Of Asian brands, social media and P Chidambaram

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Apparently, in the UK,  83% of print ads and 61% of TV ads now feature a URL. The figure may not be that high in India, but a cursory glance at your regular newspaper or magazine in India would reveal that here too, a large number of ads sign off with a URL – either of the brand website or a social media page. This includes ads from retail stores, consumer durables, gadgets, garment brands, accessories like jewellery and so on. A handful of FMCG brands promote their brand website or a microsite created for a campaign or project.

But as many have pointed out, the brand websites are usually nothing more than brochureware. And the social media pages are created merely to tick off on a check list of things to do. It is not uncommon to find little or no activity in the social media pages of brands – Facebook fan pages where there is no conversation, Twitter handles with merely a handful of tweets (updated about a year ago) with absolutely no interaction with followers.

In a recent study, Burson Marsteller found that  less than half of Asian companies listed on the Wall Street Journal’s Asia 200 Index has a corporate social media presence. More importantly, of those corporate brands that do have a presence, more than 55% of social media profiles are inactive.

Only 8% of leading companies in Asia have set up dedicated channels on top video sharing channels such as YouTube, Youku in China or Nico Nico Douga in Japan. This compares to 50% of global companies using such channels.

Why is that that Western brands have taken to integrating digital & social media better into their marketing communication mix? Maybe we are lulled into comfort by the dominance of Television in our markets? Western media and bloggers have long written about the demise of TV and the rise of social media. Gurus like Seth Godin have made millions writing about it. The rising influence of groups like Mommy Bloggers in the digital space have forced companies like P&G to take cognizance. In India, digital media is still seen as influencing only a niche audience, thanks to low internet penetration. Media too has not raked up the fear of not connecting with your audience. So it is a matter of ‘have TV campaign, will survive’.

In this context, a piece of advice from my ex-boss comes to mind. ‘The brain is a muscle. Exercise it’, he said in the context of keeping oneself productive and occupied even when the going is easy or when the work load is light. So what better way to hone our digital skills at a time when the pressure is light, as it were? Western agencies seem to be in a different league altogether when it comes to using digital media – just look at some of the award winning work in the recent past.

While TV maybe the main medium for several categories in India, it may be prudent to keep it that way. By attempting to have a token presence in social media, they may be causing more harm to the brand than by staying away from it. In traditional media if you release a poorly made ad, it may simply mean switching channels or attracting some negative reviews – nothing beyond that. But in the digital space, promoting your URL or social media which disappoints the viewer, causes more harm to the brand. Simply because the act of visiting the URL or social media page calls for an effort. And that effort, far from rewarding the viewer, insults him by not creating a rich, interacting, satisfying experience.

And oh, the reference to P Chidambaram in the headline? He said, ‘not taking an action is also an action‘ with reference to the Arundhati Roy episode. In that context, maybe not  having a presence in social media for some brands is also ‘an action’.

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