Monday, March 12, 2012

Indian Gold Rush and Digital Media?

Ten years ago when the digital thing happened in India, everyone who could not make big in the traditional media scene lunged towards the digital media. Firstly anyone could get job there and secondly anyone could be fooled by the rocket science aura around the digital. This eventually helped the hopeless wannabes creative souls to call themselves as ms paint warriors and pass outs from the one room MBA colleges started calling themselves with the fancy names such as group head, new media maven, national head heading team of four people. These mavens would walk upto brands , armed with 100 slide presentations, stating the state of Indian Internet and how easy it is for the brands to reach out to them, provided they cough up some random money and a commission for this scientific wizardry. Brands got excited and started budgeting for digital spending ( see how car cos earmark a percentage of ad spend for the same) . Media agencies tasted blood and started recruiting sales agent called group heads, digital mavens, national directors, director intervention, tada tada tada... Now tell me, does it not feel good to be approached by a multinational , represented by some fancy sounding designation? And the Indian digital revolution happened. Post liberalisation fortune 500 were setting their bases in India and came with a war chest to get a foothold in the Indian market.

So as you can say that Indian gold rush was largely fuelled by multinational media agencies, near college dropouts ( sales agents) and few digital shops ( mind it not agencies as they put some brain behind developing things) . And the gold was a combination of display ads and text ads for search engines. Campaigns were concocted and presented to the clients, misleading them into believing that they were reaching their customers. During and after the campaigns the clients were presented with complex excel sheets with the terms called CPC, CTR, BR, CTC and the list goes on. These Big Daddy Agencies made their clients realise that spending money in traditional media is sheer wastage and a dumb thing to do. Brands do not realise that these agencies also hold the ad agencies and one way or another money will flow to the agencies.

So dumbs made others feel dumb and fuelled more growth for the nascent industry in India, full of incompetent, unprofessional, unethical and nincompoops. Rave party went till the recession hit the big spenders or you may call the fortune 500. It was now that these brands started asking the questions such as return on investment, alignment with the brand messaging, marketing objectives and the communication strategies. Behold! there is no such thing as asking questions in digital media. It is the coolest thing to do and it is sacrosanct. Digital sales agents still tried to convince the brands by slashing their rates, asking them to reduce the budgets ( even now brands usually do not spend more than 3 to 4 percent of their entire budget on digital) and offering them free or at cost creative development such as kitschy flash websites and endless photo upload applications. Party got extended and things went fine for couple of years till the social revolution hit the indian industry in 2010. In their stupor of selling banner and text ads ,these sales agents never tried to upgrade and were found lacking in every possible way. They did not offer any research on their own ( though one would find the mailboxes of sales maven full of third party researches from agencies from Poland and Tajakistan), no real insights about the industries or the domains and no new innovations except the deep pockets to buy out of box solutions from the western counterparts for the western audience and not Indian for sure. Once a party animal always a party animal. Things got sorted when equivalents of sales agent started sprouting all over , also known as social media experts. Now sales agent outsourced work to these experts and convinced their clients that they are in full control of the situation . Another minor gold mine was discovered in the form of social media ads, largely for Facebook. Fans, enthusiasts or supporters who are considered the bull work of any brand became a tradable commodity which were sold by ad networks for four rupees per fan to fifteen rupees per fan and bought by agencies for the brands. This after-party party is still on and brands are buying fans in droves while social media experts are posting updates such as funny quotes copied from Quote Garden and fill in the blank questions. As I see things today this party is going to get over and the media trading agencies and their slide trotting professionals will have to find out another river, another place for mining gold, for now brands are going to ask tough questions and actionable logical insights. Those agencies who have invested resources in researcing the medium and trying to innovate will go on to become a force to reckon with. I at Shack! have been privy and part of the gold rush. I did try to mine gold for a while. In the nick of time I chanced upon a disbeliever of the industry and saw quite early ( three years ago) how things might fold up. My stint at Managment Colleges and my stint as independent researcher for clients helped me think in terms of takeaway for the brands and the users and incorporate the same in our offerings to the client. Now is the time to replace chance with enterprise. GOLD RUSH IS OVER!

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