Digitalization and social media have opened new avenues for brands to connect with consumers

Times are hard for the Nepali advertising industry. Business is down sharply as advertisers have slashed their marketing expenses. Sudip Thapa, Group Managing Director of ANS.CO says that digital platforms have been helping advertisers and marketers to some extent in the current difficult business climate. 

Thapa, who is the First Vice President of the Advertising Association of Nepal (AAN), has two and half decades of experience in the advertising sector. In a conversation with the HRM, Thapa talked about the current state of the Nepali advertising industry, new trends, challenges and prospects in the advertising business due to digitization. Excerpts:

he economic slowdown has affected the advertising and marketing sector like other business sectors. What problems are surrounding marketers at present?
The Covid-19 pandemic followed by the economic crisis has the domestic advertising business to 40 percent in the past three years. Due to the liquidity crunch and import restrictions in the past year, major advertisers in sectors such as automobiles, construction materials business, and manufacturers have experienced a steep decline in their sales which has affected the overall advertising industry.

How are marketers and advertisers coping with the challenges?
Marketers are struggling with the task of keeping their businesses afloat amidst the economic downturn in the country. They have resorted to cost-cutting measures, particularly in marketing endeavors. Big advertisers are maintaining their presence with limited budgets. Digital platforms have become the preferred choice due to their cost-effectiveness.

Difficult times also demand people to work differently in order to sustain themselves. How should marketers need to take a different approach in business in times like these?
The cost-conscious approach has compelled even major advertisers to maintain their visibility through minimal expenditure. Consequently, there has been a notable shift in the focus of advertisers towards digital platforms, which offer more cost-effective means of reaching their target audiences. By embracing digital channels, advertisers can leverage the affordability and wider accessibility of these platforms to maintain their brand presence and engage with consumers, even amidst challenging economic circumstances.

Digitalization and social media have changed the landscape of the advertising market in the last few years. What new trends have emerged in the market? 
In the last few years, the advertising market has undergone significant changes with the advent of digitalization and the rise of social media. This transformation has brought several new trends that are reshaping the way brands engage with their target audiences.

One notable trend that has emerged is influencer marketing, which has gained immense popularity through the reach and influence of social media. Brands now collaborate with influencers who possess substantial online followings to promote their products or services.

Another prominent trend is the increasing utilization of user-generated content (UGC) campaigns. Brands are actively encouraging consumers to create and share content related to their experiences with the brand. UGC campaigns leverage user recommendations and social proof, fostering authenticity and driving brand awareness and engagement.

Furthermore, an exciting avenue for brand visibility and engagement has arisen through sponsorships in reality shows and sporting activities. The proliferation of reality shows and sporting competitions, both at national and international levels, has presented brands with opportunities to associate themselves with popular and engaging content. By sponsoring such events, brands enhance their visibility, reach wider audiences, and align themselves with the values and aspirations of the shows and participants.

How will digitalization shape the advertising market in the foreseeable future?
The increasing accessibility of affordable internet and smartphones presents a prime opportunity for brands to connect with digitally engaged Nepali consumers. As technology advances and internet penetration grows, the advertising landscape will witness a shift toward digital platforms as the primary channels for reaching target audiences.

Advertisers need to adapt their strategies to engage the digitally savvy Nepali audience effectively. This entails creating personalized and compelling content that resonates with their interests, preferences, and aspirations. Leveraging social media, search engines, and mobile apps allow brands to tap into the power of social sharing, targeted advertising, and real-time feedback, enhancing brand visibility and driving meaningful connections.

Data-driven advertising will play a pivotal role in optimizing efforts. By leveraging data analytics tools, brands gain valuable insights into consumer behavior, preferences, and demographics. This enables refined targeting, messaging, and accurate campaign performance measurement.

By embracing digital platforms, data-driven strategies, optimizing for mobile, focusing on localization, and leveraging video and visual content, brands can position themselves at the forefront of Nepal’s evolving advertising landscape.

How can Nepali advertisers and marketers take optimal benefits of the digitalization wave?
Nepali advertisers and marketers have a significant opportunity to harness the advantages of the digitalization wave by embracing online platforms and leveraging social media marketing strategies. It is crucial for them to establish a strong online presence through well-designed websites and active engagement on popular social media channels. By creating compelling content tailored to their target audience and running targeted advertising campaigns, they can effectively expand their reach and engage with a wider demographic.

Collaborating with influential social media personalities and thought leaders in their respective industries is another powerful strategy for Nepali advertisers and marketers. Partnering with these influencers can help them tap into a larger audience and build credibility and trust among potential customers.

Moreover, with the increasing penetration of smartphones in Nepal, mobile marketing is essential. Advertisers and marketers should optimize their digital assets, including websites and advertisements, for mobile devices. They should also explore the potential of mobile apps and messaging platforms to engage with their audience directly and deliver personalized content and offers.

Q: How do you see the future prospects and challenges in influencer marketing?
Previously, brand ambassadors and endorsers were hired for the promotion of a brand. However, in recent years, influencer marketing has gained significant traction in Nepal. As we look ahead, the future prospects of influencer marketing in the country appear promising. Influencers have the ability to effectively connect with their followers and build authentic relationships, which can be leveraged by brands to reach their target audience in a more personalized and relatable way.

