In-depth: The future of media planning and recalibrating for the new normal

The disruptions brought about by the global pandemic have hit media planning, too, in a major way. The dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour and the way they consumed content have left media planners having to rapidly, and sometimes constantly, evaluate and change their media plans.

The situation is a dynamic one, with consumer behaviour and opinions constantly changing and it is going to remain so at least for the next couple of years. Along with this, the growing media industry also has to bring in new technologies and tools for data-driven advertising as traditional media planning strategies are not able to keep up with clients’ growing demands.

In this In-depth report, Adgully endeavours to understand the emerging dynamics of media planning in the new normal – what are the challenges and ways to tackle these challenges, operating in a TV ratings dark era, planning for a world of converged TV, the growing importance of cross-media planning, the key lessons from 2020 and much more. For this, Adgully reached out to some leading names in media planning in the country today.

The key challenges & how to tackle them

Given the newer set of challenges facing the media planners today, there is need to adapt to the volatile nature of this domain on a constant basis. Priti Murthy, CEO, OMD India, believes that with the onslaught of analytics tools entering the market, there is a massive expectation for advertisers to provide robust impact assessment and consistently deliver a significant ROI. Campaign performance and consumer attention have come to become measurable entities and this has heightened the pressure on marketers to keep pace with the change. According to her, “Hits and misses are not as excusable as they were before. It’s also essential to note that while client expectations lie in single source currency of measurement, Indian media is so fast-paced in adapting to changes that a single currency might not hold true. For instance, the shift of TV to CTV and increasing content consumption in Reels and Sharechat formats.”

Along with this, it is also important to understand that a little bit of flexibility in media budgeting can be necessary at times. Despite impact assessment endeavours, the volatile nature of this domain requires advertisers to constantly tweak spends in line with the contribution margin levels. This also brings to mind another challenge. For such real-time fine-tuning, one needs superlative and accelerated analytics capabilities. Data provenance and recency, too, are extremely important today. “To tackle these challenges head on, it is firstly crucial to disseminate awareness on the limitations of extremely precise budgets and one-time assessments. Alongside that, it is and will continue to be essential for advertisers to possess trusted data sources and thereby up to date and superior quality data,” Murthy opines.

Client always looks for the most efficient and effective way to reach its prospects. According to Roopam Garg, Chief Operating Officer, dentsu X, “With the growing media fragmentation, the biggest challenge for a planner is to design an optimised solution across media types. Clients want a brand/ media strategy and do not differentiate between offline and an online strategy.” However, non-availability of a single source data makes the task tougher for a planner. To tackle such challenges in today’s dynamic media landscape, the planner needs to be trained to equip them to design the best solution for their clients.

While noting that marketing is undergoing a paradigm shift, with the consumer lying in the centre of this change, Rajul Kulshreshtha, CEO, Madison Media Plus, says, “It is the responsibility of the media planners to align themselves with these changes at the marketing level and provide for meaningful media solutions.”

Dhirendra Singh, Senior VP, Initiative India, too, agrees that aligning media solution with the changing and evolving media landscape has always being a challenge for the media planners. “With the rapidly changing media ecosystem, it becomes imperative for planners to keep evolving in designing media solutions by keeping the consumer at the centre. And the best way to address is to adhere to a few basic and important planning principles; for instance, to have a presence where the consumers are and to communicate to them in a context when they are most receptive. This implies that while content is king, context is equally important and hence, needs to be planned,” he adds.

Major lessons from 2020

The year 2020 has been an unprecedented one for the entire industry and the massive disruptions caused by the global pandemic have forced the industry to quickly adapt to a very dynamic world. There have been several learnings for media planners, which will guide them in the way forward.

For OMD India’s Murthy, one major lesson has been that one cannot ever predict the rate at which consumer behaviour and consumption trends can change. “The learning here is to constantly be nimble, adapt to the situation and always focus on larger business numbers. In one year alone, advertising has seen an unprecedented shift. As things continue to recover, it is still a challenge for many to budget and plan with absolute certainty. However, the fact that there has been such a surge in digital channels does make it a little easier to achieve precision in tracking media spends.”

Another lesson, perhaps, is that it is advisable for companies to use their competitors’ spends as a budgeting benchmark. In such a dynamic space, brands need to know what their competition is prioritising in order to avoid over or under-spending. “Also, one important learning from 2020 is that addressability can often be underestimated. Spending on addressable channels might gain momentum this year and next, so this is something to look out for,” she adds.

dentsu X’s Garg points out that making a media plan is an estimation always on past data trends. With so much of disruptions across media types in this pandemic year, estimating plan deliveries was a challenge and required great skills. He further says that planners were not only dependent on data, but also focused on qualitative parameters. Digital emerged as the most preferred media channel for many advertisers, thus increasing the need for cross channel learning for the media planners. Also, with reduced advertising budget the need for innovations, out of box ideas for sharper targeting had grown across media types. “At dentsu X, we weave in brand experience, beyond just media exposures, to drive brand engagement,” Garg informs.

Initiative India’s Singh notes that in 2020, media planning became more dynamic with the dramatic change in the media landscape. “We saw advertisers putting their best endeavour to recover from the COVID-19 situation. Being a true partner to our clients, it was all the more important for us to build a media strategy that results in better ROI for the media investments. So, one of the most important lessons of 2020 is how we can be more accountable in driving business growth through an effective and prudent media investment strategy.”

“The consumer is capable of innovating and adapting at a very fast pace – did media planners keep pace with these trends and adapt?,” asks Madison Media Plus’ Kulshreshtha in response.

