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Brand safety in India: a neglected phenomenon


By Taruka Srivastav, Reporter

June 27, 2017 | 6 min read

India might have lost its tag of being the ‘fastest growing economy’ recently but, with a burgeoning middle class, it is still one of the hottest markets globally to sell your products.

With this comes an increase in ad spend and digital ad spend is set to tip over the $1 billion mark next year, while still only accounting for a quarter of the whole media market, according to eMarketer.

However, as far as brand safety is concerned in the Indian market, it is very much a neglected phenomenon. Not many are aware of the importance of brand safety and, therefore, more education is needed.

The Drum spoke to Sanjay Sayani, brand analyst and founder, who said there is an almost reckless attitude from brands in India.

"Brand safety is serious business. It should be protected like your own life. Yet sometimes there is a devil may care attitude among brands in India. This is true for not only the humongous homegrown ones but even multinational company brands whose international reputation can nosedive with just a flicker. Without blaming the 'this is India' syndrome, I would attribute it to lack of training, coupled with zero brand education, which in turn leads to a 'no pride in the brand' situation," said Sayani.

A key issue in the brand safety saga has been ad misplacement, with many brands being placed on websites that are deemed inappropriate. Google was one fo the key publishers to come under fire for not having enough measures to reassure brands. However, it has recently responded and is taking action in finding ways to stop advertising across content with 'hate speech' content, for example.

Partha Sinha, vice chairman and managing director, McCann Worldgroup said brand safety should be more of a concern in India because the context of articles is so important.

"Brand safety or the lack of it is a direct fallout of programmatic and its misuse. The unnecessary greed of the media agencies created this crisis and they are the only one who can solve it. Having said that, in India there has been no concrete step yet on the issue of brand safety. China has taken action - though the jury is still out in the result.

"In India the brand owners are really worried. India is a society where context is hugely important- at times more important than content. Brand safety therefore is a huge concern. If seen in the wrong context, it can do irreparable damage to a brand. Especially if it's a household brand. It's a very serious issue which is not being treated seriously yet," added Sinha.

Many household brands are taking a very public stance on this globally, however. Recently, Unilever’s Keith Weed said last week at Cannes Lions Festival that CMOs must take responsibility for brand safety scandal and ‘it’s not just Google’s fault’, while Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Marc Pritchard has said that it is “about 40 – 50%” of the way through a massive review of all of its media agency contracts in the quest for greater transparency.

Rajiv Dingra, founder and chief executive officer of WATConsult, said that even though it's still early days and not enough is still being done in India, there is definitely a growing awareness, concern and maturity on part of marketers in the space.

He added: "The concern for brand safety measures is growing among marketers in India. Brands are asking for known publishers and are insisting on tools to ensure site selection is brand safe.”

The Drum also spoke with Anshul Jain, general manager and director of Merlin Entertainments India Pvt Ltd, which is a brand already looking into the issue in India, to get his perspective on brand safety in India.

He said: “ It is extremely important to have brand safety in plan before taking any media campaign live. These days, with the ease of access due to new data service providers, there has been a spike in users and hence a spike in ad networks and publishers as well. The digital platform is more complex, hence it becomes imperative to know where the brand's ads are being placed. However, on the other side, traditional media is much organised, as the brand can place the designed communication. So the safety of the brand places a huge role, not in India, but globally also.”

Whether there is enough infrastructure to manage brand safety, Anshul said: “The digital scenario in India is completely different from global, we are in the growing stage and has a huge potential. As a brand, we are serving ads through DCM/Sizmek [SC2] and working with known publishers, so the risk of brand dilution can be reduced immensely.”

The Drum also spoke with Aradhika Mehta, head of marketing at The Body Shop for India and Sri Lanka, who also believes that it is extremely important to have brand safety in plan before taking any media campaign live.

She said: “With the ease of access [to the internet] due to Jio [4G network] there has been a spike in users hence spike in ad networks and Publishers as well. Traditional media is pretty simple as everyone can see the placement unlike digital which is more complex hence it becomes imperative to know where the brands ads are being placed.”

According to India's digital minister Ravi Shankar Prasad: 'Indian government estimates the digital economy to surpass $1.115tn by 2024-25' but in order to achieve that successfully, the industry will also have to self-govern and grow awareness around brand safety.

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