Programmatic will not displace humans…

30 Jan,2017


GroupM has been on the forefront on programmatic over the years, and beyond what’s being at the group level, last year, Mindshare appointed John Thankamony to lead its programmatic agenda. In a freewheeling chat with MxMIndia, Thankamony spoke about the status of programmatic in India, the need for good talent and how a data-led tech-driven regime will not displace the need for humans (and negotiations). Excerpts:


While programmatic is here to stay, and since you were with Amnet earlier in environments other than India, how would you rate India’s progress in the adoption of the new order?

I’ll step back and take it from a few different standpoints. I think from a programmatic standpoint and where we are going from platforms, understanding user data and being able to identify data and use data effectively to buy, India is in a fairly decent space, I think. Like lot of holding groups have focused on getting programmatic in place and there have been companies coming and talking about digital and how you can target people better on digital than you can on probably other mediums.

I think some of the challenges that you have in India are systemic, in terms ofhow we define what is effectiveness and how we measure it and I think those are challenges which are just beyond programmatic. Those are challenges that each client is trying to address like, ‘Is my advertising working for me?How is it working? What direction is it changing and things like that.’ So I think what I have seen in other markets is beyond a point, the effectiveness of programmatic is measured in a few different ways.

One is you have data and how well can you find people that you are looking for. Lot of brands are looking for mothers. How well you can find mothers or do you have enough mothers you can target. So in that aspect India is quite high up.


If you have to rate our progress on scale of 10, where do you think does India stand?

For programmatic, I think I would put it on a level of around 5 or 6.


Five or six is very good. And where would you place a market like Singapore, UK and the US?

I think Singapore is still probably somewhere around 6 or 7 only because you don’t actually have a lot of data in Southeast Asia. It is one of the problems that Southeast Asia market has is getting the data into the ecosystem. US is probably going to be on the 9 side. Australia and US are going to be around 9 or 10. UK is also around 9 or 10 because the market is very matured, lot of buying happens programmatically, platform-led with data coming into the ecosystem and publishers are also fully enabled and the entire ecosystem is going in that direction.


You joined Mindshare in August 2016. How would you say has it progressed in acceptability since then?

I think there have been a lot of conversations, definitely with the clients, and also internal. Externally I think it is about having clients ready for the conversation. And I think a lot of big clients are actually ready because they are saying we want to be able to identify our audiences better, yes definitely, and being able to measure better, bringing things such as effectiveness goals such as durability in target measurement all of them to play. I think internally a lot of the conversation has been what are the kind of skills that you need, because we as a market and also Mindshare and GroupM, very strong from media buying understanding how users behave from media buying perspective. But the analytic and data-led scenario is still to come in. so, I think that is probably the gap that is going to be at rest in the next couple of years. I would say It is kind of like saying how do you transform organisations. Because it’s just not about bringing in new processes and practices but we need to get different type of people also into play.


How do you think India can go from your score of 5-7 to a 9? What are the stepping stones to that path?

I think one of the important considerations is definItely the kind of people you have as part of your teams, the way your teams are builtbecause technically if you look at it the very foundational aspect of it, programmatic is about being able to work on platforms and understand platform and the technology and while also bringing into the play the understanding of media and of audiences. So what we are looking at is bringing all the skills into play. When I was building my team in Southeast Asia, we had analysts come in from different industries, who had never worked in advertising. It could be from the hotel industry…we need very number-focused people who could understand how numbers flow and who could actually read the data in different ways. They didn’t approach the scenario in just the normal singleminded way. So I think it is about opening up to having new people entering and bringing new ideas and new ways to read data. That is one. People who can actually appreciate and learn platforms is very critical. I think teams like Xaxis have been embodying that very well, where they have managed to get skilled sets which are not typically  available in our media agencies together, to form a team that is technically very competent. And I think all agencies will have to undergo that journey and that’s what you can see internationally as well.


Talent is the big issue that is there, and probably the #1 factor. In a sense even Mindshare has to look beyond its own corridors to get someone  like you. So there is an issue of talent everywhere. Would you say that as a correct assumption?


Ya, I think it is because the need for such people has not existed until  now. We are trying to also change the market so, we are bringing in new pieces into play. We will probably be a media plus technology agency so as we move along.


In terms of the actual spends of your clients deploying programmatic to plan and buy, how has it been for some of your large advertisers, because Mindshare has the biggest of them all.

Ya, so I would say, and this is the journey I would say which Mindshare started with all that theme even before I was here, and I think a lot of once I came on board, I made sure I help the journey along especially for those conversations where I think where we needed some more welding of what the offering was. We have seen for some clients they were already very heavilyinto programmatic, we have clients who are 70-80% programmatic life.


Are there certain types of clients who are really heavy on programmatic and have adapted well to the environment?

