“No season for advertising, you have to be ready all year round”, says Jai Lala of Zenith

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Media planning has a pre-pandemic and post-pandemic phase. The planning and purchasing rules that were all the rage two years ago are now redundant. Brands no longer follow a directory with planned spend for particular seasons and planners motivate them to be proactive and ready throughout the year.

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

The holiday season is fast approaching and we can already see new campaigns from many brands. What are your observations in terms of spending habits?

It’s safe to say that everything is back to normal when it comes to the pandemic, but there are some other concerns that are impacting the overall business ecosystem globally. The Ukraine-Russia war and the current state of global markets, which I wouldn’t call a recession, but the impact of market movement is having repercussions in India.

While people are saying things like how the next decade belongs to India, there are certain setbacks that are happening. The setbacks occur at two points. There are certain inflationary tendencies occurring with rising commodity prices and this is impacting FMCG players who see a ripple effect of this. This prevents them from spending the kind of money we expected them to spend during the season.

Second, much venture capital funding has been restricted. Unlike at the start of the year or last year where we saw a lot of new companies pouring a lot of money into advertising and celebrities, we are seeing a bit of a pullback.

So coming back to the holiday season, there will definitely be spending growth if we compare it to 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’s no denying that brands, especially in certain categories like automobiles that have planned launches during the season, will spend on impact.

In pre-pandemic times, we were going on a plan from January to December where we would advertise in the first quarter, slow down in the second and come back and so on. This planning model went for a full throw.

There is a lot of cricket which coincides with the festive season. Is it a favorable situation that the festive period and cricket which is, in a way, a holiday in itself, overlap?

It’s definitely a plus. There are more brands that are willing to spend and our observation over the last seven to nine years is that this is a time where there is a kind of cricket going on. Whether it’s a bilateral series or the World Cup or any other series. Mentally we will have to be prepared for there to be cricket during the festive period and also for the fact that there is an opportunity for that and it can be cashed in. Thus, brands have also started thinking about this line.

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

From a marketing perspective, what happened during the pandemic was that there was a period where everything was shut down, followed by a period where things suddenly opened up. So marketers also went from sitting quietly in lockdown to getting ready to advertise when things started to open up. What we were doing in the pre-pandemic period was we were going on a plan from January to December where we would advertise in the first quarter, then slow down in the second, then come back and so on.

This planning model went for a full throw.

Last year, when the pandemic subsided in June-July, a lot of categories came back because they saw an open window that was an opportunity for them. They thought they should reach out to their consumers during this time. The June-July period is also a slow period, especially for categories such as the automobile. So what the pandemic has done is put us all 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 anytime. The ecosystem has now built in such a way that you can plan campaigns in a shorter time frame. Being prepared and proactive is something that has happened for marketers and the trend will continue.

From a consumer perspective, a lot of the audience has shifted to the digital audience and it continues to do so because it’s become a habit. So there has been a change in television. There has been co-viewing which has increased a lot and connected television has become very popular. Next is the growth of e-commerce. The pandemic has amplified expected growth. So 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 anytime. The ecosystem has now built in such a way that you can plan campaigns in a shorter time frame.

Digital is growing at a rapid 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 to every brand’s marketing mandate over the years?

The attitude towards digital has changed dramatically. I would say with confidence that no advertiser considers digital marketing expenses as free expenses. Television has its reach and isn’t dying, but digital investment is up across all categories. Many major TV brands have now made digital a key part of their plan.

When it comes to the role of a planner, India is a complex market with so many different regions, languages ​​and cultures. Planning in India is like planning for Europe. There’s no “one plan fits all” shortcut types here. So we’re constantly learning and trying because knowledge that was relevant three years ago might be completely redundant now. It is a constantly evolving profession that requires a lot of training. If you live in a cocoon whether you are a TV planner or a digital planner, you have to get out of it. Everything is integrated. Planners that are above are the best planners.

Speaking of the News genre, it’s been six months since the BARC charts returned. Do you see an evolution of investments in the genre with the return of audiences?

Investments in information have never ceased. There are two schools of thought when it comes to customers. The first are those who believe in GRPs and TRPs. It is a complete scientific method of planning. These channels run entirely through BARC data. So it’s basically data-driven planning. The other school of thought believes in something we call perception planning where they also believe in live data that they collect from the field, from business partners and the like that influences their decision not just ratings . So we have a very candid discussion with our customers and plan accordingly. Either way, the good part is that news investing never made it off the charts and it continues to be a big genre.

When the ratings came back, we saw a lot of shuffles in the leaderboards. What impact has this had on ad rates?

Just because the ratings weren’t there didn’t mean consumers weren’t looking. It’s just that there was no measurement. When it comes to the rankings shakeup, there have obviously been changes in ad rates as well. Channels that dropped from top ratings struggled to maintain the rates they were selling inventory for before the blackout period and channels that climbed in the rankings obviously had new rates.

In your opinion, what are the main trends to watch?

We continue to push customers to spend money on smart TV because it will definitely grow. There is so much great content on digital that people would want to watch it on the big screen. So it’s a big change.

The other change is moving away from a planned schedule. Digital is the space to watch. The past two years have been very difficult for the industry and now is the time for stabilization. Overall, as a medium, digital is on a growth trajectory, but we won’t see drastic changes in the next two years where digital becomes 70% of an advertising plan. It will hover around the existing 35-40% over the next two years until we see the next episode of growth.

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