Muhammad Usman, Media Director Mediavest Pakistan, speaks to Aurora about the impact of digital on media selection.
AURORA: You have been in the same company for 11 years, relatively a long time for someone of your generation. What brought you into media planning?
MOHAMMAD USMAN: I am from Quetta. I came to Karachi to do my BBA and MBA, and while doing my MBA, I received a call from a friend to say that there was a position open and would I like to interview for it. So I started as a management trainee at Pak MediaCom in February 2009, working on the P&G account. One of the top qualities at Brainchild is the culture and the kind of opportunities and learning avenues they provide, irrespective of what level or designation you are at, and this is what led me to spend 11 years with them.
A: Were you thinking about making a career in media or advertising?
MU: I was not thinking at all on those lines; I had an interest in telecoms, but not necessarily in media.
A: What would be the significant changes to have taken place since 2009 in Pakistan?
MU: Talking specifically about media, in those days TV was the biggest medium in terms of reach and spending and there was a lot of focus on OOH. In fact, clients were allocating up to 30% of their spending to OOH and the focus on digital didn’t really exist; in 2013-2014, some multinational clients were spending as little as 0.2% to 0.3% of their budgets on digital.
A: Why so low?
MU: There wasn’t much capability either on the client or the agency side along with limited opportunity. Digital started to grow exponentially when 3G and 4G came to Pakistan and smartphone penetration and internet usage increased significantly. That was when we reached out to our network to learn how people change their media habits in a 3G or 4G environment, and we found that internet usage goes up five times and people end up buying faster Wi-Fi connections. This partially explains why, in Pakistan, digital spend has gone from 0.3% in 2014 to the current 30% to 40% for some clients. Furthermore, 80% of all traffic comes from mobile because a lot of people have made their mobiles their primary screen. The biggest change is the fact that before 3G and 4G, audiences were segmented in terms of TV, print or OOH – today everything is more media agnostic; it does not matter anymore whether a video started on social media, cable or a local publisher. Many clients are breaking their campaigns on YouTube or a digital asset first, rather than on TV. However, TV is still the largest medium in terms of reach; there is no question about that. Another important change is the emphasis on ROI in terms of every media vehicle. In Pakistan there is not much in the way of formal tracking or methodology to pinpoint exactly how much value a medium is adding and whether that value can be duplicated every month.
For example, if I opt to replace OOH with print, is it adding equal or more value to my ROI and reach out to the same audience? So another reason why digital has grown is because the tracking is very precise; you know where your ad was served, for how long did someone choose to engage with it, did they click on it because they were interested or did they click by mistake? Digital has brought a lot of measurement that was missing before. And as we continue to gain a better understanding of the consumer, we also gain a better understanding of whether an ad should go on digital or TV. The shift to being more ROI driven and media agnostic is about choosing the medium with higher incremental reach in the most efficient manner.
A: Would you agree that digital is specific to certain audience segments and may not be ideal when the objectives are to reach a mass audience?
MU: Yes and no. Firstly, it depends on the objective; if you are clear on what you want to achieve, it will help you decide what medium to use. Secondly, the long tail advertisers (there are more than 80,000 people in Pakistan running small businesses from a single room or a garage) too are looking at the benefits of digital. Again, it depends on the objectives and the type of service or the product you are offering. You cannot sell salt on a digital medium – well, you can, but it would not be the ideal medium to start a campaign with. However, if you are targeting a high-end fashion or skincare product, you should definitely look at digital because you can pinpoint and target your audience and capture them in a frame of mind or when they are likely to be interested.
A: So digital is better suited to high-end products?
MU: Not necessarily. Today you can buy a smartphone for Rs 3,000 and have access to Facebook, YouTube, etc. One of the interesting things I discovered a few years ago, when I was working with a telecom, was the fact that in Pakistan their highest volume of internet usage was from a semi-urban city.
A: Why a semi-urban city?
MU: It could be a lack of opportunities for entertainment, load shedding, discontinued cable services and so on. You don’t have to wait with video on demand (VOD) services. This is what has changed. We all have limited time in terms of when we can watch something and with VOD all SEC segments have the possibility of watching any programme when they want to. For example, although PSL (Pakistan Super League) was aired on TV, at one point there were over 1.8 million viewers watching it from a digital platform. Cricket is universal in Pakistan; you cannot associate it with a specific demographic profile – I remember seeing a security guard watching the series on YouTube. Of course, there was also a huge audience watching it on TV. So digital is not catering to specific SECs, but yes, a certain chunk of the audience can be targeted better on digital, but it is not restricted to any particular SEC.
A: Digital encompasses many platforms and advertising formats. Do you envisage a shift to something other; if so what would that be?
MU: Digital is about reaching out to audiences in a measured way. If suddenly tomorrow cinema becomes a medium where we can track my audience and measure their attention and their behaviour, then we would make an evaluation as to whether it is a better media opportunity. The thing about digital is that the avenues are not limited and there are different assets that can be used on a single platform. There are many advertising opportunities on TV, but they are always within limited time bands and advertisers have to fight to get a particular slot. With digital you see an ad at whatever time you open an app or visit a website and therefore, advertisers do not have to fight for a particular slot and this makes it easier.
