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The great Indian digital divide

In the absence of a credible measurement currency, digital advertising in India is suffering amid rising ad frauds and confusing metrics while a bulk of Indian advertisers are yet to evolve to handle digital as a medium

As the number of digital advertising fraud cases rise, the clamour for advertising reliability and having a credible measurement system for the medium has grown strong in the industry.

The debate around having a credible digital advertising ecosystem grew stronger after Unilever and P&G cut down their digital ad budgets significantly because of suspected ad frauds.

Experts believe that digital platforms need to put their house in order for the industry to keep growing at double digits.

"Till the time the industry doesn’t have a mechanism to deal with fraud issues, there will be chaos. This is also happening because there is no proper measurement for digital," said a top executive of a leading FMCG company.

"If I put up a video with a partner, I don't know how many of them were bot views. Even YouTube has been accused of doing it. How do we handle it," said an executive of another leading brand that spends significantly on digital.

Experts said that there was an urgent need for the advertisers and digital advertising platforms, including the biggies such as Google and Facebook, to come together and sort out the issues.

"The lead advertisers are the guys who will be able to put some control on this. Instead of raising a flag saying 'until you improve your privacy laws and bot views, I am not going to advertise with you,' P&G and Unilever should have said that unless and until the industry as a whole doesn’t come up with a unified measurement system that is acceptable everywhere, we will not advertise with you," he added.

The industry veterans said that Unilever and P&G have anyway taken bold steps to cut down their digital budgets, raising their voice against ad fraud and also setting a precedent.

They said the advertisers have highlighted the issue, which would force the platforms to set things right. Else the big money will be back to TV and other mediums.

One advertiser who was a former Unilever employee puts forth an analysis, “Unilever and P&G have been significantly evolved and are among the first few entrants in the digital space. The levels of learning and the quantum of money they have are huge. It’s good that they have taken this step, because it keeps everyone on their toes."

Indian advertisers yet to learn the digital ropes

The metrics of having a successful digital campaign have also changed significantly in last few years. Earlier, the brands focused on views and shares on social media channels. Now they look for ROI in form of consumer acquisition.

"The advertisers and brands are now more interested and are more conscious about the lift in their offtakes and customer acquisition. But are all advertisers on the same page of expectations? Doesn’t look like," an expert said.

There're still a growing number of advertisers who are just entering the digital arena and are still experimenting with the initial phases of digital in a way and confused about what metric to follow.

One of the senior executives from one of the major agencies said, “While Unilever and P&G would have gone for a cost for conversion level of discussions, some others are still talking about engagement, impressions and leads. For them, life won't change, with or without the huge digital spend cuts by the giants. The only thing that they will do if at all is ‘let's figure out if my measurements are correct.’ But that is not enough.”

He was quick to add, “Unilever was striking deals with many digital majors like MSL over 10 years ago, while in 2018 many advertisers are still stuck in ‘how to get the hygiene parameters in place for digital?’”

Well, if not completely, this is true for a lot of advertisers and major companies in India. One of the participants in this story hinted that a lot of advertisers are still trying to refurbish and update their websites. Things are at such basic levels at some places. So, clearly, it looks that there are some who are too late and some other who are too early in this case.

“There are also people who have been there for quite some time but they haven’t evolved. They continue to do what they were doing years ago,” an advertising veteran said. He added, “Due to the lack of measurement, too much chaos on account of ad frauds and ad placements, some of the marketers are only ‘existing’ on digital.”

A representative from another major advertising company, said, “Nobody was talking digital till about three years ago and now, gradually, we’ve upped the spends on digital to barely touch the double digit numbers. Everyone around is mandating YouTube and other social media to be a part of the media plans, but I still wonder how many understand the platforms well enough.”

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