This digital snobbery

Vanita Kohli- KhandekarWhy are digital media guys so dismissive about ‘offline’, or mass media. At a two-day workshop on digital marketing by afaqs!Campus last month I came across this again and again. The trainers, good minds from some of India’s best agencies, were completely contemptuous about TV, print or other media. Large parts of the young audience seemed to mirror their opinion. So do many people in the media and entertainment industry, media students and other people I meet in the course of work. TV, print, radio, outdoor or other mass media are seen as dinosaurs that will die. And in conversation they are already dead. Young people seem to think that digital is where the world exists and everything else doesn’t matter. Not only that, the bosses at some of India’s largest media buying agencies talk as if digital death is imminent. 

Hand-in-hand: India is going to be a television and newspaper market for very long. So instead of being contemptuous of offline, it might make sense for the online guys to start working with it.

This is silly. TV reaches over 700 million people, print reaches 354 million, the Internet reaches 130 million and mobile reaches about 800 million. Advertisers spent more than 90 per cent of their money on all forms of mass media last year. Only 5 per cent went to digital. This proportion has remained largely constant for the last many years. There is not a single digital company among India’s largest media companies. The largest is Zee Group and the second largest is the Times Group, and so on the list goes up to at least 20.  This is not to negate the growth of digital or its power. It is the biggest phenomenon of our times. But this is to say that we need to bring some perspective to this debate. 

The fact is that India, Brazil, and many other markets are on a completely different growth trajectory from the US or Europe. We do not mimic their growth, at least not in media. In the US newspapers ruled the roost for decades before film and radio came. They co-existed for a long time and then TV happened. It was decades after TV had a free run that the internet happened. So each media got its time to explore the market, understand it and make money. And consumers had the luxury of savouring each medium.

The Indian media industry was freed up only 20 years ago, when private television happened. Newspapers became free after 2002 around the time that multiplexes took off. Private radio took off in 2006 and mobile telephony around the same time. Almost all mass media in India started enjoying the freedom to operate simultaneously. And starved-for-options, Indians have welcomed this crazy growth. The time and money spent on media has increased in double digits for many years now. So our mass media market is a toddler by the standards of other markets. As consumers we have not experienced what it means to have an India where all media has been available everywhere for decades.

Also India is not just one large market. There are dozens of Indias within. There is a market for media in different languages — Tamil, Telugu, Bhojpuri and Marathi among others. There is a market for different classes of people — single screens work for your driver and maid and multiplexes work for you. And there is a market for different tastes — young people like Love, Sex aur Dhoka while the over-thirties dig EnglishVinglish.  So we are a very diverse market and a very voluminous one. To say that one media will become everything for all doesn’t make sense. Now add variables such as language fonts, electricity and infrastructure. If you factor these in then not just digital, all media have a long way to go. 

So why are marketers and agencies obsessed with digital to the point of silliness? Maybe because it is fashionable. More than ninety per cent of the conversation is digital, but only five odd per cent of ad spends go to it. So clearly the need to reach, brand build and inform is best served by mass media. It is however very cool to discuss digital.

The fact is that a good combination of offline and online media could actually get fantastic results, as is evident in several markets around the world. See the work being done for Ikea or Coca-Cola both online and offline. Understanding offline could also help online get better advertising rates, something the mass media guys have mastered. If only the online guys could get over their need to snigger at mass media, they could swap so many nuggets of knowledge.  

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at

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