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In-depth: Advertisers in a fix as measurement across platforms show inconsistency

Indian adex will touch Rs 69,000 crore in 2018. But many advertisers feel they are putting their monies on a blind spot in the absence of a robust measurement ecosystem across platforms. It is not just the measurement of digital advertising that's being questioned, traditional mediums such as print and radio are also under scrutiny

In January this year, advertisers across the country were baffled when the highly anticipated Indian Readership Survey (IRS) was launched after a hiatus of four years.

The advertisers weren't able to digest that the Average Issue Readership, the universally accepted metric of readership, had fallen significantly. The survey agency said it was because of the new methodology. But advertisers, who were paying higher ad rates for years to reach out to readers, didn't know what to believe.

“Advertisers were paying to reach out to say 100 readers via a leading publication. The new IRS 2017 brought down that readership to 90. Now brands are paying the same money to reach out to less numbers. They're confused whether the numbers in previous IRS were faulty because of the methodology," a leading media expert said.

He said brands were seriously questioning the authenticity of data and ROI on the investment they were making in the medium. And this is just one instance; the advertisers have similar discomfort with other mediums as well.

Advertisers are in a big fix due to the lack of consistency in the existing measurement systems, across media platforms, said a leading FMCG marketer and another one from a leading auto company, both of whom did not want to be quoted.

The former pointed to the difficulty that this created in measuring RoI and planning advertising for the upcoming campaigns.

But Rajiv Dubey, GM, Dabur India, and B Krishna Rao, Category Head, Parle Products, are of the opinion that measurement is a problem only in the digital sector, where BARC will soon introduce its measurement system and things will smoothen after that.

While television has a fully-equipped measurement system in BARC India, digital has none, as on date. On the other hand, radio is measured only across the top four markets, irrespective of the fact that the medium captures 86 cities through 243 private FM radio stations, owned and operated by 35 companies.

IRS released numbers after a gap of four years in 2018, capturing 2017 readership patterns, but the platform had a four-year data-dark period. Digital, currently the fastest growing medium with an expectation to grab almost 25% of the total adex, has ‘zero’ third-party measurement in India. Cinema and OOH are also struggling on the measurement fronts.

So while the Group M’s ‘This Year, Next Year’ report expects Indian adex to reach around Rs 69,000 crore in 2018, many advertisers feel that they are putting their monies on a blind spot due to lack of a robust measurement ecosystem across platforms.

About 40% of these monies go into television where there’s a fairly good measurement system for the medium, but the rest 60% is still struggling to get support from audience measurement numbers.

We spoke advertisers to understand the apprehensions of the advertising fraternity.

Television:

One of the top advertisers on television said, “I cannot rely on TV data because of the amount of changes BARC keeps doing. I keep on pumping in money, but it is not helping me beyond the point of ‘bombardment of communication’.”

Partho Dasgupta

Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC India, demands to know why few advertisers are not willing to accept the changing dynamics of the country. He said, “It all depends on whether these people want reality or fiction. India is dynamic and growing and changing tremendously. Alongwith population growth, electrification, migration and prosperity has brought about a sea change in TV numbers and demographics across states. Households having TV has grown from 83 million in 2004 to 183 million in 2017. Digitisation in the last few years have brought a significant change in the way people access TV. Do people not want all of them to be reflected? It’s a reality and we need to show that. BARC India measures what India watches. Such numbers are stable in mature markets like US or UK - where there is not so much change, may be because TV is fully penetrated. But India is so different.”

A popular voice said, “Almost every year, there is a new update on television measurement. The old and new data sets can't be compared.”

Rajiv Dubey

On the other hand, Dubey suggests that these changes and upgrades in BARC are for the benefit of the industry in a long run. He said, “BARC measurement for TV is actually a robust sample, if you compare this to the rest of the world, sample size in BARC for India is pretty robust, considering the heterogeneous nature of the country with several demographics and psychographics. The changes in measurement are bound to happen as audiences evolve, media consumption pattern changes, format of consumption changes. BARC panel upgradation with more rural homes being added will change the way we look at audiences. One such significant change with rural audience data happened in October 2015 and it changed the way we look at FTA homes.”

Dubey further added, "Once BARC reaches 50,000 sample base, there might be new challenges or upgrade options. Change is the only constant and we should not shy away from it. Changes will keep happening."

When asked as to when will the panel expansion process stop, Dasgupta counter questioned, “Again, does the ecosystem not want to see reality? We update our system based on ground changes which is an annual exercise. Given that we were still at 64% TV penetration, there is a long way to go. This update is a regular process all around the world with the exception that in most of the countries the TV market has stabilised whereas we are still growing. There are also software upgrades which is for better efficiency of subscribers. All progressive users always welcome it.”

Being more specific to the changes happening in the measurement system, another advertiser from an auto giant said, “While we were settling to the earlier changes, the panel was renewed and suddenly Maharashtra has become a non-existent market from a local feed perspective. Markets like AP and TN that were over-indexed in the earlier phase (as per BARC) are now corrected. Weightage for Mumbai has decreased. For me, none of these variables are controllable. I can’t rely on the base data.”

While the changes are for real, they are for good. Ultimately, who wants to plan their marketing technique based on a 2-3 year-old consumption pattern?

