digital, mobile

Where Digital Agencies Are Fucking Up

what we really deserve is a classic indian gpl
There are too many logical, long-winded, argumentative ways to say this…so I’m just going to say it straight.

We’re fucking up because we’re ignoring India’s most pervasive digital medium:

The mobile phone.

Statistics reveal the depth of our ignorance. (Sources: Wikipedia, IAMAI)

Parameter
Internet
Mobile Phones
Total subscriber base 81 million
(2009)
617.53 million
(May 2010)
Annual growth 14 million 178.25 million
Monthly growth 1.2 million 20.31 million

The way we operate is to take a brief and straightaway start thinking along the lines of a microsite, social media, sharing, etc. And completely ignore the facts.

It’s stupid, ignorant, arrogant, blinkered, narrow-minded and absolutely unforgivable.

Make no mistake – I’m not just castigating others, I’m casting the first stone at myself.

A lot of this ignorance is because we haven’t yet opened our minds to the power of the mobile phone and what we can do with it. We have limitations to work around – 3G isn’t here, smartphones are only now beginning to catch on and data plans are pricy.

Even then, we have opportunities:

  • SMS, the old favourite. While outright unsolicited push SMS is technically banned (‘technically’ because the ban is seldom enforced), one can reach consumers who’ve opted to receive messages.
  • MMS, another old favourite. Till date, MMS has been used primarily to spread sex (scandal) videos. But the potential is there, as more and more phone manufacturers crank up multimedia capability.
  • Voice, the key thing we ignore. Voice content is huge in India. Prepaid users in small towns pay as much as six bucks a minute to dial a number and listen to a joke. Six bucks a minute! For people who recharge in increments of Rs. 50! Unbelievable potential…if we can get the content and context right.
  • Audibles. Ringtones and caller ringback tunes. There’s a lot we can do with these if we just put our minds to it.
  • WAP sites. They’ve been around for a while, and are generally rather minimalist. There’s a lot you can do with them, though. I just saw a demo of 3D product displays on a WAP site…and I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Augmented Reality, the new kid on the block. Layar is proof of the concept, and it’s even released in India. QR codes are gaining traction. One caveat though – this is a technology for Internet-enabled smartphones only.
  • Social networking is on mobiles too! A large chunk (I don’t have the exact stats) of logins comes from Blackberries, iPhones, Snaptu, Social Hub and the ilk. Phone manufacturers are helping – most phones today come with pre-packaged Facebook and Twitter apps.
  • Location, location, location. With GPRS connections and GPS-enabled phones on the rise, there’s an opportunity to tap into location-based services without going through network operators. Location is the flavour of the month – global operator Foursquare has just crossed 100 million check-ins…all of them from mobile phones.
  • And surely there’s something I haven’t thought of yet.

Apart from the creative jollies we’ll get developing engagements for mobile phones, there’s a damned good business reason for us to get our heads out of the sand.

Typically, digital in India has been adopted by brands that reach out to the higher end of the SEC/LSM strata. What do members of these strata have that their lower-SEC/LSM counterparts don’t? The answer is easy, frequent Internet access.

And that’s where the mobile phone can come in – as a truly global, pan-SEC/LSM digital platform. It can allow us to finally sell digital as a medium that will truly augment reach. It will allow agencies to present – and clients to buy – campaigns for the Ghadis, Bagpipers, HMTs, Lifebuoys, Cycle Agarbattis and Fevicols of India. It will allow us to discover and engage with a new audience.

And it will allow us to (finally!) push Indian marketing into the digital era.

It’s time to get our heads out of the sand.

Standard

12 thoughts on “Where Digital Agencies Are Fucking Up

  1. Interesting article ! From India point of view Mobile Internet is way too big compared to Internet penetration. It is sad that Digital agencies don't think from mobile angle. There is so much that can be done and with 3G smart phone sales will go mental – that will bring in a lot more opportunities – mobiles are the way forward in India and the rest of the world!!

  2. It's sad Samit that digital creative people suffer from the same malaise our art directors used to suffer from many years ago… The need for physical real estate to showcase creativity ( I need a double spread, single page mien kya hoga; need 45 secs, 15 secs is too little, etc) .. Unless we can see the mobile screen as a powerful interface rather than a 2.5" screen, we will continue to be blinkered equating digital creativity with the size of the computer screen) ..nice article! And very timely

  3. Hi Samit. Advertising on mobile phones is already widespread. There's 160By2.com, and IndyaRocks which allow you to send free SMSs with an Advert piggybacking your message. FaceBook and blogs already allow adverts on cellphones too.We have all been irritated by a caller Advertisements. In fact, it makes me NOT to buy me the product (I came running and tumbling to hear THIS ?)I think that the challenge is to make mobile advertising :a) Non-invasiveb) Subtle and non-irritatingTele-callers are invasive. Recorded calls asking you to buy a product are irritating (they've sometimes woken me up from a siesta). Adverts embedded in free SMSs are NOT subtle (imagine one is sending an "I'm profusely sorry" note only to find an advert of "Emotional Atyachaar" at the bottom).If mobile advertising becomes non-invasive and subtle, it would be great. Subtle advertising also embeds itself on the mind well, psychologically speaking.Thanks.

