Who killed advertising in traditional media?

Not many are talking about it as yet, but there is a bloodbath. Even as consumerism is growing at a frenetic pace, advertising, as we knew it, is not seeing the gains from this.

Published: 15th February 2022 12:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th February 2022 12:06 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose only. (Photo | EPS)

Advertising is an ancient allure. It’s not as new as we believe it to be.

We are told the Egyptians used it on their early forms of papyrus to make large wall posters and sales messages. The ruins of Pompeii have thrown up early samples of print advertising as we call it today. The same ruins throw up signs of ancient rock paintings that are today’s wall paintings we see all around us.

Advertising is all around us, and the funny part of it is that at times we don’t even know it is around. Indian rock paintings at Ajanta and Ellora are classic examples of the use of the public medium to float the private message. And advertising is just that, after all.

Advertising has been a part of modern civilisation for a while now. Over the decades, from being a niche form of publicising a message for mass consumption, advertising has grown to be a powerful part of our business lives. In the US, the most evolved advertising market to date, literally 1.8 % of the nation’s GDP is contributed to by the advertising industry, as we know it. Advertising is therefore an industry on its own, valuable for all the stakeholders.

The Indian advertising industry has a collective turnover of Rs 62,500 crore. The past few years have not seen good trends though. While advertising, and marketing as an overall sentiment, is growing in the country literally in double-digit terms, traditional advertising as we knew it in the old days is hobbling on a weak wicket today. Revenue inflows into traditional media organisations in India tell a tale of their own. While print publications have seen a y.o.y. drop that ranges between 35% in the least affected to a 52% in the most affected cases, advertising revenue is under pressure. The best brands are facing the worst of times. Not many are talking about it as yet, but there is a bloodbath. To an extent, even as consumption and consumerism are growing at a frenetic pace, advertising, as we knew it, is not seeing the gains from this at all. The most telling take of it all is when brand expenditures remain the same or bounce back to pre-pandemic times, advertising money inflows into publications are yet to speak the same story.

Who killed advertising then? Or what? And with what weapon? This is a whodunit on its own.

A few numbers then. As print sees a dip of 42% in advertising revenue terms, television and print have collectively seen a loss of as much as Rs 8,000 crore between FY21 and FY20. A comparison of revenue inflows that have occurred for Google India and Facebook online services collectively for the same period indicates a net gain of Rs 5,000 crore. Simplistically speaking, the gains of a Google and FB seem to be the loss of print, television and outdoor in India.

Who killed advertising then, as we knew it in traditional media terms? Many prime suspects then.

Suspect No.1: The digital media. Digital crept up slowly, but surely on the large and significant body of advertising. First it was a shadow, and then a small canker. And today, it seems a huge bite has been taken out of traditional media. The loss of television, print and outdoor is the gain of digital. The digital medium is able to work with solid metrics. These numbers represent the consumer and his consumption habit with granularity, as opposed to mass media of the traditional kind, which is unable to get that deep and specific. Digital media is also forever on and to an extent is sought out by the consumer, literally on a permission-basis as opposed to being bombarded top-down.

Suspect No. 2: The print medium itself. The medium tried out every kind of innovation there was to try and gave up many at the altar of quick profits not happening. The newspaper as a one-off item that happens first thing in the morning, over and out, is not enough for a new generation that wants news all the time. Today’s consumer of news is all about being on top of it, hour-by-hour, if not minute-by-minute. The early gains of TV news that used to happen literally every hour on Doordarshan, afternoon news, evening news and late-night news later, was based on just this. The digital medium has done a one-plus on this. It is able to give you the news as it breaks, literally minute-by-minute. And that’s exactly what the new consumer seems to want. As for print, early experiments with the afternoon and evening news in tabloid format did reasonably well for a time, till they had to be discontinued due to concerns of profitability. The new-generation consumer of news is all about eating the headlines as they happen, without too much of a deep dive. Digital mediums offer them just this. And therefore they live happily ever after.

To the credit of the print medium, I must say that the best publications in the space have tried cusp mediums of print and digital, and have as well put a foot into the domain of the digital, trying hard to establish a solid commercial beach-head out there. However, consumption numbers, as opposed to the digital duo of Google and Facebook, are far from what they need to be to make commercial sense to a marketer with serious intent. To the buyer of media, it is a simple eyeballs game. Money will flow where the eyeballs are. For the moment, we know where they are.

Suspect No. 3: The war between content and advertising. Publications that began with a pure 100% content approach used a portion of their media space to accommodate advertising. This climbed from early single-digit percentages of space to as much as a robust and highly advertising-centric 35% even. And that seems to have cooked the goose as well. The very credibility of content was questioned by consumers and that led to a blow.

Suspect No. 4: The industry of Public Relations. As PR grew in influence, it gobbled up a share of what was up to be gobbled. Brands that want to preserve a very pure status of their own are today expressing a need to be built not by advertising, but by PR and its many avatars on offer. Editorially built brands seem to be that much more sturdy a requirement for newer brands on the block. Today there is a need for the PR agency of the future that will offer its services, covering both physical and digital mediums. This will be an agency that offers both above-the-line PR that touches media, as well as below-the-line PR that touches people 1:1.

Suspect No. 5: The influencers on social and digital media and their boom. Influencers are today able to showcase brands and their offerings with multiple sets of creatives, generated locally and percolated wide and deep. All of a sudden, brands do not have one or six executions of their creatives, but are able to offer 600-plus versions through their creators.  And something that comes from the influencer community (for now) is that much more 1:1 and is communication that comes from the level of a peer as opposed to that coming top-down from an advertiser to the consumer. The influencer economy is gobbling up precious money from traditional media. It’s already happening.

The list of suspects is long and I have a line-up of nine. But let me stop for now. The Metaverse is ahead, and the spectre of this medium that does it all looms ahead. The Metaverse is a space where you can market research, advertise, market, do your PR, demonstrate, sell, assess and do everything else you want to for your product or service. This will drain money out from traditional media, and traditional-digital media as well. Interesting times. Let’s see who kills whom eventually? Touche!

Harish Bijoor

Brand Guru & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults



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