‘Smaller advertisers must feel as much a part of ISA as the larger advertisers’

ISA Chairman Hemant Bakshi believes advertisers are central to the industry, and it is their role to bring all stakeholders together and create an environment that fosters collaboration and growth. He is also committed to making ISA a forum where concerns of all advertisers are dealt with and resolved.


Here are excerpts from a conversation with Srabana Lahiri, in which Bakshi discusses, among other things, ensuring a smooth rollout for BARC.


Q] What are the issues that bother advertisers in the Indian market today?

There are three particular areas that are critical at this stage for the advertising industry. One, driving higher return on marketing investments, especially at a time when economic conditions remain ifficult. Two, ensuring a stable and predictable media environment, especially working closely with broadcasters and agencies to ensure any problems we face are resolved with a win-win mindset and three, creating and sharing best practices that help all advertisers, especially in this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.


Q] You had stated in an interview after taking over as Chairman of ISA that one of your key tasks would be to drive higher return on marketing spends. How are you going about it and how far have you succeeded?

We have made very good progress in this area especially in ensuring advertisers’ interests are protected as the media environment faces unexpected turbulence. Last 12 months have been unprecedented in terms of number of events that could have been disruptive and had a negative impact on our business. We have been able to tide over all such events while minimizing disruptions. But as I look ahead, there is potential for an equally turbulent media environment in the future and we need to be prepared for it.


Q] Has ISA done enough to encourage the effective use of advertising to fuel economic growth?

This is a very significant space and while we have advocated to various stakeholders on the need for a stable environment to grow advertising investments, this is clearly an area in which a lot more can be done.


Q] Do you think there is enough collaboration between various industry bodies like the ISA, IBF, INS, AAAI and The Ad Club Bombay?

Firstly, I must say there are too many industry bodies and it will help all of us if we define the roles of different organizations clearly. Having said that, there is good collaboration between the three nodal bodies, i.e., AAAI, IBF and ISA. The best example of this can be the smooth functioning of BARC, and delivering a world class measurement system through BARC will be proof of this partnership.


Q] Are any changes required in the style of functioning of the ISA as an industry body?

Yes, there are many ways in which we can become better. The foremost of it is to have a wider active representation  of all advertisers, at all times. We tend to come together actively at the time of a crisis but there is a lot of stuff we can do even otherwise and this needs to be prioritized. We must also ensure that smaller advertisers feel as much a part of ISA as the larger advertisers. Very often, the needs of smaller players are different and don’t get voice in such forums. We are committed to making ISA a forum where concerns of all advertisers are dealt with and resolved.


Q] Do you think there is a need to widen the scope of ISA, make it more proactive and perhaps more visible as an industry body?

Visibility isn’t important since we are not doing this work to create PR or prominence for ISA, the body. However doing more proactive work will definitely be useful and I have said this earlier as well.


Q] What challenges do you face in leading the ISA?

Turbulence, Change, Volatility is the new normal. We have to learn to work in this environment. Shaping ISA and the agenda in 2014 that equips us to thrive in this environment is the opportunity for all of us.


Q] What are the top priorities on your agenda for ISA going ahead?

As I said, ensuring ROI, learning to win in the VUCA world and creating a collaborative media environment are our main priorities.


Q] Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘poison’ comment on Pepsi created a controversy earlier this year. The Consumer Complaints Council has now moved to form a panel to monitor ads and celebrity endorsers. Do you think celebrities should be held responsible for the quality of products they endorse?

Consumers in India look up to celebrities, trust them and to that extent it is my personal belief that they have a responsibility to their fans that they endorse only those products that they truly believe in. I also strongly believe in self-regulation; forming external forums that monitor ads or endorsements are not essential what is more important is for a more responsible way of working in the industry. And this is applicable to all stakeholders.


Q] As an advertiser, would you consider Amitabh Bachchan as an endorser for any of your products?

Of course. He is an iconic figure recognized and respected across the country. It would be our privilege to work with him, as and when an appropriate opportunity comes up.


Q] BARC is all set to roll out TV ratings from October, with 25,000 meters across 20,000 homes from Day One. But where will the funds come from? TAM always complained about lack of funds and the same industry that supported TAM will be supporting BARC...

Firstly, progress made by BARC in the last 12 months has been incredible. I have not known any industry body to produce such high quality work in such a short period of time. Especially fantastic has been the contribution of the highly qualified technical committee of BARC, headed by Shashi Sinha. As the board of BARC, we are sensitive to the funding requirements and therefore are looking at scalable technologies that will not put undue financial pressure on the industry.


There are challenges but I am sure that BARC will be able to overcome them and produce a world class measurement system, on time.


Q] BARC is yet to become operational, and TAM too was not disseminating data for a while. How should advertisers decide where to put their money?

A robust, viable rating system is crucial for the smooth functioning of the industry. Absence of a currency would hurt everyone but most importantly lead to marketing investments moving out of TV. We are hopeful that we will see a smooth transition from the current system to a BARC led system. However, in case there is a data blackout, as an industry we will have to collaboratively work out an alternative, temporary system, acceptable to all stakeholders.


Q] Broadcasters have been up in arms about people meters in rural areas and even in LC1 markets. But for advertisers, rural areas are of prime importance. What is your view – should measurement agencies map rural areas?

Of course. About 70% of the Indian population lives in rural India, 50% of consumption is from rural and rural is growing faster and will continue to grow faster. It is extremely short-sighted not to have robust measurement systems for rural India. As we scale up measurement systems in the country, we have to cover rural India. This is in everyone’s interest.


Q] Is there a chance of broadcasters rejecting BARC data, just as Print players rejected IRS data some time back?

BARC is a joint industry body and broadcasters are key constituents of this body. So I don’t foresee this scenario ever coming about. However I am sensitive that we will have to manage the transition to the new system. Very often the failure is not of the measurement system but inadequate communication and lack of transparency in the process. Having seen the recent issues and learnt from them, I am confident, we will lead the transition to the BARC-led system seamlessly.


Q] Radio operators are also expressing concern that the data & methodology used for measuring radio listenership is deeply flawed...What do you think?

Very often we question the measurement system, when we don’t like the results. However, at the same time, we must acknowledge that measurement in a country as large and heterogeneous as India, is not easy. With more technologies becoming available, this will become easier in the future.


Q] According to industry experts, Radio needs to become more strategic. They complain that advertisers are so focused on Television that it is used as a yardstick even for Radio. Your comment?

I agree. We are a TV dominant industry and this has to change. Our big opportunity as an industry is to leverage the power of mediums other than TV. Clearly Radio is under-leveraged, both the broadcasters and advertisers can do a lot more to exploit the reach and depth of Radio.


Q] What has been your experience as Chairman of the Indian Society of Advertisers so far?

It has been a very fulfilling experience especially in understanding and addressing common concerns faced by advertisers across the spectrum. It has also been a time of turbulence; finding solutions in a collaborative and constructive manner has been an exceptional learning experience for me, personally.


Q] Effective advertising or responsible advertising – which should get priority?

There is no trade-off here. Advertising has to be effective and responsible. This is even more important in the current economic situation. Equally ensuring responsible advertising is critical to continue building trust with our consumers. This has always been important but becomes even more crucial as we enter the information age where consumers have more information and are interested in knowing the corporates and their practices better.