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Monday, December 12, 2016

Three books to get you started in adtech space

Online Advertising Technology (adtech) space can be considered going through a consolidation phase. At the same time, it is also one of the domains in which one can expect niche players sprouting up continuously. If you are keen to understand about the domain, here are three books to get you started. Two of them are at an introductory level /holistic overview; third one goes slightly technical.

The Curious Digital Marketer 2.0 published by afaqs!

The Curious Digital Marketer 2.0 is a cool book giving a very high level view of all aspects of digital marketing. Its written by a group of authors from the industry. A very practical guide without much textbook type theories and definitions. It is written in a Q&A format with a good range of questions that will come to a marketer’s mind or someone just starting her career. It touches most aspects of digital marketing (baring any new advances post 2013, the publication year). The coverage ranges from display advertising to analytics to social media marketing. The beauty of this book is that it captures the essence of each channel as questions yet covers the practical aspects of them. Let’s take the first part of the book – display advertising. The questions in this part ranges from tools used to re-targeting to in-stream ads to audience buys.
As I mentioned, all these topics are dealt at a high level rather than going in depth. For example, the topic on re-targeting just stops at explaining what the concept is and doesn’t even talk about the vendors in this space or how a marketer can implement a re-targeting campaign. Another drawback I see is – it’s more India-centric; so someone outside the Indian geography may find few data points irrelevant. The book is also available at a reduced price in eBook format. I think it would have been more beneficial if the authors went a level deeper as well as touch upon topics like programmatic buying.
Overall a good refresher and ready-reckon-er for a digital marketing professional and worth keeping in your personal library! Now that we have a book capturing the essence of entire gamut of digital marketing domain, let’s look into another book going a depth further.

Targeted: How Technology Is Revolutionizing Advertising and the Way Companies Reach Consumers

Targeted by Mike Smith is a lively book covering specifically the online advertising piece from paid search to display to programmatic buying. What makes this book special is that author tries to get behind the details of how relevant ads are shown to an audience. The initial part of the book deals with paid search and specifically how the industry has evolved. I think, the crux of the book starts from the chapter of display advertising and ad networks. Like the chapters on paid search; the author starts with a brief history on how the display advertising industry has evolved over time.
The chapters I liked the most are those on Real Time Bidding. I think, the audience of the book is either those entering the domain or senior folks who wants to understand the concepts and value propositions of various players in the domain. Playing the devil’s advocate – it would have been better if the author concentrated more on the mechanics of advanced online advertising ecosystem rather than keeping a 100 feet height / evolutionary commentary. Overall a good a book and the author has done justice to explain powerful the technology is ingrained into the ecosystem to show the right ad at the right time to the right audience!
Let’s now take the last book for today which goes further in depth in terms of both the content and technical details provided.

Ad Serving Technology: Understand the Marketing Revelation That Commercialized the Internet

Ad Serving Technology by Gregory Cristal is one of the best books I read recently on digital advertising. Not only does this give a holistic overview of the underpinnings of ad tech space; but also gives an overview of the underlying technologies. There aren’t many books and literature on this complex domain makes the book even more attractive. The author does a great job of covering the basics of how display ads get displayed, how a trafficker set up the campaigns, and reporting capabilities.
Just short of 600 pages, the book is roughly divided into four parts. The first one gives a good understanding of how the whole domain of online advertising, vendors, platforms and workflows work. The second part dives into campaign set up and trafficking. Then he discusses about reporting capabilities and analytics available in ad server. Finally, he very briefly discusses about the more complex vendors and topics like programmatic and re-targeting.
As the author rightly comments in the book; the online advertising industry is seeing changes so dramatic that a concept or thought today may not be relevant at all in near future. One personal example I could relate to was Facebook Atlas ad server’s come back. 2.0 version of the ad server has shown some promising capabilities and especially features like a closely knitted integration with Facebook campaigns make it attractive.
Now let’s play a devil’s advocate. One place where I felt the book fell short was its technical depth. I think, by trying to be an ad server agnostic literature; author has failed to give a full picture of set ups. For example, he covers in depth how to track other channels like affiliate, email or search in an ad server from a theoretical perspective; but didn’t show how an actual implementation will work. Another drawback I saw was, he was circling back again and again to the topics discussed already instead of giving more meat. Overall I believe the author has done justice to introduce the beast of ad serving domain in under 600 pages. These are they five things you will learn if you read the book —
  • Overview with some decent depth on online advertising industry
  • How to develop, track and analyze online advertising campaigns
  • How ad trafficking works
  • Reporting capabilities and attribution techniques prevalent in the industry
  • Brief overview of channels, vendors and upcoming (at the time of writing :)) changes in the industry and how it all tie back to an ad server
Two things I wish author could have done even better for reader are a provision of more robust examples covering the technical depth (since that’s what is lacking in most of the literature out there) and reduce theoretical circling in writing
Having said that, this book is a great asset for anyone in the in the industry. Some of the diagrams are very informative and easy to understand. I believe some playing around with ad servers after reading the book will give the reader a strong foundation in this domain to get your hands dirty!
Hope you find the reviews helpful and is looking forward to read them. Have you read any of these, what’s your take on these books…do they highlight the practical aspects of the industry well?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Journey of a brand through its commercials- Surf Excel

Continuing from the discussion we had about the evolution journey of Surf Excel through its commercials; today we will quickly breeze through another brand - Bru Coffee. Bru Instant Coffee product line is yet another successful brand from Hindustan Unilever in India for decades.

