Ashwin Padmanabhan shares his thoughts on trends in digital marketing, the past, present, and future of Web3 and metaverse and more.
In conversation with Ashwin Padmanabhan, President-Partnerships and Trading at GroupM, we attempt to understand how the regional content space has evolved to become national, the role of technology in marketing, and the wider acceptance that influencer marketing enjoys today.
What are some of the digital marketing trends seen in 2022?
Digital marketing itself is very wide and complicated right now. But if you look at the sectors within digital marketing, in theory, we can see some new trends emerging. Everybody wants to know what we can do around the metaverse and some are doing great work around it. The other trend that we have seen is around commerce. Earlier to buy a product, consumers would go to Google and search. But today, a lot of us go to Amazon or Flipkart.
Where and how people discover products and connect with products and services is changing. We are moving from generic search to commerce-platform searches.
The third shift that has happened is how influencer marketing is getting utilized by brands. We have seen more and more brands making influencer marketing a part of their core strategy. The brands were experimenting with it earlier, but during the pandemic, they discovered that it actually works.
Earlier we had about 10 brands that used to work on influencer marketing, the number today has increased to about 150 brands.
The other piece from the digital lens is that technology can get applied across different mediums. The role of technology in the way we connect with consumers is becoming very big. The campaign that won the Titanium Lions at Cannes this year was driven by technology. To have Shahrukh Khan advertise a small store is a very emotional moment for that shopkeeper. It enabled us to make a piece of communication very personal and emotional which was impossible to do earlier.
People are opening up to the fact that technology can make a huge difference in the way we do business and a lot of it flows into the digital space. The technology that we are looking at gets applied across multimedia. So it is not just limited to digital. The role of technology in innovations, enabling people and brands to connect with consumers, and even brands to connect with their channel partners and create an emotional connection is huge. I think that’s the big shift that we have seen.
How has Web3 changed digital marketing?
Web3 has not changed digital marketing yet, but it may change. The idea of web3 is that you own your data. Conceptually we are saying that you own your data, and nobody else has access to it, and even if they have access to it, they don’t have it with them.
Secondly, with web3 you can track your purchase in a digital value chain. You can bring creators and consumers together without any intermedium. Earlier, we would buy or listen to music on a platform. But today, an artist could directly connect with you and license a song to you for a fee or maybe even free, but you will have a license even if it’s free.
I think there are a lot of opportunities there that we need to dig into and find ways to connect with consumers, which keeps in mind these principles of Web3. As more and more applications that start making sense in the Web3 Universe become a part of our daily lives, it will surely start changing then.
Also Read: Future of advertising will be platform based & unified with tech-based solutions: Ashish Bhasin
Do you think concepts like metaverse are here to stay?
Metaverse has always existed. I remember in the early 2000s, I created an account on Second Life. I would spend a huge amount of time on it, trying to create avatars and new worlds. My son used to play Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite. There was a Travis Scott concert on Fortnite about two years back and it was attended by millions of people. So, the metaverse has existed for more than 25 years.
Some form of blockchain has existed for many years, but what we’re seeing right now is a recognition of the fact that there are significantly large communities that have existed in these universes and we have tried to define them as a metaverse. But they all existed independently as Roblox or as Fortnite or as Minecraft or Second Life. It’s more a recognition of the fact that these worlds exist, and that we can do a lot with these worlds. If we bring them into our consciousness, that’s the shift that’s happened really.
What are some of the content consumption trends seen in the Indian market?
Regional content has always been very big in India, but today with multiple platforms being regional-focused, the amount of consumption and the quality of content being produced in regional markets today is significantly huge. Consumers are gravitating toward that content. Both, from a greater ecosystem as well as from an audience ecosystem perspective, regional content drives a large part of the engagement. We’ve seen that in movies, right? Now we talk about Indian Cinema. We don’t talk about Bollywood anymore.
A large part of this shift is also because of OTT. The way content is getting distributed, it has no borders. We are watching the Korean shows today, which we didn’t before. The kind of stories that are being told are also very experimental in nature. We are moving away from fixed formulas of drama or action and a lot of real-life making into the reel life is happening. So inspiration from real life to reel, that shift in content is happening across the world not just in India.
The fact that the marketplace today is the world is the biggest trend for content.
Many brands in recent times, have launched their own influencer awards or influencer programs to create a community – what are your thoughts on this strategy?
It’s really good because brands are acknowledging influencers. It is a sign of commitment to influencer marketing. You can’t have a bigger endorsement of the fact that influencer marketing works than the fact that brands are saying I’m going to curate the list of influencers and I’m going to train them and work with them. It’s a commitment.
The second piece is that when brands invest in training and grooming, it also enables content creators to improve the kind of content they create and thus connect with their audiences in a better way.
In fact, we have launched a new program around mentorship where we are identifying budding influencers who we believe inherently create fantastic content but need to polish themselves in the way they create the content and market themselves.
A number of campaigns have openly flouted basic advertising guidelines & even common sense, even when the line is not that thin. Where Do you think brands tend to go wrong when it comes to responsible advertising?
I can be responsible inherently or I can be made responsible because of social norms. We’ve all grown up as kids in school, some of us used to be irresponsible kids and some of us used to be very responsible kids. But there’s always a boundary that we would not cross. But who created those boundaries? Society created those boundaries. Our parents, the way we were brought up, were told what to do, and what not to do. What’s right and what’s wrong. So, I believe every organization has got a moral compass. The moral compass is defined by the people who run the business. The moment an organization crosses that line of the moral compass, you have situations like these happen. This is where society comes in.
The campaign in concern crossed the moral compass and not just them as an organization, everyone who worked on that project crossed their moral compass and nobody could really stand up and say let’s not do this. You have such failures but when they happen, I would say it would be scary if people ignored them; I’m happy that it was not ignored. There was a safety net, which stopped this from becoming bigger. There was a safety net which stopped it from airing again, and there was a safety net which got the organization to issue an apology.
As long as a society, we have a conscience, we will continue to have some cases where people fail the moral compass, but society will correct it. That’s the natural way it will happen. I don’t think you can really create rules and say, follow this formula.
While a lot is being said about regional content & marketing, do you think Indian brands & agencies are reaching out to this sector of audience in an apt manner? Any tips on how this can be done?
From a planning perspective in the media agency, one of the questions that we are constantly asking is where is the audience? Regional content is becoming national now. We recognize the fact that India is not a unified market; it’s many markets in one according to me. It’s many audiences in one. If we see Tata Tea, they have flavours which are specifically for specific regions and states. They have separate variations for Uttar Pradesh, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, and more. They understand that the cup of tea that we all cherish every morning is different from region to region. Same way with audiences, which means they have to look for regional audiences. I don’t think that’s a challenge here. There is so much regional content, the opportunity to connect and the depth of connecting that we can do now has become much better.