Ya, sure I will get to that as well, like I was saying there were 70% clients and then of course there are clients at the digital mix who were at 5 to 10%, some of the clients who were at the 5-10% we have actually managed to get them to 20% to 30%. And obviously the message there has been, find your audiences better or with programmatic, find the people that you are looking for. I think there are different types of clients, and when we say programmatic it is a very broad umbrella, because we are using data to identify our users better. So there are different ways you can use programmatic. I think a lot of FMCG clients have started seeing the benefits because for them it make a lot of sense.They know the kind of audiences they want and they are very clearly define them out and they go after them. So for them it makes sense to a have set of audiences and be able to talk to them on an ongoing basis.


A lot of buying is done based on negotiations… how does that work with programmatic? Also, if you remember a few years back in India, a leading marketer had told the agencies pitching for itsbusiness that it was not going to pay any commissions given the monies it would make from its business. How do you factor in these things?

Absolutely and I think these are things which are definitely going to part of the way you do business. Programatic in the simplest scenario is layering data and analytics to understand how you are buying media better.  We are trying to automate whatever you can so whether it is a TV or whether it’s a digital, whether it’s radio extra.  So and I think there is a lot of the effort internationally to do this. Negotiations, discussions whatever you have at play with all partners is always going to be a piece of this.  So technology is not going to remove the thought where humans do.  It is a way of improving things and I think a lot of programmatic players across the world have been able to get this into their DNA, and they managed to get the business aspect of it into this.  Now


As head of the entire programmatic agenda at Mindshare but do all these things worry you?  The way I can see it is in course of the interview, I am sorry not to put you in discouraging tone on a Monday morning, but I see that you said that talent doesn’t exist.

I didn’t say that[laughs]


I mean there is a shortage of talent. Forget shortage of good talent externally, short of good talent internally right.  And the need for clients to be educated. And then this whole thing about negotiation. Does this entire scenario – the way it is today – worry you?

That’s a good question and I think like a lot of these things are the way you position it right.  So I think this is transitional phase and in the last 3-4 years, GroupM has been focusing on how we get into a phase where we can actually say we will do more programmatic, more data-led stuff, more content, so all of these things have been like a central focus area in Mindshare and GroupM as well. I think these are all facets of the Indian market which you have to deal with on anongoing basis and I think there are different ways to solve it and different people at play.  Will technology solve all of the issues that we are trying to sort out?I think not all of the issues. But what happens is technology gives us better understanding of what’s going on and how we can make better conversation happen and that’s the idea eventually. And it doesn’t happen overnight… it’s going to be a longer term discussion. For example, in the case of viewability and the chance for an ad to be seen into play, we understand how effective our audiences are and where they are going, right.  So if we know this across all our publishers it gives a better idea of what we are doing and what we are buying and that’s what technology allows you to do. Now if you start layering in data to understand where your real audiences are in terms of the TGs, there are measurement systems for all of that.  So it gives you better conversation and while negotiations will always be there but there will be better conversations rather than just one or two points: how much do you have and how much price can you give it to me.


I want to ask you an unfair question and you can choose not to respond to it.  Is that– I see the success of programatic in any agency and and I’m familiar with the structure of groupM, I see the success happening when your role and that of the head of a CTG is merged, right. When do you think that could happen?

That’s a good question and I am not going to shy away from it because I think I agree with you on some point because I think I have said this to different clients and at different points I think eventually buying programmatically should be how you move forward because you have data-enabled platform-led ways.  Now there is obviously a journey to get there because you need resources, we need people.  And I think the idea is to have a person who lead that journey to start that off and that’s where I come into play really very heavily from 2017-2018. There are a lot of people who are doing programmatic so it;s not that programmatic is only being done at Mindshare or GroupM. Programatic is a part of literally every plan.  I have said it before and I will say it again, the idea is probably five years from now programmatic won’t be a separate job description because it’s going to be part and parcel of what everyone is doing.  But it’s a journey that we have to take along and we have to bring along and it’s a journey that we have to take our clients also on and that’s where we are at here.


There is a belief that the word programatic itself puts people off  and  makes it sound very technology and programming and code-linked.

I think there is definitely a plus and minus to it, it’s obviously a lot of people I think have plus and minus experiences with programmatic and then they sayprogrammatic doesn’t work, programmatic is not for me and they I am doing programmatic or I am not doing programmatic.  In the modern digital advertising systems most of the times you are indulging in some form of programmatic because there are a lot of platform led, data enabled byte.   So I think the idea is you need– yes I would probably agree with you it would probably help on as it is— as we move along.  But I think having programmatic as a separate word and a separate network and as a separate channel– it’s not a channel it’s a buying type I think to start off to get people on that journey.  I think it’s the journey that we need to start off on.


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