Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Media Buying in 2021

Published in Nov-Dec 2020

Interview with Benish Irshad, COO, Starcom.

ZEENAT CHAUDHARY: You began your media buying career at P&G and then moved to Lotte. What experiences did you gain from these positions?
BENISH IRSHAD: I joined P&G as Media Manager and although at the time the concept of internal media managers was new, P&G was globally strengthening this function. I immersed myself in the dynamics of media and fell in love with it. As consumers were discovering new ways to search for and interact with our products, we were developing capabilities to cater to them on digital, while gaining mastery on conventional media. My ability to build collaborative relationships with media partners, drive tighter financial controls with our agencies and apply best-in-class practices led to my becoming Brand Operations Country Leader, and this is when I developed a passion for building brands and having meaningful consumer connections. Lotte was a great opportunity in terms of growth and personal development. I worked on some of the fastest growing categories within food and I was lucky to work directly with the CEO, Khayyam Rajpoot. We pioneered several projects together, such as repositioning an iconic brand like Slanty, rationalising and redefining the company’s portfolio mix and introducing premium food brands to Pakistan.

ZC: What skills do you bring to the table as Starcom’s new COO, and what changes do you foresee implementing?
BI: I bring the brand-side perspective as I think with the end-result in mind: sales. I am aware of the brand challenges in terms of profitable growth and familiar with Pakistan’s retail landscape and distribution models, which impact brand availability. My aim, keeping in mind the pandemic, is bringing people together, energising forward progress and redefining normalcy as best we can. I also want to focus on employee well-being, encourage graduates aspiring to be marketers to join our MT programme and most importantly, support start-ups. As a first for any media agency of this scale, Starcom will soon invite start-ups to apply for a mentorship and support programme, wherein we will evaluate their business plans on scalability from an operational perspective; if they qualify, we will invest in customer acquisition and other costs.

ZC: What have you learnt from working on both the media and client side?
BI: Having a technical grasp on media, combined with the perspective and knowledge of a brand manager is a winning combination. Media is the biggest budget within marketing expenditure and it is important to get maximum ROI. Having worked on both sides, I have gained various skills: learning to optimise budgets across different media, bringing portfolio innovation, repositioning brands, creating high-impact advertising and ensuring profitable top and bottom-line growth, while taking tough and timely decisions in the process.

ZC: How do you see Pakistan’s media landscape changing in terms of media buying?
BI: Brands are becoming more prudent so we want every spot to account for performance as audiences shift to digital. More digital plus more data is easier to evaluate. Post Covid-19, we will realise that ‘rates’ are irrelevant. Delivering eyeballs, attention, engagement and orders will be the new metrics a media agency will deliver upon. Campaigns will be evaluated on the cost of delivering a metric. For example, with Easypaisa, our metric for performance is the number of app downloads – an easily measurable metric and a guarantee of the campaign’s performance. Now, when the agency is creating a media plan to deliver such an objective, they want every advertising placement, every spot to contribute to an app download. So the agency will make media deals in line to deliver this metric. If this metric is over-delivered, media gets paid more. We will become more performance-driven in our media choices this way.

ZC: How have media consumption habits primarily changed this year?
BI: From March to May 2020, we witnessed a 20% increase in TV viewership compared to 2019, a slight decline in the entertainment genre and a 15% increase in cartoon channel viewership. YouTube viewership grew significantly (40%) compared to January-February 2020. Driven by an increase in time spent on digital devices, the new user base for video games played online grew by 29%. Social media usage increased by 171%, mostly among the age group 26 to 30, SEC C and 20 to 25, SEC B. E-newspaper readership went up by five percent. In July and August, as we were hit by torrential rains and with TV channels unable to bring forth fresh content, viewership declined while digital media continued to increase. Now, we are seeing steadying trends in viewership across media as audiences become used to the new normal.

ZC: How has the role of media buying houses evolved?
BI: Media agencies are strategic partners in advertising. Starcom has recommended many ‘commercial innovation’ ideas to clients across platforms, which allow brands to deliver attention and engagement. Currently, we are innovating by building custom ads for smaller audience sets. This is creative customisation at scale. We have tools that can create up to 30 implementations of the same campaign idea. I don’t think any brand will have a problem accessing such quick implementation at scale. This is what I want to focus on in the long-term as well; coming up with solutions that build a business and deliver human experiences.

ZC: How can brands use digital more effectively?
BI: One of the biggest drivers of growth is virtual agility; if Covid-19 taught businesses one thing, it was the importance to be digitally agile to run operations, while working remotely. For local organisations and SMEs, this is a good time to re-imagine their business models, step-up distribution and set up e-commerce. Pakistan is a treasure chest for young consumers likely to adapt to new trends. E-commerce data speaks for itself – it has been growing at a CAGR of 52% in the past few years (as per the State Bank of Pakistan), with more than 42% of urban consumers shopping online. The industry is estimated to be worth $35 billion and this is the official number of payments made by cards only; given 39% of payments only are made by cards, we estimate the total market to be close to $90 billion. Consumers are seeking ‘convenience’ – a big commodity for this generation. Add to the mix the volatility of the environment, economic pressure and job challenges which bring frugality. Brands need these convenience and value seeking consumers to generate trial. Pakistan’s mobile penetration is at its highest with over 169 million subscribers. A study indicates that young people (20-35) are using mobile phones for up to 10 hours a day in Pakistan (four hours last year). Businesses need to adapt to serve this new generation by understanding their online habits. The first step is to build capability on data and analytics or have partners who can help understand the data and find insights that can create new opportunities to grow. We also need to think mobile-first.

ZC: How has programmatic advertising evolved in Pakistan?
BI: Programmatic is an up and coming frontier globally that is seeing greater adoption day-by-day by advertisers because of the efficiency it drives. It requires an independent ecosystem to operate in, in which publishing partners play a pivotal role. Most publishing platforms in Pakistan have understood the potential of this model and have pre-emptively geared themselves up to support it. Currently, Google Ads holds a skewed 75% market share in Pakistan’s ad spend market, counter to spending patterns in western markets. While advertisers are eager to adopt fundamental digital media, the numbers for programmatic advertising will take some time to rack up. Brainchild started their programmatic journey in 2018 by venturing into the market with Google’s Programmatic Buying Platform, DV 360, along with pioneering Oracle’s DMP BlueKai.

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