Pakistan has emerged as an important market in what has been termed as ‘the next billion’. What is the next billion, you might ask? It is a metaphor for the future of the internet, both the exponential growth in connectivity in emerging markets and the growth of next-level technology in mature markets. (source: Google Official Blog)
Proof of this can be gauged by the exponential growth of 3G/4G connectivity we have experienced in the last four to five years, as well as in the growth of online platforms such as Google and Facebook. In Pakistan, there are currently 59 million 3G/4G connections and 62 million broadband subscribers (source: Pakistan Telecom Authority). Taking into account any overlap between the two, we can safely estimate that there are approximately 60 million individuals in Pakistan who are connected to the internet at least once a month. That is close to 30% of the population, or one in every three Pakistanis.
Given the immense potential this number offers, we have seen a huge surge in spend from brands on online portals as well as mobile advertising. In fact, from being a market that was rather neglected or overlooked by platforms such as Google and Facebook, these companies are now assigning dedicated sales representatives, setting up customer support hotlines and holding workshops and conferences to facilitate media buying and planning agencies and brands in maximising their spends on these platforms. This in turn, has given rise to two important trends in the Pakistani media planning and buying world. Firstly, the emergence of specialised agencies and departments within agencies that focus solely on digital media and secondly, an ongoing debate in media circles of TV versus digital.
Given the rate at which digital media trends change and the relative level of complication and dedicated time involved in managing dashboards, optimising campaigns and bids, as well as managing the large amounts of data that comes in from running digital campaigns, it is essential to have resources specialising in digital media, especially for products that require real-time optimisation such as e-commerce or performance-based campaigns. It is their insights that help the account teams make better and more informed decisions for their brands.
Proper training of account managers on digital media is essential, so that even if they do not directly handle day-to-day operations and optimisation, they are still able to understand the processes involved to a level that they can strategise, align and set realistic expectations of what can be achieved by leveraging digital media platforms.
This is all good until these specialisations start to turn into silos whereby digital media and traditional media not only have completely different planners and strategists – they have totally different thought processes and planning and brand objectives. This leads to situations where account managers and planners are unable to have a top-line strategic conversation with their clients without the help of a digital resource, despite leading entire portfolios, even agency divisions, and having the responsibility to present recommendations on the entire media mix budget.
This significant gap in understanding is present in many agencies today and it has implications that can adversely impact overall strategic planning and efficiency. Proper training of account managers on digital media is essential, so that even if they do not directly handle day-to-day operations and optimisation, they are still able to understand the processes involved to a level that they can strategise, align and set realistic expectations of what can be achieved by leveraging digital media platforms.
This type of resource that can plan both online and offline media seamlessly is known as a ‘hybrid’ model media planner. According to Forbes, in the world of advertising, the hybrid media planner is a person who brings together two disciplines: the skills of the marketing research expert (understands the drivers of customer behaviour) and the expertise of a digital specialist (who uses data to identify individuals likely to be the best target audience for a brand).
For example, a luxury sports car company launches a new type of car with a well-integrated campaign. All the elements of the integrated campaign are deployed: mass advertising (TV, radio, print, etc.), PR, social, digital, POS and event marketing. Part of the success of the campaign is the result of a regular flow of information from the hybrid planner to digital planning, which makes it possible to target consumers that fit a specific persona. Some of these questions can be answered by the account planners as they are the closest to the brand. Yet, when it comes to fine-tuned targeting methods, such as custom targeting, re-targeting people who showed interest in the product and making the best use of data management platforms, a digital specialist is your best bet. If the account planner cannot work at (or understand) the level of depth that goes into such digital campaigns and processes (the only medium that can give a measurable ROI on a product), they will not be able to fully understand or communicate them further to the client. This, in turn, often leads to the client not fully understanding the vast potential digital media can offer them.
Another debate that has arisen is the trend in media circles of saying that digital is ‘better’ than TV or that TV is dying and that ‘everything’ will be digital in Pakistan in the next XYZ years. However, as far as the ground reality goes, subscribing to such ideas is, at the very least, being ignorant. Here’s why: TV still has up to 90% penetration in urban centres and up to 70% in rural areas. Given the mass reach that comes with these numbers, especially in rural areas (comprising about 65% of the population) where internet connectivity can be an issue, TV can penetrate where digital cannot. Digital platforms are growing, but so is TV. TV channels have crossed the 100 mark in the past five years and TV spend is still on the rise. So, when all is said and done, it is not an either/or case of investment between TV and digital. It is not a competition about one medium being better than the other; it is about how they can complement each other and how they can be used in different ways depending on your target audience and objectives.
Many sports events can now be streamed live online and brands have the option to invest a fraction of the amount on digital and reach the same target audience. With video-neutral planning for example, you can use YouTube as a TV channel to achieve incremental reach on an audience that may not watch TV that often.
TV can get you mass awareness and digital can complement it by fine-tuning the target group you are trying to reach. TV will generate interest in your product and digital can help you double tap into potential customers who have shown interest by clicking/commenting. This comes in handy for brands that don’t want to invest in big TV properties that are, at times, too expensive for most advertisers. Many sports events can now be streamed live online and brands have the option to invest a fraction of the amount on digital and reach the same target audience. With video-neutral planning for example, you can use YouTube as a TV channel to achieve incremental reach on an audience that may not watch TV that often. This is where the expertise of media planners trained in hybrid media is essential; they can strike the right balance between online and offline media and give the brand optimum solutions for their media mix.
Given a dynamically changing landscape, the next few years are going to be pivotal for both digital and hybrid media planners in Pakistan. Those who have not built up their expertise in at least one of the two will be left behind in this increasingly competitive industry.
Urooj Hussain is Associate Director Digital, Brainchild Communications.