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BW Businessworld

‘Social Is Going To Fragment As Well’

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Her business card may show London as her base, but Melanie Varley, chief strategy officer, MEC, is usually found on a plane. She leads the charge for designing this WPP/ GroupM media agency’s future business model as well as global development of MEC’s product and services. BW’s Chitra Narayanan caught up with her at Goafest.

Do you find the epicentre of the advertising business shifting to Asia? 

Yes, I do. Particularly, China. That’s where the big growth is, and our business development is. I hope we will see more of that in India as well. Your inflation and gross domestic product (GDP) has been a challenge last few years. But GroupM’s forecast pegs adspend growth in India at 12 per cent this year. Globally, it is 4-5 per cent. So, it’s well above the global average.

Where are the big media shifts happening?
Overall, the big shift is towards digital. GroupM’s adspend forecasts that digital will hit 21 per cent globally in 2014.

Within digital, where do you see the shifts? 
Social and mobile within the digital universe. Since mobile is off a low base, numbers are probably a bit disproportionate. But remember, in social, except for the paid piece, it is difficult to measure spends. It does not cost you anything to create a Facebook page. But in terms of time and effort spent by agencies, there are huge resources going in. So, it is probably disproportionate to any perceived ad spending.

Having said that, the biggest spend in social is the paid piece. And platforms like Facebook, if you look at where they are going globally, they are not pushing their engagement capabilities now, as much as their paid advertising opportunities — particularly native in-stream opportunities.  The big global properties are assuming they are going to make most of their money through paid pieces. They have shifted that way because they have begun to monetise that on mobile as well.

But for emergent platforms such as Whatsapp, Vine, WeChat, etc, their raison d’être is engagement. For them engagement should be more valuable, and lead to better customer relations and ultimately better sales.

Social is definitely going to fragment. What has happened to print, what has happened to TV is going to happen to social.    

Since it is fragmenting, how would you do your planning? 

Our top priority globally is a project called ‘size mix shift’ that is all around digital and data. How do we make a big step change in capabilities in this space? Where do we invest less so that we can invest more in this space? We have a blueprint of six or seven areas and the time lines. Things that we need to do this year and the next. We are building specific plans around a framework. Social and mobile are one key component.  

When will the blueprint for India be ready?

As we speak, the India blueprint is being built.

Data is a big plank for you. But advertisers seem to be looking at small data, and not Big Data?
It is being practical, really. In IBM, Big Data connects everything in the organisation from sales to supply. But where we agencies need to start is small data that is actionable. We talk about getting insights from search and social data. From buzz monitoring, Google AdWords and search traffic. All these are easy and cheap sources of information to do competitive analysis, category analysis and consumer sentiment, and can lead to real-time marketing.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 30-06-2014)