One of the key strengths of influencer marketing is its potential for organic reach and engagement. Influencers, through their content and storytelling, can create a sense of trust and credibility among their followers. This allows brands to tap into specific niche markets and engage with a highly targeted audience.

However, along with the opportunities, there are also challenges that need to be navigated. Firstly, as influencer marketing becomes more prevalent, authenticity and transparency become crucial factors. Consumers are becoming more discerning and can easily spot inauthentic endorsements. Maintaining genuine partnerships and ensuring transparency in brand collaborations will be essential to maintain trust and credibility.

Additionally, influencer fatigue and saturation could be potential hurdles. As more brands engage with influencers, there is a risk of oversaturation, leading to decreased engagement and impact. Identifying the right influencers who align with the brand& values and have a genuine connection with their audience will be crucial to stand out and achieving desired results.

What is the future of print media in this digital age?
Media consumption habits have changed over the years. But still, print media remains a major medium for brands to increase brand visibility. While digital media is flooded by advertisements, it hasn’t been able to gain the brand confidence of consumers like print media. Print media houses should also understand the challenges digitalization has brought to the landscape. So they should focus on their own marketing and work on providing readership, circulation and reach data to marketers, which will help marketers and advertisers to analyze the reach and effectiveness of print media.

What challenges do you see in this transformation from print to digital media formats?
The transformation has significantly reshaped the advertising landscape, offering new opportunities and presenting unique challenges. Digital media has brought about expanded reach and interactivity, revolutionizing the way content is consumed and delivered.

One of the key challenges we observe in this shift is the fragmentation of audiences across various digital platforms. With consumers spread across multiple websites, social media channels, and mobile apps, it becomes increasingly complex to effectively target and engage our desired audience. Adapting our strategies for each platform and optimizing content for different devices is essential to overcome this challenge.

Another problem we face is the information overload that comes with the digital era. With a vast amount of content available at consumers’ fingertips, capturing and maintaining their attention becomes increasingly challenging. We need to ensure our messaging is concise, compelling, and tailored to resonate with our target audience amidst the sea of digital information.

Furthermore, keeping up with the rapid pace of technological advancements is a continuous challenge. New platforms, tools, and trends emerge constantly, and staying ahead requires ongoing learning and adaptation.

It’s been two and a half years since the clean-feed policy was implemented. Has the policy aided in the growth of the advertising market as expected?
After 15 years of constant appeal, Nepal Government finally addressed our demand for clean feed in 2020. Right after the implementation of the policy, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country which brought new advertising projects to a halt for some time.

The Clean Feed Policy has had a mixed impact on the advertising industry, with both positive and negative consequences. While the expected growth in television advertising has not materialized as anticipated, there remains a significant opportunity to leverage Nepal’s advertising potential and attract multinational corporations (MNCs). By actively promoting advertising opportunities in Nepal to these MNCs, the country has the potential to entice numerous brands to invest in the market.

Have the policy helped advertisers and marketers to become innovative and creative in producing TV Commercials?
Yes. The policy has encouraged MNCs to produce their Nepali advertisements to some extent. Many MNCs have adapted their international concepts into Nepali by taking Nepali actors while some have used the local creativity. I believe that both are a win-win situation.

Some Nepali advertisements have also been adapted into international commercials. This has been the biggest outcome of the policy. Furthermore, it has significantly improved the production quality of Nepali advertisers.

What factors do you think still hinder the objectives of the clean feed policy?
The main objective of the policy is to create a sustainable ecosystem for both advertisers and media. For years, MNCs used to spend a large chunk of their marketing budget on media planning and used to run international ads on domestic media. But with the implementation of clean feed, they have had to share the budget for the production of advertisements as well and haven’t been able to release ads in the media like before. That has created some setbacks in the achievement of the clean feed policy.

Furthermore, Social media and digital advertising have also helped brands maintain brand visibility and fulfill their advertising objectives. So many brands now are opting for social media as it’s relatively cheap compared to other mass media.

Recently, the government has made it mandatory for media companies and advertising agencies to get registered with the advertisement board. Will this create a better environment to regulate the advertising market?
The Nepal Advertisement Board acts as a regulatory body for all marketing agencies and media houses that are sustained through advertising revenue. To keep advertising revenue or expenses in the company’s bookkeeping an organization must be registered with the Nepal Advertisement Board.

Though the board was established upon the request of advertisers, it hasn’t been able to contribute towards the growth of the advertising industry as expected. The policies and acts drafted by the government focus more on media sustainability rather than the advertising industry.

On a positive note, It has helped set the price for advertising services so brands can get a fair price as well as eliminate unhealthy competition among agencies.

Why advertising agencies voiced against the single-door arrangement of the distribution of public service announcements (PSAs) and notices of the government through the advertising board?
Our concern was if the board itself would play the role of an agency how could it regulate other agencies and maintain transparency? So, we demanded to revoke of the new policy and later signed an agreement with the advertising board that agencies will release the government’s public service announcements and notices.

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