Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

How did the internet blockage impact advertising effectiveness?

TikTok was an unsuspecting winner.
Updated 05 Jun, 2023 05:34pm

In the aftermath of three agonising days when Pakistan’s online connectivity abruptly halted in May, scores of reports came in on the financial impact of this move on various sectors of the economy – and the ad industry, where digital advertising expenditure (AdEx) makes up 15%, is no different.

“About 30% of the accounts we handle paused their campaigns on either Meta or YouTube,” says Faiz Kazi, Director Digital Activation and Monetisation, Publicis Group, “One account diverted their AdEx to TikTok.”

The Bytedance-owned platform was among the few that was not banned, leading advertisers and agencies to conclude that a multi-platform and owned-media strategy needs to be worked upon. This also proves that platforms flying under the radar, such as Snapchat, should be considered in digital media plans.

“There was zero penetration of the internet in Punjab and some parts of Pakistan,” says Kazi. “3G and 4G services were also down, so audiences could not access the internet. Integrated planning would have enabled a switch to TV ideally.” He adds that planners should have re-strategised and moved to regional channels where the consumption would have been highest – in other words, the news channels. Furthermore, he says brands could have directed their digital AdEx to local publishers that were the main news source.

According to Ghulam Jilani, Director of Partnerships Marketing, Alliancez, “We had a lot of audience and impressions, but they were all from Israel, Kenya and other countries, none of which make sense for Pakistani advertisers. This was clearly VPN-based traffic because they were landing on local websites. The internet outage was a loss for local publishers as advertisers had directed their messaging to traffic coming from within Pakistan.” Kazi says that while 4G services were off, cable services in Sindh were operational, allowing for basic browsing, while social media platforms and YouTube were inaccessible.

Did online sales crash?

According to data provided by bSecure, the gross merchandise value of orders fell by over 15% for nearly 300 builders using the universal checkout solution. The data shows that gross order quantity fell by 11% while net orders grew by 6.9%. Most merchants weren’t so lucky.

“Our e-commerce clients lost 60 to 70% of their sales due to internet disruption,” says Hammad Khan, co-founder & CEO, AlphaVenture. “Our international clients were worried whether we would be able to meet the deadlines. It impacted our operations and the significant loss of confidence in Pakistan tech companies will have a long-term impact.” He says that across all e-commerce stores, the average traffic was down by 60%, while average sales declined by 70%.

“Sana Safinaz experienced a 55% drop in daily revenue while the cost of customer acquisition increased nearly five times,” says Rehan Khalid, digital brand manager at Sana Safinaz. “Due to store closures and the halt in online marketing, our retail store sales declined by 36%.” In Khalid’s opinion, the internet closure compounded the worsening business situation created by the political climate, inflation and the dollar rate. He adds that uncertainty caused by the internet closure impacted international customers, resulting in a decrease in global sales.

“Pakistan’s economy is in urgent need of international revenue, and discontinuing one of the primary communication channels connected to global consumers is the way to address the situation. I don’t see any alternatives to internet closure as businesses and consumers require access to engage and conduct transactions.”

Did TV advertising explode?

Kazi points out in the interest of brand safety, many multinational advertisers chose not to divert their digital AdEx to TV; instead, entertainment channels were preferred. “People want entertainment and they will find it one way or the other. If they cannot access VPN, they will find something else to do and advertisers must be resilient enough to switch those investments in such times.”

Furthermore, according to Kazi, although the situation may have created an uptick in TV content consumption, it did not result in a rise in TV advertising as brands were not comfortable toe seen to commercialise a political crisis; they also felt that brand recall would be low as audiences were distracted. He also noted that the data reflects incessant channel hopping at the time, because people wanted to be constantly updated. He recommended advertising on entertainment channels because TV ads would have had the same tone, even if it meant relatively lower reach.

Owais Rawda is Account Manager of Public Affairs, Z2C Limited.