Kerala ad market pins hopes on Onam to bring respite

The industry witnessed a dip of around 80 per cent during Covid2019 lockdown

NEW DELHI: The South Indian ad market is a flourishing one, moving on an upward trajectory for the past decade. In 2019, it accounted for 30.7 per cent of the overall ad expenditures in India, as revealed by TAM AdEx’s Southside story report, contributing Rs 21,500 crore to the industry. Kerala market alone contributed Rs 4200 crore to the pie. 

However, the past two years have been pretty difficult for the Kerala market, which was washed by floods in 2018 and 2019, and then  Covid2019, becoming one of the first states to get impacted by the contagious pandemic. 

If Mplan CEO Parag Masteh is to be believed, the novel coronavirus alone has led to a 80-90 per cent drop in the investment cycle by advertisers. 

Madison Media chief buying officer Vinay Hegde tells, “The dip in Kerala ad market due to Covid2019 is roughly estimated to be around 75 per cent and largely in line with most other markets. Expectedly, it was the “essentials” categories like FMCG, foods and CSR for Covid2019-related issues that were active. Retail, a major player in Kerala, was just about present, being reduced drastically to around eight to 10 per cent of regular months.” 

Maitri Advertising managing director Raju Menon adds, “February to May are the best months for Kerala market because of the tourist and wedding season. Around 30 per cent of the overall yearly sales happen during this time. However, it was a complete washout for us because of the lockdown. There are a few markets that work really well here, including banks, real estate, loans, textile and gold. But the pandemic left a negative impact on everything.”

He continues, “For us at Maitri, there was a 60 per cent loss in billing during this lockdown. Not only was there a dip in queries, but some of our old bills, from January-February, were not cleared as well.” 

Menon also shares that a few categories like automobiles, especially two-wheelers segment performed well than others given the market sentiment, but overall the whole industry witnessed a massive dip in revenues.

In terms of television advertising, GECs saw their revenues down by more than 80 per cent YoY, both due to low inventory sales as well as discounts, reveals Hegde. He adds, “With the pandemic and the lockdown becoming the focal point, viewership shifted to news and the spike was exponential. A major shift from GECs to news was inevitable and visible and the channels did their best to hold on to their rates and monetise on the spike. This genre managed to rake in some ad revenues, yet inventory fill rate was lower than the normal average. April actually saw a dip in ad spends by almost 25 per cent Q4 of LY, but in May there was a massive spike of 120 per cent with retail and other clients making a beeline for the news genre.” 

However, according to Menon, this growth in ad spends doesn’t necessarily mean more revenue for news channels. “If I give you an example, when the chief minister or the health minister is addressing the state via news channels, you can’t run commercials during that. So, advertisers buy the space on L-band, which costs around 97 per cent lesser than a slot for a video commercial. So, if you would have spent Rs 100 on a channel for video ads, you are spending only Rs 3 for the spot on L-band. Additionally, the inventory prices are kept low as the advertisers don’t have much money to spend. They are more concerned about paying their own people and keep their businesses afloat with the production-supply chain shut for most categories.  In terms of revenues, I believe they must have recorded a minimal growth of three to four per cent at max.” 

Masteh shares that apart from the news genre, the ad spends from GECs were reallocated to digital media, which became a core part of the marketing strategy for even those brands which earlier refrained from it. He is hopeful that OTT will continue to grow and garner advertisers’ attention from here on. 

As the lockdown eases, the industry is hoping to witness some progress in the advertiser as well as the consumer sentiment. 

Hedge states, “Ease of lockdown has definitely seen an improvement in advertiser sentiment accompanied by the many relief schemes announced by the government in an effort to boost consumer sentiment and hence, demand. While the damage in Q1 of FY21 will take some time to heal, the additional forecast of economy contracting also needs to be considered by advertisers going forward. However, not advertising may not be an option as a short-term or long-term strategic call and hence, as the lockdown is being eased, we are seeing advertisers flocking back. TV, OOH and radio may still take more time to recover and as it happens, the competition will follow the competition.” 

The industry is pinning its hope on the Onam season to bring a much-needed respite. 

Menon says, “Onam counts for around 60 per cent of sales in the state and we are hopeful that will bring the advertisers back to the market. However, it will depend on the rains that we have. There are predictions for a good monsoon, but if the rains are heavy like the past two years, it is going to be a washout for us again.”  

Hedge further adds, “August will also see the advent of festive season and it would be imperative for the advertiser to be visible. Also, by that time, lockdown would have eased even further. June is already seeing a much higher level of inquiries from advertisers compared to April and May. With originals making a comeback, July onwards, we should be seeing a fair degree of normal activity in terms of inventory consumption. Onam is an important festival in Kerala and is between 30 August to 2 September. That should be signaling a major recovery.” 

But this recovery will be tampered by the gloomy forecast by the national and international bodies of contraction and recession, which however does not seem to be on top of the mind of advertisers and they would be looking at the most efficient extraction from media for their brands while the broadcasters/publishers will be looking to monetise demand uplift to also compensate for the loss of the first quarter, Hegde concludes. 

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