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The need for standards and norms: Farokh Balsara, partner, Ernst & Young India news
06 October 2008

Ernst & Young India's advisory services leader for Technology, Communications and Entertainment, Farokh Balsara spoke to domain-b on the sidelines of IAMAI's fourth conference on digital marketing, about the need for standardisation and norms in the Indian Internet Industry. Dhruv Tanwar reports

Farokh Balsara, advisory services leader for Technology, Communications and Entertainment, Ernst & Young India Farokh Balsara, partner at Ernst & Young India, and the firm's advisory services leader for technology, communications and entertainment, is of the opinion the problem right now is that the measures are there, but the standards are not there. (view video)

Currently, in the Indian context, the larger international advertising agencies are here, and so are some of the larger publishers. They have brought with them their own set of measurements already into the Indian market place.

''So, each one is looking at the measures in their own sweet way. Simply stated, the problem is similar to the folklore of the blind men trying to describe the elephant, each in his own way,'' says Balsara.

At the root of this conflict in the current scenario, is the fact that each party - the advertiser, publisher and agency - are looking at measurements based on their convenience, and their ways of doing things.

Once standards are in place, they would define what, when, and how things need to be done, so that disparities that are currently the points of friction between advertisers, agencies and publishers which are coming through get harmonised.

''Hopefully, there will be a complete buy in of the publishers, as well as the advertising agencies and the advertisers as to the way forward.''

How would a comfort level emerge between these three parties, over time?
The first step, says Balsara, would be to have a set of standards that has a buy-in from all the three warring factions. ''Once that happens'', he says pointing to the example of the US, where since 2004 the Internet as a medium has taken off, the same would happen here in India.

''There, everybody is saying that these are the standards that we all need to adhere to, and then they are doing it in a disciplined manner.'' Consequently, a lot of time that was earlier spent on disputes and dispute resolution is getting freed up to become more involved in the Internet as a medium, and get more innovative, do lots more of innovative stuff to the medium as opposed to trying to outsmart each other.

How should the industry move from its current focus on performance and measurement of advertising on the internet to a wider brand building kind of initiative?
''I think what the industry has unfortunately got itself is some sort of a trap on this performance and clicks issue. Because it is one of the most measurable mediums, it is also one of the most misused and misunderstood mediums. So, there is too much emphasis on performance, as if all other advertising also delivers those results and instant gratification, so to speak.''

Balsara agrees that the internet is constantly being compared with print and television, where as it need not be.

''As a medium by itself, the Internet is very unique. It has measurability, but at the same time it can bring in a lot of innovation to a marketing campaign. Its one of those mediums which is truly interactive and the effects of it linger much after the campaign has completed.''

So if it is information you are seeking, along with interactivity, there is no other medium better than the internet, he says.

So how should the industry shift its focus from measurement and performance to brand building and establishing a connect with people?
''I think that the emphasis on performance, per se, is not bad. The emphasis on return on investment (ROI) is not bad. This emphasis ought to be there, because advertisers are paying money for the medium, but performance being the only point of emphasis, to the detriment of everything else, that needs to change.''

''In a way, publishers would in some way be blamed for this situation also, as they have gone overboard and have over engineered this aspect of performance, and not really brought out all the other benefits that the internet as a medium has to offer. ''

Once that starts happening, advertisers and advertising agencies will appreciate and value the internet as a medium much more than what they are currently doing, he hopes.

On the planned WiMax rollout, and its impact online business, given the inclusion of a larger chunk of India's population
WiMax, like any other wireless technology, will permit greater reach and penetration of broadband in the country. It will get broadband into parts of India where it is not easy to roll out fibre based networks.

''I see equally the fact that we have large housing townships, SEZs coming up; if each of those are wired properly, and the broadband is rolled out over there, you're talking of a huge chunk of India's population being broadband ready. With a combination of cable based broadband as well as WiMax, all put together will take broadband penetration, which is currently at around 0.3 per cent onto at least eight or 10 per cent, which it ought to be for a country of our size. It would be a shame if we don't get the penetration up to that level within the next few years.''

(Also See: The time has come for online video advertising)
Challenges in dealing with publishers and advertisers
Five imperative's for online industry's growth in India

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The need for standards and norms: Farokh Balsara, partner, Ernst & Young India