  4. Thanks for reading, and keep the comments coming.@Sanjai: That's a novel way to look at it! Never really thought of that…but now that you've planted the seed, it's taking root quick.@Abhid: I'm aware of 160by2 and IndyaRocks. With regard to their reach, my question is – who advertises here, and how many people use these services? I wouldn't classify telecallers or these services as 'digital' advertising, simply because they're only trying to close a sale rather than engage. Digital is all about engaging the consumer, and none of the platforms you've mentioned do that. I do, however, completely agree that mobile marketing has to be non-invasive, subtle and non-irritating. I'll even add another parameter to that – fun!

  5. Hi again. A mobile phone is an ACTIVE transmitting-receiving device. This is unlike a taxi-cab, whose advert can be viewed (or not) passively. by any passerby. A mobile user has no choice. He is forced to actively view or listen the advert.So I think the user must be given a choice : Do you want to listen to great insurance products or credit cards ? And there would be people who'd like to be spoonfed all the details, instead of browsing through sites. A taxicab's small space can't have all the details. And detailed spoonfeeding requires an ACTIVE medium like a cellphone.While connecting to the internet, it takes some time, and the user has no choice but to wait and stare at the screen. This is a good time to show him an Ad-logo.In MMS or graphics related stuff, a user can download great templates, wallpapers or screensavers with the logo of a company neatly put in a top-right corner. This is subtle. A template of a bike can have an MRF logo, for example.Rural folk definitely won't mind a bit of invasive advertising, if great offers at their local Apna Bhandaar store or mandi are made available. FMCG and home appliances are good candidates.Also, if I'm not mistaken rural folks do get weather updates/warnings and fertilizer tips through state-run channels on their cellphones. They'd surely wouldn't cringe like us urbanites if an Ad is inserted within them.If Tanishq has stores all over Mumbai, then a google map-LIKE application can point tiny Tanishq logos in all suburbs and/or important tourist spots wherever they have a presence.The above I think may try to engage the target audience, hopefully.Thank you.

  6. @Abhid: Some nice thinking there, Abhid. My views:Opt-in advertising on mobiles would be ideal. Unfortunately, TRAI has admitted they can't stop the flow of spam messages or calls coming to you. Something has to be done…but nobody knows what.Not sure about the idea of beaming a logo while you're trying to connect to the Internet on your phone. I think that's extremely invasive. Also, there are limitations to doing this. The advertiser must tie-up with manufacturers like Nokia or browser brands like Opera. Both of whom would be sceptical about in-window advertising.You're bang-on about the rural initiatives. A good idea there.And mapping (location) is the next wave…so brands other than Tanishq can and should take advantage.I appreciate your comments. Keep 'em coming.

  7. Hi Samit. Thanks a lot for the response.One thing I forgot to mention, but one that is a typhoon in the making is mobile app games. In India, surprisingly this segment is still very nascent as compared to China, Korea and other east Asian nations.A bike racing game is ideal for subtle MRF and Honda ads (the bikes could be Hondas). A jungle adventure game could have a Shikari Shambhu-type character drinking Gatorade for power-ups or extra lives.Speaking of Shikari Shambhu, he himself is an Advert for the now-moribund Amar Chitra Katha books. You could download single-story comic strips with these characters — and subtle adverts inserted in between, just like I told above. The same could be done with Archie or Gabbar-Sholay strips. Gabbar could be shown chewing a particular Gutka brand for example, or using Mortein mosquito coil.If one is accessing financial transacting websites like easybillindia.com or sharekhan.com, the "bill" displayed on your cellphone screen could have an advert inserted in a corner. This is exactly like our normal MTNL or MSEB paper bills that have an advert in the bottom right corner for insurance products, banks etc.All the above ideas are not new. They've already been implemented in the real world. We see MTNL bills with Ads and Archie comix endorsing certain "youth" products. Just heave it to digital. Video games also have Ads inserted (bike racing games feature real bikes). All these have one thing in common : they're all ACTIVE mediums in which the user Chooses to interact one-one with them (like video-games, nasty bills, or comic books). The only thing that remains is to add subtle adverts in them.In mobile advertising, this has to be simply replicated.Thanks.

