Media Mavens: ‘No season for advertising, have to be ready all-year,’ says Zenith’s Jai Lala

Jai Lala, Chief Executive Officer, Zenith on changing trends in the media buying landscape and how the next two years is a period of stabilization for the industry

By  Tasmayee Laha RoySep 14, 2022 9:35 AM
Media Mavens: ‘No season for advertising, have to be ready all-year,’ says Zenith’s Jai Lala
“If you are living in a cocoon that you are a TV planner or a digital planner, you must come out of it. Everything is integrated. The planners who are on top of it are the best planners,” says Jai Lala.

Note to readers: Media Mavens is a new Storyboard18 series featuring media investment firms and power players - the X-Women and X-Men who make the big calls on how and where to spend advertisers' money. This is a peek into their minds - how they work in a dynamic landscape, the next big trends they’re watching for, insights into what advertisers need today, the disruptions driving change and the factors driving their decisions. Watch this space for all that and more.

Media planning has a pre-pandemic and post-pandemic phase. The rules of planning and buying that were a hit two years back are redundant now. Brands are no longer following a yearbook with scheduled spends for particular seasons and planners are motivating them to be proactive and ready all year long.  

“Marketers have realized that there is no particular season for advertising,” says Jai Lala, chief executive officer, Zenith. According to Lala a lot has changed after the pandemic when it comes to advertising. And it's not just ad rates.

Read on

Festive season is round the corner and we can already see fresh campaigns from a lot of brands. What are your observations in terms of spending patterns?

It is safe to say that things are all getting back to normal in terms of the pandemic but there are certain other concerns that impact the overall business ecosystem globally. The Ukraine-Russia war and the existing condition of the global markets, which I wouldn’t call a recession, but the impact of the market movement is having repercussions in India.

While people say things like how the next decade belongs to India, there are certain pullbacks that are happening. The pull backs are happening on two points. There are certain inflationary trends which are happening with commodity prices going up and that is impacting the FMCG players who are seeing a ripple effect of that. This is holding them from spending the kind of money we expected they’d spend around the season. 

Secondly, a lot of VC funding has been restricted. Unlike the beginning of the year or the last year where we saw a lot of new companies putting in a lot of money on advertising and celebrities, we are seeing a little pullback. 

So, coming back to the festive season, there will definitely be growth in spending if we compare it to the previous months but my personal prediction is that we won't see a boom like last year. It will be a little restricted.

However, there is no denying that brands especially in some categories like automobiles who have launches lined up during the season will be spending on impact.

In pre-pandemic times, we were going as per a January to December plan where we’d advertise in the first quarter, go slow in the second and make a comeback and so on and so forth. This pattern in planning went for a complete toss.

There is a lot of cricket coinciding with the festive season. Is it a favorable situation to have the festive period and cricket which is, in a way, a festival in itself, overlapping?

It is definitely a plus. There are more brands that are ready to spend and our observation in the last seven to nine years is that this is a period where there is some sort of cricket going on. Be it a bilateral series or the World Cup or any other series. Mentally we'll have to be prepared that there will be cricket around the festive period and also the fact that there is an opportunity in that and it can be cashed on. So, brands have also started thinking on that line.

The last two years have changed a lot of rules in the marketing and advertising playbook. What are the changes that you think the industry will stick to?

From a marketing standpoint what has happened during the pandemic was that there was a period where everything was shut down followed by a time when things opened up suddenly. So marketers also went from sitting quietly in the lockdown to getting ready to advertise when things started opening.  What we were doing in the pre-pandemic time was that we were going as per a January to December plan where we’d advertise in the first quarter then go slow in the second and then make a comeback and so on and so forth. 

This pattern in planning went for a complete toss. 

Last year, when the pandemic went low during June-July, a lot of categories came back because they saw an open window which was an opportunity for them. They thought they should be reaching out to their consumers in that period. The June-July period is otherwise a slow period especially for categories like auto. So what the pandemic has done is that it has all of us on our toes. 

We have to be ready all the time. Marketers have realized that there is no particular season for advertising and you can plan your campaigns at any given point of time. The ecosystem has now built itself up in a way that you can plan campaigns in a shorter span of time. Being ready and being proactive is something that has happened for marketers and the trend will stay on.

From a consumer standpoint a lot of viewership has shifted to digital viewership and that continues to remain because it's created a habit. So, there has been a shift from TV. There has been co-viewing which has gone up a lot and connected TV has become very popular. Next is the growth of e-commerce. The pandemic has amplified the expected growth. So all these three changes are here to stay and our planning is now based on these three facets.   

We have to be ready all the time. Marketers have realized that there is no particular season for advertising and you can plan your campaigns at any given point of time. The ecosystem has now built itself up in a way that you can plan campaigns in a shorter span of time.

Digital is growing at a fast pace and everything in the marketing ecosystem is changing around it. How have traditional marketers coped? And how has the role of the planner changed with the addition of digital on every brand’s marketing mandate over the years?

The attitude towards digital has changed dramatically. I would confidently say that there isn’t any advertiser who's looking at digital marketing spends as a complimentary spend. TV has its reach and is not dying but the investment on digital is on an upswing across all categories. A lot of TV heavy brands have now made digital as a key component of their plan.

Coming to the role of a planner, Indian is a complex market with so many different regions, languages, cultures. Planning in India is like planning for Europe. There is no 'one plan that fits all' kinds of shortcuts here. So we are constantly learning and we are trying because the knowledge that was relevant three years back might be completely redundant now. It is an ever evolving job that requires a lot of training. If you are living in a cocoon that you are a TV planner or a digital planner, you must come out of it. Everything is integrated. The planners who are on top of it are the best planners. 

Speaking about the News genre, it’s been six months since BARC ratings have returned. Do you see a change in investments in the genre with the return of ratings?

Investments in news never stopped. There are two schools of thought when it comes to clients. The first set are the ones who believe in GRPs and TRPs. It's a complete scientific way of planning. These channels go completely by the BARC data. So basically it is data-driven planning. The other school of thought believes in something we call perception planning where they also believe in the live data they collect on ground, from trade partners and others and that influences their decision and not just ratings. So we have a very frank discussion with our clients and we plan accordingly. Either way the good part is investments in news never went off the charts and it continues to be an important genre.

When the ratings returned we saw a lot of shuffling in rankings. How did that impact ad rates?

Just because ratings were not there doesn’t mean consumers were not watching. It’s just that there was no measurement. As for shuffling of rankings, obviously there have been changes in ad rates too. Channels that fell from the top ratings had a hard time holding on to the rates they sold inventory for before the blackout period and channels that climbed the chart obviously had new rates.

What would you say are the big trends to watch out for?

We keep pushing clients to spend money on connected TV because it’s definitely going to grow. There is so much good content on digital, people would want to watch it on a large screen. So that is one big change.

The other change is moving away from a planned calendar. Digital is the space to watch out for. The last two years have been very difficult for the industry and now is the time of stabilization. Overall as a medium digital is on a growth trajectory but we will not see any drastic changes in the next two years where digital will become 70 percent of an ad plan. It will hover around the existing 35-40 percent for the next couple of years till we see the next bout of growth.

First Published on Sep 14, 2022 9:35 AM

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