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The second wave of COVID may have thrown a spanner in the works of the global ad industry. However, India may be in good stead as ad revenue numbers may see more than 20% growth this year, says Tushar Vyas, President – Growth and Transformation, GroupM South Asia. In a conversation with IMPACT, Vyas shares his views about growth in a COVID ravaged year, changes in consumer behaviour, business pitches and more

Q] The latest GroupM report on global advertising revenue predicts a 19% jump ($749 billion) in 2021, excluding US political advertising. What will the numbers be for India and her neighbours? Where do you see the growth coming from?
India is estimated to grow more than 20% in 2021 compared to 2020 across media, excluding OOH and Cinema. Growth in advertising would be led by Digital followed by TV, Print and Radio. Pakistan is estimated to grow by 7% (TV and Digital growing faster than 7%), Bangladesh 16% (TV and Digital growing faster than 16%) and Sri Lanka by 7.5% (Digital, OOH and Cinema growing faster than 7.5%).
Digital has seen a massive transformation and has gained immense adoption driving a significant part of the global media growth during 2020. As a media vehicle, Digital will continue to grow rapidly due to the surge in digital dependency and changing consumer patterns. 2021 will see 90% incremental ad spends on Digital globally. The massive shift in digital adoption across geographies in the past year has been a major driver of this shift.

Q] How much did the second COVID wave impact the Indian ad industry, considering there was a general sense of despair for over two months?
Given the scale of the second wave, every company’s focus was to look after its employees and their well-being. Advertising spend was growing at a robust rate led by both essential and discretionary sectors until the second wave struck. With it, the growth was limited to the essentials and online segment that could grow on the back of consumers staying at home. Unlike the first wave, the supply-side impact was minimal, and this allowed companies to sell their products and services without major disruptions. The impact is estimated to be 1.5 to 2% on the full year. However, it could be minimised if advertising demand were to pick up in September-October 2021.
There were a couple of notable developments since COVID-19: the campaign duration and planning cycle got shorter and the shift to Digital got accelerated. Thus, the pandemic is probably going to reshape the advertising landscape and the way businesses reach consumers.

Q] What kind of changes have you been noticing in consumer behaviour post the second wave?
In each market, consumers are the drivers of market seriousness, development and financial combination. Consumers are seeking more convenience and value for money. The stress of the increased number of meals and members at home has led to an uptick in convenience as a key proposition. Depleted savings and income uncertainty is forcing consumers to choose essential over discretionary. There is a remarkable expansion in online business throughout the world because of the pandemic measures. Customers of all ages are presently effectively making online buys for essential services and products. Massive digitisation, increase in digital penetration and consumption, and active consumer participation in e-commerce helped the digital segment leapfrog.

Q] Based on your observations in the change in consumer behaviour, as an agency what kind of suggestions are you giving to brands in these uncertain times?
Brands need to review and relook at their strategy around consumer insight and data, content, and commerce (including e-commerce). Of course, changes in the consumer journey will result in commensurate changes in media selection. Marketing is becoming a two-speed world, and both need to move in sync.
When it comes to the discovery and design marketing cycle, brands need to look for consistency, identify relevant consumer segments and build a brand activation platform to drive meaningful engagement. Today, brand belief and purpose are important more than ever.
The delivery campaign cycle needs to be agile and adaptive. Understanding and activating various media platforms — social media, OTT, e-commerce marketplaces, influencers, etc. to carry out effective communication are essential. Data-driven approach will help customise communication messages going all the way up to personalisation.

Q] After a dull 2020, this year is believed to be a heavy pitch year. Some of the leading advertisers including HUL and Coke are believed to be calling for a pitch. How good has it been for your agency so far?
All our agencies are winning significantly. Even existing business reviews are resulting in the expansion of our scopes across media, e-commerce, data and tech, analytics, and content. A host of new-age clients came on board across categories like entertainment, online food delivery, fintech and e-commerce. We won Upstox, Bumble and Gonoise, and also healthcare clients like Fortis, AK Nova Lifesciences, and Bayer apart from retaining marquee clients like Kelloggs and L’Oréal, and consolidating the Zydus business.

Q] We saw some senior-level hiring on the digital front in GroupM in the last few weeks. How are you as an agency upping your digital game?
We are continuing our growth curve with necessary elevations and new hires that will help shape up our ecosystem across verticals. Be it content, sports and entertainment, data and technology, analytics, e-commerce, performance, and digital products. The elevations of Karthik Nagarajan, Vinit Karnik and Atique Kazi are testament to our continued investment in our talent to further amplify growth in these fields, considering their importance today. At the same time, the role of tech and automation is increasing in execution, and we are scaling up teams in those areas.

Q] It is claimed that GroupM is set to create 90 digital marketing apprenticeships in Manchester and London. Are you planning to do something similar in India as well?
Our talent community is highly connected, and we are always looking to bring in global expertise, practice and knowledge to local and regional markets. We have a robust entry-level programme, which includes recruiting from key campuses and our internship programme. We have a structured on-boarding, training, and mentoring programme for new talent. For us as GroupM, continuous upskilling of talent is a key priority. For example, we deliver multiple L&D programmes across digital, commerce, AI etc. for the benefit and upskilling of our people.

Q] Now that we are anticipating the third wave, how are you preparing your agency and your clients for the remaining year?
It’s an unprecedented time and I would like to believe that all of us (and the broader ecosystem) are wiser and more prepared with each passing experience. We are supporting our staff and immediate family members on vaccination to provide better protection and are continuously working on our wellness initiatives. Our teams are more prepared and agile and ready to effectively drive collaboration across various teams.

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