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Digital ad fraud and measurement issues likely to stay, says Joanna Catalano, CEO-APAC, iProspect

Catalano said that there was a need to have common standards to measure the impact of digital ads along with permanently revisiting the measurement strategy. "Consumers are not static, they change. You should be permanently revisiting your measurement strategy," she told in an interview

Joanna Catalano

These are both exciting and challenging times for digital marketing. While the scope for digital is wide, questions are being raised about its measurability and effectiveness. Brands are cutting down on their digital marketing spend and the fast-changing technology and consumer behaviour is leaving both marketers and agencies reeling.

On International Women’s Day, Joanna Catalano, CEO-APAC, iProspect, visited the agency’s Mumbai office and caught up with her to get a better understanding of this ever-changing beast.

Catalano, who has over 12 years of in-depth experience in digital, said that digital is still an effective medium. However, as consumer behaviour change, the measurement strategy also needs to be changed. "We may still have ad fraud, and there may be placements that don’t meet the viewability standards, but we will be clearer on what we should buy, and report them better," she said.

Speaking about having a more meaningful content marketing strategy, she said, "Consumers prefer a brand to engage with them in meaningful conversation that provides some benefit to them. Therefore, the content has to be more personalized."

Excerpts from an interview:

P&G has announced to slash its digital spends massively by USD 200 mn. A lot of people are already doubting the measurement and effectiveness on the medium. What is your take on this?

The whole reason why marketers started investing in digital is because it is measurable. So, I don’t think the issue is with measurement or with the medium. Digital is as effective and as measurable as it has always been. However, there is one major issue and that is complexity. Now, there are different levels to this complexity. One is, there has to be a depth of understanding and that understanding has to be on both sides, it has to be on side of the marketer or the client and it has to be on the side of the agency. Digital is like science and you have to be very precise when it comes to digital. The second thing is setup. For digital to do what it needs to do there needs to be quite clear processes, defined and in place. We went through this burst when budgets increased on digital, so it was easier to repurpose the TVC on YouTube. This didn’t work so well. YouTube viewers don’t want to see a TV ad. The content must speak to the audience. The third thing to consider is that consumers are not static, they change which means that you should be permanently revisiting your measurement strategy. Another point is mobile. Many countries in Asia, including India, have leapfrogged the desktop to go to mobile. But the mobile analytics haven’t really caught up with the desktop analytics.

Specific to India market, digital is still at a nascent stage and we have been saying this for last three years. How much more time till the medium matures enough in the country, to be competing with the other media platforms, in terms of reach, monetisation and effectiveness?

Joanna: We are doing well in terms of outpacing the market. From a Dentsu Aegis Network perspective our 2020 vision is to be 100% digital and we are fully on our way to be there. From our top markets we are already above the 50% threshold and from our top 10 we are in the 30s. In India we are close to 40%.

Rubeena Singh (CEO, iProspect India): From an Indian context, the stage is finally set. It has been one and a half years since we have got the reach because of Jio. There used to be a language barrier, we were not reaching a lot of consumers in the tier II, III cities. Now that data has become cheap, they are able to access videos much more easily. There is a lot happening on the tech side as well. These changes are happening and we believe these are right signs for that inflection to happen.  

Ultimately, as an agency, what you aim to provide to a client is marketing solutions and not just campaigns. These solutions must have impact on the clients’ businesses. Do you think digital alone is equipped enough to do that?

Sales are a function of many things of which marketing is one. Digital is one component of marketing. Clients who win have great products, understand their consumers; this allow us to work alongside them to deliver their results.

Ad frauds and measurement is an issue that digital has been dealing with for about 1-2 years now. How do you see that getting resolved? Are there any solutions that have been worked out on? Which direction to look at for this solution?

Ad fraud and measurements issues may not disappear entirely. Marketers should understand this and put in place a clear point of view as to what is considered brand safe for their companies. We have industry bodies like the Media Ratings Council (MRC) and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) who are very clear on what the definitions are. So, we as an agency adopt those. Now, when it comes to the big publishers, they sometimes deploy their own standards. Our view is that a common standard has to be adopted by all. But even when you adopt these common standards that just allows you to cut out what is not working but it doesn’t allow for perfection. So, we may still have ad fraud, and there may be placements that don’t meet the viewability standards, but we will be clearer on what we should buy, and report them better. That is the positive momentum that I am seeing.

YouTube has launched a three-level security option for brands to ensure brand safety. Through this, brands can choose their level of security, with some compromise on the reach. Initially, when it all started off, all that an advertiser wanted was unparalleled reach at any cost. Now, will the advertiser have to shell out more money, for brand safety and compromised reach? What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t think it means you have to pay more. We are moving towards a time where we may see less volume but better performance. This is not about paying more but about making your money work harder for you. Clients may not always opt for mass reach. If you are just driving awareness, what does it mean? How do you measure it? We see a pivot towards engagement which has potential to lead to outcomes. Brands don’t necessarily need to engage with everybody. Clients generally come in with a fairly informed understanding of who their customer is and our job is to help them go find that customer.

Are brands ultimately turning to the YouTube content providers, to ensure brand safety? Is it easier/ more expensive/ less expensive/ better?

Personally, I think brands will want to start creating more of their own content. How do you create that bespoke content that really resonates with your audience? I think it is very difficult for YouTube content creators to do that. It is not so easy for brands to connect with YouTube content creators and their content. Then there is a safety element and brands should be considered about which YouTube content creators make sense for their brand.

A lot of content marketing that we see, has an unwanted brand/ category plug. Isn’t story more important than the brand when you are into content marketing? Doesn’t the brand’s social media handle suffice for the connection?

So, when I was taking up this job, my 8-year-old son asked me why I was leaving my previous job. I said because I really liked the opportunity and was looking for a change. He then asked me what I will be doing at my new job. I said I will be selling ads and his reply was ‘But nobody likes ads.’ Today, consumers have a different set of expectations and prefer for a brand to engage with them in meaningful conversation that provides some benefit to them. Therefore, the content has to be more personalized – look and feel different.

What must a brand keep in mind when creating content?

One must know their brand. When speaking about content, a lot of it has to start with who is the audience.

Some digital trends that you are seeing in India?

Voice search will continue to evolve. The other thing is that right now top ten queries are coming outside of the top ten cities. Also, 39% of smartphone users in India are conducting a local search and then visiting a store within one day of that search.

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