The recent visit by Google International to Pakistan revealed the gap between how digital media should be used and how it is used for marketing in Pakistan. The first ever meeting between the Google team working on Pakistan and an audience from fields related to digital, also set the ground for the way forward. The misunderstandings and problems that cause Pakistani advertisers and marketers to not give digital its due importance were plain to see.
There were however some good learnings to be grasped and the Google team shared information about the market and why it is important enough to invest in. One theme that resounded throughout from the questions posed by the audience was the fact that digital is an unknown, in more ways than one. Leading marketers from the top FMCGs expressed their desire to have accurate information on key statistics like the number of internet users in Pakistan.
The burning question that marketers ask, when told to consider digital as a medium of equal importance to print or radio or even TV, is whether it has critical mass. Critical mass basically means does it have the numbers or reach to make it worthwhile for companies to invest a sizeable amount of their budget? Again, this debate has raged on and is fuelled by a lack of proper data. Although the most commonly quoted figures state that Pakistan has 22 million internet users, many are sure this figure is exaggerated. Some favour a figure of 10 million or so. Whatever the real figure is, digital does have the right to receive much more of the ad spend than it currently does. There is no denying the fact, as was stated at the event, that there is a gap between how consumers are using digital and how marketers are. True this is a global phenomenon but it is very pertinent here in Pakistan.
There is no denying that digital marketing has made great progress in Pakistan. We now have quite a few digital agencies and more than needed social media experts. Digital is no longer an unwanted good, unsought after by the brand and agency team.
Importance of local languages
Pakistan is officially an Urdu speaking country, but there seems to be a bias or preference towards English. In recent years we have become accustomed to the sight of English advertisements appearing in Urdu newspapers. In my opinion this is abusing the strength of the medium and its context. Others may argue that having an English advertisement is clutter breaking. You will be surprised that during the event, the Google team member in charge of Adwords, presented the case for using local language digital ads. Contrary to common perceptions that Urdu is for the ‘masses’, he advocated using Urdu and other regional languages for products such as mid-range phones. There is no doubt, the local ad industry follows certain practices that are seriously flawed, and not using languages other than English, is effectively one.
Split run and logic
I am sure many of you are familiar with the split run, if you aren’t, it’s simply the technique of using more than one execution for an ad in order to probe what works best. The split run is a global practice but not common in Pakistan. For people in online advertising, using different executions is a matter of course. When you have a limited budget and can’t risk all your money on just one execution it’s common sense to experiment with at least two options. At the Google event, the use of the split run was advocated and one of the teams even went so far as to recommend having different ad copy in Adwords. He also spoke about reducing the path to purchase and creating different landing pages for the varied audience. There is no reason the split run can’t be used in Pakistan for traditional media, print especially and if used effectively, it can help identify what clicked in your creative execution.
Integrating digital and changing mindsets
There is no denying that digital marketing has made great progress in Pakistan. We now have quite a few digital agencies and more than needed social media experts. Digital is no longer an unwanted good, unsought after by the brand and agency team. In fact almost every campaign discussion would include a discussion about how to use digital to push the brand. During the question and answer session there was a discussion about how to improve on the steps achieved so far. One approach is to change the way digital is treated. As suggested by one of the audience members, the medium needs to be there in the reckoning, right at the start of the campaign planning. Instead of locking the campaign strategy and execution and then thinking how to adapt a traditional media idea to online, digital-centric ideas and executions need to be developed. This would mean treating all agency teams – creative, media and digital as equals, briefing them together and asking them to work in a cross-functional matrix.
Another way to start leveraging digital effectively is to create made for digital executions.
As explained by the Google team, the common practice is to take a print ad, animate it and place it online as a digital ad. This is a phenomenon I have experienced during my days as a media planner, as well as more recently in my short fling with digital.
Of course now there are a variety of options with interactive, video and rich media available to advertisers and local brands have been employing them. The fact remains that the majority of the digital ads in the market are still print adaptations and this practice means the brand teams are failing to harness the medium’s potential at an even basic level.
The usual response when you pose to marketers the option of using digital is, “What’s the ROI?” At the Google event too, people were eager to know how to calculate ROI for digital. I was left wondering whether these marketers even knew how to calculate the ROI on their mainstream media spends.
Do local marketers know how much TV is contributing to their brand goals and how much the other mediums are? Also speaking from a media planning context, apart from TV there is no reliable data for media such as outdoor and radio, so why is their use never questioned?
This attitude towards digital is both sad and dangerous, marketers who hesitate before spending a pittance on online, seem to have no qualms about splurging 10 times larger amounts on media with no accountability or measurement but are part of the accepted ATL package.
There are ways to calculate digital ROI, the only problem is that there is no real benchmark that is accepted on the same level as GRPs are for TV. Another issue is that marketers are not too knowledgeable about the levels of ROI and so they blindly venerate low impact KPIs such as counting impressions or Facebook likes.
Looking back on the journey of digital marketing in Pakistan, the best way that local marketers can use digital effectively is not to wait for some formula to be given to them so that they can avoid risk and failure. They need to explore and find out what works, digital is an exciting new medium but needs to be approached with a more open mindset and methods.
Tyrone Tellis has over six years media planning experience and is currently working in brand management. firstname.lastname@example.org