Pitch CMO Summit 2016: Is the digital medium overrated, experts share their views

On the sidelines of the Pitch CMO Summit, some of India’s leading marketers and agency heads engaged in a lively debate on how effective is the digital medium when it comes to marketing.

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Mar 9, 2016 8:10 AM  | 7 min read
Pitch CMO Summit 2016: Is the digital medium overrated, experts share their views

The exchange4media group held the annual Pitch CMO Summit recently at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai. The event was held in association with Dainik Bhaskar and Colors.

The Pitch CMO Summit is organised by Pitch, the marketing magazine of the exchange4media group and is spread across cities.  It is a gathering of the best minds in the business of marketing. The agenda of the summit each year revolves around marketing in the present context and discussions focus on how best to market to the Indian consumer in this dynamic environment.

The event saw some of the top minds in the industry discussing different facets of advertising and marketing in today’s changing world. The Pitch CMO Summit also felicitated some of the top CMOs in the industry currently on the basis of their contribution over the course of last year.

The summit also saw a panel discussion among senior industry leaders on the topic; “Is digital medium over rated for the marketing of packaged goods and products?” The panel was moderated by Monica Tata, the former MD of HBO India. Defending the proposition that the digital medium is not over rated and is, in fact, under rated, were Sanjay Tripathy, Senior EVP and Head of Marketing, Product, Analytics, Digital & E-Commerce at HDFC Life Insurance and Carlton D’Silva, CEO and CCO at Hungama Digital Services. The opposition, which felt that the digital medium is over-rated, consisted of Ajay Kakar, CMO of Aditya Birla Group (Financial Services), and Partha Sinha, Vice Chairman and MD at McCann Worldgroup.

The lively debate, which saw frequent participation from the audience and assembled dignitaries started off with Ajay Kakar, who chose to pick up metaphors from Bollywood to explain his point that traditional media is still relevant. He compared traditional media to Amitabh Bachchan, who is still considered the best actor in Indian cinema even after the emergence of other stars. “We are talking about is digital over rated today. I believe that digital is the rising star but traditional or mass media still exists. It is the Amitabh Bachchan and, maybe, digital is the Shahrukh Khan,” he said.

 In terms of absolute ad spends, he said, digital saw a 44 per cent increase in 2014 as compared to 2013. “Digital media spends account for only 12 per cent of overall media spends. While we reach out to 380 million via digital, traditional media still gives me 900 million. Tell me some brands that are built courtesy only digital. On the other hand, tell me the number of brands that are built also using digital. When you look at the amount of spends that happen, why is that digital brands are disproportionately spending on mass media,” he said. He gave the example of Patanjali’s mega money campaigns and pointed out that digital was just a part of the entire picture. Kakar also pointed out issues like bandwidth, devices, internet penetration, etc. Another problem, he feels is localization of content.

D’Silva said digital medium has a lot of power and if utilized properly can make marketing a success, of which there are plenty of examples. “As advertising evolves, storytelling also evolves and the storytelling has moved to digital. We all carry mobile devices with us; we are actually carrying a marketing device. Our time is the right time and we can actually go out and access any type of content we want at any point of time.  Digital marketing is far more efficient than traditional marketing. I am not trying to talk for or against when it comes to traditional marketing but I do feel that digital marketing is under-rated. Through digital you can know exactly the consumer you are targeting, what he likes and dislikes and I can refer advertising to him based on this. And this to me is marketing according to my preferences and this is efficiency at its greatest. Digital marketing also makes a brand a lot more responsible. The conversation between a consumer and a brand is extremely important and it is the biggest advantage that digital marketing has,” he said.

Partha Sinha, who spoke next, agreed that digital was highly impactful but on marketing conversations and not on marketing. “Today, if you don’t  know terms like programmatic, storytelling, API integration, mobile, content aggregation, hyper localization, etc. then you are a very dated marketing person,” he said. He pointed out that 90 per cent of digital spends are on display and search. He referred to the way marketers act about digital as the Sridevi Syndrome. “Just because I have spent this much money, give me my money’s worth. Nowadays I cannot even go to the content, there are ads popping out from everywhere. When it comes to measurement, I have this theory that; not what is done is measured but that which can be measured is done. I think digital will become an interesting thing if RoI is redefined as Return on Ideas,” he added.

The discussion was taken forward by Tripathy who stressed that the young India is consuming content primarily on digital. “If you dissect India demographically than digital is present across the graph,” he said. He gave the example of how news is consumed, stating that there are a variety of ways this happens these days; through Twitter, news apps, TV, newspapers, etc. “The consumer has moved on today. I know Partha spoke about the jargons but for those who understand the jargons will know how useful they are in targeting the right audience.  Digtal has caused democratization of pricing. When you talk about measurability, digital is far better than traditional. The last point I come to is why marketers are still not spending money. The reason is that they do not know how to spend money on digital. But it is changing; new marketers will come from digital medium and change the game. When you talk about business, digital changes the picture; it works throughout the funnel. So many businesses have reinvented themselves by using digital, social media, etc.,” he said.

After the initial observations, the floor was now thrown open for the actual debate. “We are talking about intent, potential or tomorrow. We are talking about marketing,” said Kakar. He asked how many of the audience spent more than 50 per cent of their budgets online or got more than 50 percent of their customers through digital. “What is today’s reality is that digital is over rated,” he added.

“The problem with digital is that it is all aggression without information. No one is saying that digital medium is not big. The topic is whether it is good for marketing today and, no, it is not. All said and done, we are far from even optimizing it,” added Sinha.

Rebutting these comments, D’Silva said, “If you do not know the potential of the medium, you will not know whether it is overrated. We cannot actually talk about spends and talk about overrated or underrated. If you say that because a marketer spends 30 per cent of his budget on digital it is under rated, then I do not agree. If you get more efficiency by putting lower money, and people are doing that right now, then great.”

“The problem is with brands spending 30 per cent on digital and expecting 50 per cent returns,” added Tripathy.

Finally concluding the debate, the panellists agreed that though there was no question about the power of the medium, they agreed to disagree on the point of whether it has become conducive to marketing right now.  

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