Global advertisers exercise caution; Indians unaffected yet

MUMBAI: "Your world could change faster than the time it takes to read this sentence." These words from the copy of a Cox digital cable advertisement say it all as advertisers pulled off commercials from news programmes and placed them on entertainment and sports shows. However, Indian media planners, buyers and advertisers aren't expecting things to change drastically.

In the US, AT&T plans to pull off its new TV campaign whereas AOL is no longer carrying ads on its welcome page, says an Adage report. Consumer packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble Co. reportedly pulled all of its advertising from the broadcast networks after the strike on Wednesday night, a ban it will keep in place for 48 hours, according to spokeswoman Linda Ulrey.

Automaker General Motors Corp, amongst the top advertisers in the United States, would not advertise on television programmes that are devoted exclusively to coverage of the US-led war in Iraq. That includes any extended network news coverage of the war but not regular news broadcasts.

It is a different matter altogether that some networks and cable channels haven't been carrying any commercials since the beginning of the US attack on Iraq (19-20 March).

Are similar plans on the anvil in the context of the Indian market and advertisers? The editorial team spoke to Indian media planners and advertisers who felt that the duration of the war will determine the extent of its impact on the Indian advertising world.

Initiative Media (IM) Integrated Communications Businesses president Ashish Bhasin says: "I don't foresee any immediate impact especially if the war doesn't last for a long time. However, if it continues for a longer duration and the overall economy (including impact on oil prices) goes down then it is bound to impact India. This in turn will affect Indian advertising."

Leo Burnett India MD and CEO Arvind Sharma adds: "To a certain degree, the war will definitely undo whatever positive impact the 2003-04 Union budget has had on the consumer markets. Oil price rises will definitely not help and some tremors will be felt even in the context of the Indian economy."

Carat Integra CEO Shripad Kulkarni says that there are no visible signs of any immediate impact on the Indian advertising scene. "Any captive audience opportunity is a marketers dream. But sometimes, there could be a moral issue: akin to let's say advertisers directly or indirectly supporting the war by advertising on the news coverage of war. Practically speaking, what is critical is whether it is perceived to be so by the constituencies who matter - consumers and governments!" adds Kulkarni.

MindShare India MD Ashutosh Srivastava says: "Some MNCs are asking for cancellation of ongoing campaigns in line with worldwide policy. However, most have specifically asked to stay away from the news channels.We always talk about the 'medium being the message'. The context is negative and therefore best avoided, unless there is a relevant message in the advertising linked to the war."

Abroad, advertisers had anticipated quick changes and were geared to adapt at a short notice. "Advertisers, who had been anticipating the war for months, enacted their contingency plans for commercials," a Reuters report quoted the US-based Association of National Advertisers senior VP Barbara Bacci Mirque as saying.

"A lot of our members have said they don't want to run in graphic news coverage, even after the first couple of days," said Bacci Mirque, whose industry trade group represents more than 300 US-based advertisers.

The second issue is whether Indian news channels will benefit in a big way. Already, a lot of advertising budget has been diverted towards the cricket World Cup.

An Indian business newspaper quoted TAM India S-group director Atul Phadnis as saying that war leads to a surge in viewership for news channels. Phadnis points out that the viewership for news channels in India grew by two-and-a-half times after the 9/11 incident.

The report also added that TV Today CEO G Krishnan felt that viewership for channels such as Aaj Tak could go up in the mornings. "Viewership of news channels will go up but most ad agencies will advise their clients will stay off the news channels. However, if some advertisers have on-going campaigns or commitments, then it would be advisable to continue with the same," IM's Bhasin adds.

"Probably yes, as viewership will go up somewhat and there will be advertisers who will buy time. But I don't expect any dramatic increase," adds MindShare's Srivastava.

Other media observers state that the weekend viewing could increase as more male viewers are expected to tune in to news channels.

A media specialist who has been directly involved in the decision-making process for several "worried" advertisers, Initiative Media vice president planning and buying S Yesudas, offers a varied viewpoint: "News as an option today, unlike ever before, forms part of most TV media plans because it focuses on the male consumer with a sizeable chunk of the investment pie - commensurate to the audience delivery. I expect some tweaking to be done to these plans, provided the viewing pattern completely changes. On the other hand, some brands might consciously avoid the unpleasant war scenario even if it means better audience delivery."

Leo Burnett India's Sharma adds: "Advertisers have committed monies to the cricket World Cup and fresh reviews will only happen in April as 31 March will also coincide with the financial year ending for most listed companies."

Will news channels benefit post the cricket World Cup? "Of course, they will. Maybe, its a God-sent opportunity for channels such as NDTV!" reasons Carat Integra's Kulkarni.

The writing is clearly on the wall or should we say "on-air"!

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