B Krishna Rao

Rao of Parle approved this, saying, “Metrics are crucial for finalising a lot of decisions. There are inconsistencies, yes, but I want platforms like BARC India to stabilise because they have come a long way from what was happening in the pre-BARC days. There is a significant improvement, so I would say that the frequent changes are progressive changes, not regressive ones.”

The changes and upgrades are one thing and while a lot of people like Dubey say that it is the largest sample in the world, it is also true that India is possibly the largest TV viewing market in the world. On the same note, Meera Iyer, Head of Marketing, bigbasket.com, said, “TV data has never been accurate because the sample sizes are very small compared to the TV watching population (be it BARC or TAM). But it is the only data we have for the biggest ad spends platform in the country. We have no choice while planning our TV campaigns, but to use BARC. That’s the only way you will get your reach, frequency and other measures. But being an ecommerce company, by using internal data like sessions and installs, we have taken measurements on how well the TVC is performing to non-BARC internal data to optimise genre and channel selection. That’s true for all the offline media choices we make. Whenever I put an ad on say TV or radio, I can measure the number of people visiting my site and app around that time and the region they come from. But you need very good analytics and internal data systems in place to do so.”

Having worked at Hindustan Unilever for close to 10 years of her career, Iyer gives a view of an offline FMCG marketer’s problems. “For the offline FMCG players, it is tougher to measure impact as easily because true growth will be best exhibited in market shares and household penetration. That typically does not change drastically any month. That will also depend on availability with retailers. The reliance on BARC data is huge and with them having absolutely no data cuts other than NCCS classification, this is a big problem. I would love to have more parameters added to the tool – say internet buyers, psychographics that allows a brand to narrow their audience. It’s sad that on the one hand digital is overloaded with data and TV still has to evolve.”

Digital

While digital right now is about 15% of the adex, it is expected to grow and contribute about 25% to the total pie. So capturing digital is the most crucial.

All advertisers unanimously want a robust digital measurement system and have pinned their hopes on BARC India’s Ekam, which is expected to launch sometime later this year.

As Rao explained, “Digital is still a difficult medium in terms of measurement. 2015 was the year of Jio and 2016 brought in a level-playing field for the other telecom service providers in terms of the data plans and smartphone penetration. Digital usage has gone through the roof and this is increasing our conviction on the platform. There is a reduction in time spent on TV and increase in digital. We are also observing a striking change in the consumption habits of the people around us and we know that there is traction from TV to digital, but yes, we need a third-party measurement.”

Talking about Ekam, one of the advertisers commented that just like the TV measurement numbers, hope that BARC’s upcoming digital measurement system will not upgrade itself too frequently, making the data difficult to use.

Answering the query, Dasgupta said, “First step for any currency to evolve is that there needs to be consensus between the stakeholders. One reason it is taking longer than estimated to launch Ekam is that we are working to build that consensus to get all key stakeholders onboard and aligned to the building blocks of Ekam. This will ensure all-round acceptance of the data. So I think the fears of “partially unusable data”, whatever that means, is totally misplaced. However like new system/currency the entire ecosystem including us will go through a learning curve as we roll out digital products in phases. As to talking about future changes of a future product – I think people want me to do some crystal ball gazing! All I can say now is that our products will be upgraded and improved based on market needs.”

Meera Iyer

Iyer, on the other hand, pointed to the same observation and raised a question, “Digital has exploded in terms of viewership, but the shift is not seen in the BARC data. Has BARC data ever shown that a household is going TV dark?”

Speaking more on digital measurement, she said, “Google and Facebook are the largest channels today. They share the data on ad performances but that is churned out from their own dashboards. There is no third-party validation. Sometime last year, Mark Zuckerberg agreed that they had incorrectly computed videos completed views data, but nobody knows whether there are no such other issues. There is tonnes of data, but ‘how true that data is’ is nobody’s guess.”

One of the FMCG majors pointed out, “I am very sure there is approximately Rs 250-300 crore sitting on IPL on Hotstar. Someone is pumping in this huge amount of money blindly, only on the assurance that the data given by the platform owner is correct. There is no way you can validate these numbers and it is a scary situation to be in.”

Print, Radio, Outdoor, Cinema

MRUC and RSCI did release data on the print readership after a gap of four years, but questions are still raised on its authenticity and robustness. As one of the FMCG marketers pointed out, “Whenever IRS comes about, some or other publication raises questions on the numbers.”

Suggesting an alternative to all this chaos, Rao said, “There will always be contentions from publishers and even channels used to do this. But having said this, all advertisers, at least at Parle, look at numbers but this is not the only decision-maker for us. We are in continuous touch with the market reality, channel partners and keep taking understanding on various market dynamics and media consumption habits, based on which we deploy our marketing budgets. We are getting fruitful response and this is a clear attestation that the monies are not getting wasted.”

Radio has measurement only in four cities and that too, based on an estimation study that is six years old. Cinema and outdoor has no valid measurements to really swear by.

But Dubey said, “The cost of measurement for radio - like TV is bound to be very steep and an industry wouldn’t be able to sustain the cost. The size of the TV industry is huge and it makes sense to invest so heavily in measurement system. For the other mediums like radio, cinema and OOH, it doesn’t make sense to invest a disproportionate amount of monies into developing a measurement system as expensive as BARC. One has to look at cheaper and sustainable options for the same, because agencies and broadcasters should be able to afford it and use it.”

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