Addressing the TV ratings dark scenario

Currently, media planners are facing a TV ratings dark scenario, especially for the News genre as there have been no ratings released by BARC India for over 3 months now following the TRP manipulation scam. A few years back, too, TV ratings were on hold for some time during the transition period to the New Tariff order. So, how do media planners address the TV ratings dark scenario?

Murthy responds by citing TAM AdEx numbers, which showed that in the period from October-December 2020, indexed ad volumes for news grew by 12%. She further says, “This was the first couple of months of the ratings dark period. Additionally, with the extremely viable option of GECs available to advertisers, I don’t think that the TV rating blackout period will affect media planners too adversely.”

Meanwhile, Garg admitted that for the last three months, planning for the news genre has certainly become a challenge. He adds that the planners are referring to the past data, which might not be relevant today, but that’s a limitation that the entire TV industry is facing. “In this scenario without data support, newer programs/ channels may face challenge in selling their inventory,” he feels.

Kulshreshtha, too, says that in such a scenario, media planners turn to historical data. Along with this, speaking with consumers on a regular basis – doing online surveys, etc., can always give planners an idea of what is happening. Also, the degree of volatility in TV can be measured and reasonable deductions can be made, he notes.

Planning for the world of converged TV

The growing online viewership across multiple devices has led to traditional TV advertising strategies having to adapt to rapid convergence happening in the media landscape. This has led to a shift to impression-based buying.

According to Murthy, “Ultimately, measurement is about business KPIs, so finally all media metrics will invariably have to be aligned to that. One important focus will be to heavily emphasise on omnichannel audience reach, especially to attribute online conversions to CTV campaigns, specifically ones that are cross-device in nature. Also, it might be advisable to shift a little from household-based advertising to device-based advertising, to ensure that there is a degree of frequency capping so that audiences do not feel fatigued with ad repetition. Converged TV is all the more reason for planners and buyers to work in seamless tandem, more so than ever before.”

On the other hand, Garg feels that in a market like India, the concept of converged TV is still very small and linear TV has the lion’s share, however, at the same time he says that it is important to note that the connected TVs are growing rapidly. “In Tier 1 towns, the percentage of people having connected TV is rising and cross media planning is the best way to prepare for the future,” he adds.

While noting that converged TV is a new development in the media world, Kulshreshtha says that a good place to begin with is to understand from the manufacturers on the scale of how many connected TVs did they make and sell. “This will give us a sense on the size of the universe. Thereafter, mapping app data to viewership should not be such a difficult task. Hotstar is already doing it and I am sure others will follow suit,” he remarks.

Cross-media planning

Taking cue from Garg’s statement about cross media planning in today’s media landscape, we asked our industry experts in what ways it can fortify marketers’ media strategy.

Murthy responds by saying, “With a solid impact assessment strategy and with a degree of ROI prediction, I think cross-media planning can enable marketers to reach the widest possible audience for a good price. I think here, TV and OTT make a formidable combination right now with the advent and advancement of CTV.”

Reaching the appropriate audience through the relevant channels at the right time with the desired frequency – this is the benefit of cross-media planning. At the same time, Murthy cautions against the pitfall that needs to be navigated smartly, which is to ensure that spends don’t get wasted. And that’s why data accuracy matters. Because simply considering a plethora of channels will not work. “Your cross-media strategy could involve just 3-4 channels, but if your data tells you about your audience with precision and at the same time you can leverage cross-device attribution, then it is bound to fortify the overall strategy,” she notes.

Garg, too, believes that with the increase in number of touch points in a consumer journey, it is imperative to be present across all the relevant touchpoints. The end objective is always to reach the right prospect with the right message at the right time and at the most efficient cost. This can only be achieved with an integrated media strategy rather than working in silos.

 “Technologies available for reaching the consumer have changed and, therefore, it will be myopic on the part of the planner to ignore this basic premise. Multimedia or integrated planning is the need of the hour and is no longer an option,” stresses Kulshreshtha.

Singh, too, emphasises that cross-media planning is critical as today’s consumers are more flirtatious in consuming media since they have plenty of content choices to make. “Cross-media planning gives advertisers a good opportunity to target the consumers from one single lens and build a solution which are media agnostic. It brings in a lot of media efficiency by suggesting an optimum mix and multiplies the communication reach and impact,” he adds.

The key to new-age digital media planning

It all boils down to what planners need to do and the things that they need to keep in mind in formulating new-age digital media planning strategies.

OMD India’s Murthy’s parting words stress on building data capabilities that enable real-time reassessment of performance and spends, cross-device attribution (when it comes to digital), and a consistent and periodic re-evaluation of data quality. According to her, these would be the tenets of new-age digital media planning. She further says, “Considering that these 3 key factors would help make better decisions, faster, the rest of the strategy is bound to be bolstered. For instance, we at OMG are tackling these dizzying changes with our in-house single-source, precision-marketing platform OMNI. Data capabilities need to be upgraded at such a rate that we are collectively, as an industry, ready to keep pace in a well-informed manner.”

“Not only inter media, but also within digital there is a lack of a uniform measurement tool. Unlike TV, planners need to access multiple reports for multiple platforms. If the industry can manage to get a uniform tool it will lead to minimize wastage and planners will be able to optimise the plan on a targeted reach/ frequency. In addition to this, defining a clear brand KPI and not losing focus by chasing multiple metrics at the same time needs to be emphasized. Lesser data with more insights is always better than becoming data rich but insight poor,” opines dentsu X’s Garg.

“Understanding the consumer journey is critical. Funnel marketing is becoming more and more complicated and at the core of all this is the digital journey. Understanding this is key to arriving at effective media solutions,” concludes Madison Media Plus’ Kulshreshtha.


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