical change and hence will play a key role in how the industry progresses.

Consumers primarily seek information, products and services online, making digital advertising the heart of any marketing strategy. Clicks and page views are coveted, and ad gurus toil endlessly to achieve social media shares. No longer is the digital avenue an instrument of mere product promotion. The ability to monitor a consumer’s digital lifecycle primarily informs product strategy. Quite simply, digital behaviour has become a prime determinant of corporate decision-making.

Marketers are driven by a singular question: How do I understand my customer better? Every marketer must now obsess about ways in which technology can inform and amplify their product strategy. A single view of the customer’s entire online decision-making journey has become the marketer’s proverbial Shangri-La. With the rise of data management platforms, second thoughts are emerging around using platforms that don’t allow companies to use their own data outside that specific digital environment. 

Naturally, advertising agencies will find themselves confronting seismic shifts in multiple operational models. For instance, the emergence of DCO technology, which enables one-to-one communication with individual users at scale, is already causing creative models to reorient themselves in very fundamental ways. Skill upgradation will possibly emerge as a priority as agencies see themselves shifting towards a more consultative role. 

From a publishers’ perspective, content is, and will always remain, king. Banner blindness has driven forth the lesson that digital communication is not about allowing 50 ad positions on a single page and uploading all inventory onto an ad exchange for monetization. Content creation must be dominated by the inclination to value your user and their experience. To build value, the publisher must avoid the lure of pennies today for a stronger tomorrow. Content must provide tangible value to the user, and the challenge to do so is more palpable than ever. 

The prevalence of digital activity has also swerved the consumer’s consciousness to questions of privacy and consent. Net neutrality, mining of personal information by service providers and companies as well as the tracking of users’ online activity have become topics of public discussion and widespread concern. Increasingly, internet users are combing through terms and conditions of websites and apps before offering permission. 

This rise in consciousness is reflective of the centrality of digital identities. For an organization, their digital existence and manifestations therein are no longer optional. The digital advertising industry is unique as its ability to harness a two- sided conversation has helped the industry have implications far beyond advertising. The digital spectrum is, quite simply, inescapable, and as we enter 2019, we are likely to see impacts across on all of the above areas. 

(The author is Senior Vice President-Advertising at Zirca Digital Solutions)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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