  8. Hi again. Actually it would not be entirely accurate to strictly classify advertising mediums as "digital" and "non-digital".Advertising mediums have always been classified as passive and active. A man holding a sign that says, "Will work for food", is passive advertisig. Also, shop signs, neon signs and Cabs are passive too.Now books and comix are active advertising examples. A Jeffry Archer villain is described drinking his favorite brand of wine and Archie comix are also known to subtly advertise.With the advent of the radio & TV, advertising became a bit of both. While watching a channel, ads were inserted in between so you were actively forced to view them. But one could always switch the channel, just as one could move on from a shop.In internet a website is just like a public park with touts coming in your way. Only here, touts are replaced by Flash adverts popping up all over the screen. However, one moment you could be chatting with a celebrity endorsing a perfume line in Delhi, and on the other you could be liking Reebok's Facebook page. But in real life, one can't view a shop in Amsterdam and then Delhi in a matter of minutes. That's the only major difference between digital and the real world.In the old days, there used to be a network of Pen Pals across the globe. You could write a letter to just one, or send a copy of the same letter to all friends in your group (though an awesome waste of stationary). And every person multiple PP groups. Famous actors received tons of mail and replied in newspaper columns (they still do today like in HT Cafe). Now Twitter is nothing but the internet equivalent of the same thing. The difference is that it is instantaneous compared to snail-mail, and the reach is practically limitless.So, I really don't think that a separate "insight" is required for digital medium, as its advent has in no way altered the basic premise of advertising : Active and Passive. Even a "traditional" advertising mindset can work here.Also speaking of "digital", in the coming 10 years your computer and TV will merge into one monitor and machine. An ultra-high speed net connectio will allow you to view TV channels, or surf the web on the same monitor. Bye bye cable TV and dish antennas. 3G and 4G mobile networks will do the same on a mobile : watch TV channels, listen to internet radio….or surf the net.So the line between digital and non-digital like TV/radio will disappear. People are already living out their main lives on Second-life.Thanks.

  9. I think that the power of the internet can be leveraged to get continuous user feedback. It can be done because the Internet is a two-way communication medium unlike broadcast media like TV or radio.Sabeer Bhatia (of hotmail.com fame) began a blogger type service to which a widget could be attached to a company's website, and any user could type in a review or comment. This would force the company to be on its toes all the time.The venture failed, but it demonstrates how a company can take iterative feedback from its customers. On facebook, there are product pages that advertise schemes and plain adverts non-stop 24/ 7/ 365, and keep taking user feedback. A PR guy has to be logged in to the facebook page 24/7 in shifts.Then there are celebs like Kim Kardashian who was paid $25,000 for a favorable tweet on Armani.However, all the above examples still do not violate the fundamentals of advertising. But a new dimension is added :- 24/7 interactivity en masse sans borders. This must be the building block of internet and mobile advertising.Thanks.

  10. Abhid,I'm responding to the previous comment – in which you said:"So, I really don't think that a separate "insight" is required for digital medium, as its advent has in no way altered the basic premise of advertising : Active and Passive. Even a "traditional" advertising mindset can work here."I disagree. Vehemently.All traditional advertising falls in the passive category. All. Because in every ad, a message is beamed to a consumer and washes over him/her, hopefully to be absorbed and acted upon. It's one-way messaging.Digital and new-media advertising is active advertising. Because here a brand can actively engage with a consumer. A message goes out to a consumer, he replies to the brand, the conversation begins. It's 2-way. It's socially shareable. It's ACTIVE!!!Having spent most of my career in mainline advertising, I had to learn very quickly about the nature of the digital medium. And I'm pretty sure that the communication format is very different.What's more, we develop insights based on how people use these media. We plan for conversation, for engagement, for behavioural targeting, for sharing. All of which spring from deep insights into the medium.I think you need to actually spend some time doing digital ads to realise how different this medium is. I go through this realisation several times a day.Thanks for keeping the conversation going.Cheers,Samit

  11. Hi Samit. Thanks for your comment.To summarize, I think that digital communication does not change the rules of 'traditional' advertising. ALL examples are taken from the real world only.What makes it different is that there is unlimited scope and timelessness. As an example, after just 5 minutes of tweeting an offer to its 50,000 followers, Big Bazaar stores can get increased footfalls for the rest of the evening.This is no different from pamphlets inserted in early morning newspapers that people subscribe to. Its just that the dissemination of info is instant, and the result is instant.As another example, a blog post that disses Sony-Vaio will create ripples throughout blogospehere. So much so that Sony's PR team will comment on the blog to clarify things up.Again, this is no different than Swami Ramdev's campaign against Cola firms, and the PR guys from the firms clarifying things up on national TV and visiting the affected farmers.Once again, the only difference is the speed of information dissemination. An RSS feed of the blog-post or a bad tweet can always keep PR guys of firms on their toes. Forever & forever.Thank you.

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