On YouTube’s masthead alone, you end up serving 80 million impressions a day; imagine what kind of exposure a single platform can deliver. Now, will it change? Definitely. Will it change in the next five years? Perhaps. The future is going to be voice; voice recognition, and voice command. Amazon and Google are working on it and they are doing this not only because they want to give people a virtual assistant in their homes; there is a higher purpose to it, which is to control everything by voice commands.
A: How would that affect advertising?
MU: Then the fight will be for shelf space; whose app, product, website, information is published first. Right now in Pakistan we are struggling to completely understand digital because there is no single-source data whereby you can track digital and other media together. Ideally, if you have seen my ad on digital I would not want to show it to you on TV as well, unless my objective is to show the ad multiple times to everyone. Right now this tracking mechanism is missing. I am talking about single-source data whereby eventually everything will be on one database, using a single software. At the moment, I can target you through YouTube, Facebook, DAWN and TV, but I do not know where you spend the most time and to figure that out, I have to do a lot of permutations and combinations. Single source data will clarify a lot of things – and this takes us back to the importance of ROI measurement.
A: This requires a significant investment in new technology. Is Brainchild investing?
MU: We are in terms of our resources – we are training our people in how to identify the kind of questions that need to be asked – it is about the thought processes that lead to solutions on how best to tackle marketing challenges. We have won multiple awards for the ways we execute media. Recently, we won Best Use of Media in Asia Pacific at the Dragons of Asia Awards.
A: Who was the client?
MU: It was for a digital campaign we executed for EFU. The results were phenomenal; they prove that we are not thinking in a linear way, but in terms of how to solve a business need.
A: Insurance does not spring to mind as a service category optimal for digital.
MU: Yet the results were much better compared to what were expected and they plan to do it again. We were targeting consumers interested in different aspects; savings, technology, education, etc., so there was a lot of targeting. This is one advantage of digital media where you can get a conversion instantly compared to any other medium.
A: How has digital impacted the way the product is positioned?
MU: It is about impressive branding in the first few seconds. Today, across all digital platforms, audiences have the option to skip an ad after six seconds, so the key is to retain attention within those six seconds. Eventually there will be other ways of engaging audiences. Right now, we rarely create assets unique to each medium, hence the one size fits all messaging, but the idea is that every individual should be shown a different ad. You cannot measure or target anyone in isolation; people spend their days interacting with different devices and mediums. This needs to be consolidated; the strategy will be that more effective when I can figure out what I should show you on TV and what on digital. This understanding will come with single-source tracking.
A: Achieving single-source tracking will require investment too?
MU: It will have to be made because advertisers are asking for increased accountability. A lot of multinationals spend a great deal on digital and are questioning whether this is a duplicated impression or new incremental reach. For example, if I see an ad on YouTube for the first time, I am a new addition, but if I have already seen it on TV, then I am a duplicate impression. This is becoming a big area of concern and identifying whether I am the same person who watched the ad on TV or a new addition is becoming very important. Clients only want to pay for the incremental value.
A: As digital moves ahead, what is happening to other media?
MU: The medium that has been hit the most is OOH; billboards were overused. When the government and the Supreme Court took action, they were taken down in Karachi and then in Lahore. Then clients started to view OOH as a complementing medium; a reinforcement rather than a means of persuasion – it is difficult to believe that someone bought a phone just after being exposed to a billboard (maybe they did, but there is no research to prove it). So the budgets have gone either to digital or back to TV. Now video is becoming agnostic as audiences can watch the same drama on Hum TV and on YouTube and some of the budgets are moving away from TV, so that from 90% to 80%,TV now accounts for 60% to 70% of the spend. Some clients believe TV is still the better medium but eventually digital will take over. Digital has become the second largest medium in Pakistan in terms of spending from being the fifth, and in the next couple of years it will be at par with TV.
A: What about cinema? A few years ago the opinion was that it may prove to be an exciting new advertising platform.
MU: Cinema is at the top of the audio visual experience. The problem is that advertisers do not know how many people actually see the ads because they often run before the film starts or just after the intermission.
A: What about print? Most people believe it is a dying medium.
MU: No medium is going to die. They will slow down. Preferences may change but print is still going to be a useful medium.
A: In 2009 media planning was unchartered territory in Pakistan, and as you pointed out earlier, learning was basically done on the job. Has this become more structured since?
MU: Media planning is part science and there is some art as well. There is the buying and there is the planning, which is the strategic or ideation part of it; how to augment something. It would be very simple if I looked at the numbers, used the information and placed the ad. The ideation part is about how to plan and integrate in a way that is better than what you did yesterday and to do that you have to keep on thinking about a better strategy and how to be more creative in terms of selling the idea. In terms of on-the-job learning, Brainchild was and still is an institute that conducts learning in a classroom setup.
When I joined in 2009, I had classroom trainings. We would sit in a boardroom from nine to five and learn different techniques, including how to read and clean data, how to formulate a presentation, how to negotiate, how to read a contract, how operations are financed; basically everything. Some universities are offering media planning and buying courses, and this is sparking some interest about the industry.
Mohammad Usman was in conversation with Mariam Ali Baig. For feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org