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March - 2009 - issue > Technology
It’s No Longer the Mad ad World Online
Jaya Smitha Menon
Sunday, March 1, 2009
It did not have a star vouching for it nor did it tell a tale of a gorgeous girl with beautiful hair. But still it did what many big budget ads have not done. Thanks to the creative platform sunsilkgangofgirls.com, an online social networking website built around the leading beauty shampoo brand, Sunsilk. Gang of Girls is open only to girls and has various features including blogs, forums, expert advice on hair care, and fashion, in addition to a job site. Today, Gang of girls is the largest community for girls in India. The site logged over 5 lakh registered users in the first six months, 28,000 gangs, and an average of 28 minutes spent on the site by every visitor. Moreover, it transformed the brand from a middle-aged woman’s brand to that of young girls'.

The Advertising industry today is at an interesting crossroads. Though most of the money is still being spent on traditional advertising such as television, there is tremendous growth in online advertisements since it involves interacting and engaging the audience. With access to consumer information that is, in some ways, easier to collect over the Internet, and more sophisticated technology, companies are customizing their ads toward specific audiences, and even zapping ads to cell phones and palmtops. Web surfers can interact with ads in greater depth, and they can benefit directly from an ad's personalized message. Today the cyberspace, though a relatively new entrant into the advertising world, commands over 10 percent of the Indian advertising industry that is estimated at Rs. 20,000 crore. Analysts even predict that in future the Internet would lead the pack and the print media will remain a medium where companies announce their financial results and the government announce its welfare programs.

Reasons for Popularity
"The Internet has become more and more a part of the community life in India in the past seven to eight years, more specifically in the last three or four years," says Chaya Brian Carvelho, CEO and Managing Director of BC Webwise, the agency which created sunsilkgangofgirls.com. With the growing number of Internet users, which is pegged at 45.3 million by IAMAI, consumer dependency on the Internet is also increasing rapidly - be it for booking tickets online, shopping, gifting, finding a partner, or making a career move, there is a great opportunity for much experimentation. "With the Indian online advertising industry looking up, customer engagement models in in the country have also evolved, moving from traditional modes of e-mail and Web banners to injecting more engagement in the offering," adds Chaya. Moreover, when it comes to the traditional media, clients are not always sure of the ad's performance. In the case of a television show one can never be sure whether the show is being watched or not and who is watching it. There's a lot of discomfort with what they're actually getting in terms of audience and even disagreement on how to measure that audience reaction and place a value on it. Thanks to the power of Internet, advertising is becoming less wasteful and more measurable.

Moreover, the traditional media lacks interactivity, which the consumers today look for. "People want to comment, they want to express opinion and share wisdom, which has limited scope in traditional media," says Sandeep Singh, cofounder of Quasar Media. "The advent of Web 2.0, concepts of blogging, wikis, social networking, folksonomies, and content aggregators have given a new definition to advertisement," he adds. All this has seen a mushrooming of digital agencies over the last few years.

Think Webchutney, BC Webwise, Interactive Avenues, Hungama, Ignitee (formerly Connecturf), Contests2win, and Quasar Media, and you're thinking of banner ads, rich media ads, viral marketing, microsites, social media apps, in-video ads, online communities, search engine optimization, and more.

What Works Online?
Today companies spend crores of rupees every year to market their products and services online. However, to ensure the desired amount of traffic on the site and then persuade the visitors to use their services or increasing the brand awareness and visibility is a tough job. Just having a few banner ads may not produce the desired result since the user gets accustomed to seeing ads in the particular spots and therefore has the tendency to ignore. Moreover, there are ad blocking tools in the browser that can block all the ads when surfing the net. Hence, the key is to make sure of user engagement and retention. The need of the hour for marketing agencies is to understand their client's strategic goals and arrive at normalized measures to compare program-wise ROI. Online marketing makes it possible to ‘switch on and off' programs - if linked with the right analytical rigor. So what is going to work online? How can the advertisers partake on the huge opportunity? Let's take a look.
Compaq, the computer hardware brand, recently created an online destination called letsgetgoing.in. Instead of using the online platform to create a product catalogue and display the details of its products, the brand has leveraged the interactive power of the Internet and is using its brand ambassador, film actor Shah Rukh Khan, to talk to its target audience.

Khan, who is seen representing the brand in the virtual world, has been shot specifically for the website. He guides the consumers in surfing the website and helps them choose the right laptop or desktop computer. HP wanted to create an online destination for the brand and launch a microsite that would be easy to use and would literally talk to the consumers, rather than just carrying product listings. This is a perfect example of how a company looks at the online space to develop value for its products that are different from other brands. Similarly, you can see myrightpc.com from Microsoft and askvishy.com from AMD. Now, these microsites are marketed through print and visual media.

However, the largest part of an online ad budget is spent on search advertising, which is more effective than banner advertising at driving traffic. The ability to place your ad on the screen exactly where someone is searching for information is highly profitable. And with the increase in broadband penetration, when an ad pops up on your screen and you click on it, there is the capability to show full video clips, which people may find compelling. This is going to be a growing strategy of the advertising world.

Another trend that is gaining much popularity is that of building brand communities. Following Sunsilk’s Gang of Girls website, Whisper came up with beinggirl.co.in and Kwality Walls with spillurdil.com.
Social networking sites such as Orkut, Facebook, and MySpace are considered more effective platforms for customer relationship management than online display ads, feels Singh. They can be used to sponsor groups on the sites to engage meaningfully with customers through discussions, posts, and offers among others. Advertisers in India currently use social media for a combination of CRM and online advertising. "Internet is also about interactivity - with social networks, blogs, forums, Web applications, personalization, and marketing-based games. Enterprises can get customers to interact with their products and services at every stage in their purchase cycle. They can incorporate customer feedback, virally spread success stories (be warned: there's the flip side of corporate bashing, which, if caught early and acted upon can really win customers over), and listen to how they and their competitors are doing,"says Vikas Sharan, CEO of Regalix.

2009 is really going to be a challenging year for many businesses as the global economic slowdown takes hold. Online marketing, however, looks set to continue its rapid growth, as its many solutions and advantages become even more apparent when marketing budgets are subjected to even greater constraints. However, the need to make sure every marketing penny spent is an effective one will see an increased interest in, and demand for, return on investment through analysis of reports, proper tracking systems, and efficient business intelligence tools. Hence, the need for advertisers to improve the effectiveness and measurability of their advertising spend will become more acute. Therefore, the relevancy of content and presentation holds the key to your success. As Chaya puts it, "Attract, Engage, and Retain customers is what will work online."
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