Brief History of Bru Coffee

A nice and interactive timeline of Bru is provided in their website. HUL launched its coffee powder under the name Brooke Bond Green Label in 1962. India being a tea nation; at that time perhaps this was the first branded entry by any company into coffee market. This could be the reason why HUL extended the brand of Brook Bond which is the famous tea brand name. The instant coffee market was perhaps born in 1968 with Bru Instant. Since then, Bru product line has seen new introduction, re-branding and pruning of variants. As of today, Bru Coffee is available in for four variants - Bru Gold, Bru Instant, Bru Select and Bru Roast & Ground

Association with filter coffee

I couldn't find any commercials from the seventies for Bru. If you find any, please do share; it will be interesting to watch those advertisements. The oldest Bru ad I could find on the internet is one from late eighties. During the earlier commercials, Bru used the comparison approach (stereotype to create an association in consumer behavior vocabulary) to attract those drinking filter coffee. At that time, coffee was the dominant hot drink perhaps only in the southern part of India. And filter coffee in particular used to be THE choice. So this association was needed during the initial days. Another close association the ad is trying to make is its connection with the traditions of South India (both in terms of visuals and voice overs).

Transition to its own category of instant coffee

Association with filter coffee continued for may be about the entire nineties. Check out the Malayalam Ad. If we forward a bit, the feature based themes were also used in the advertisements. For example, watch the below ad which focuses on how tasty Bru is. The entire voice over goes through new taste and aroma. This is perhaps the transition phase of moving away from the association with filter coffee and of being its own product category. Here is a pan India ad in Hindi that showcases both these themes.


Moving towards slice-of-life themes

Fast forward to 2000's, the brand started using slice-of-life themes with subtle indications of aroma and taste of the coffee. One interesting piece that is clearly evident from the ads during these period is the careful selection of life sequences and target segment -- Young middle class with aspirations. For example, watch the below ad which showcases a new generation daughter trying to introduce to her father, her boy-friend. Though the daughter is not able to put forth the idea of having a meeting; father understand about it after drinking a cup of Coffee. The key ingredient to the success of this campaign is two-fold. Firstly, it gels well with the target audience and secondly the shoot is perfect. For example, all aspects like whether showcasing the brand name, packaging or ingredients of the Coffee is executed perfectly. Earlier theme aspects like aroma and taste are subtly included in the pictuarization.

Happiness Begins with Bru!

A campaign that gave the brand a big boost is the Happiness Begins with Bru. The first commercial in this sequence was again a slice-of-life theme showcasing a day of a young couple; wife announcing that she is pregnant symbolically by giving a small cup of Bru to her husband. Have a watch of the ad. Once again all aspects of the brand is well captured in the video - be the subtlety used for aroma, packaging, taste etc. or the connection with its target audience.

The brand has continued with a similar theme of 'with-bru-comes-a-good-mood' commercials (Ek Cup Bru Aur Mood Ban Jayae). Once again the target segment is kept well under consideration. One sequence showcases a wife having a bad day; yet giving her husband a cup of coffee. After taking a sip and mesmerized by the taste; the husband tries to calm her down by giving a foot massage!). The second sequence follows a similar path of showcasing a young couple's day in which the husband dedicates a song in radio for his wife after having the Bru coffee.

Jingles and Humor

The motivator behind this blog post is one of their long running commercials. One day, I noticed my wife inadvertently singing the jingle while making coffee/during discussions. The ad is the one showcasing 'yet another young couple' in which the wife sings a song about how to make the best coffee! The song is all about teaching her husband how to make the coffee by using two cups, Bru, water, sugar and milk. The jingle is so perfectly recorded that you get tempted to sing it like a song (a special mention needs to be done in making the dubbing across language perfectly)

In the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the brand has used the celebrities Karthi and Kajal Agrawal in a set of commercials ranging from the successful & long aired husband-makes-coffee-for-wife to the latest son-knows-father ad.
Having said that, it doesn't mean the brand had always made successful campaigns; I would consider few flop series were also there. Interestingly these included big celebrities as well. For example, have a look at this ad featuring Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra for Bru Lite Coffee. The whole sequence tries to mimic the above mentioned ad related to Ek Cup Bru Aur Mood Ban Jayae; but the complete focus seems to have been on the celebrities; they even forgot to have a branded coffee mug!

Love is Bru

Come 2016, the brand has gone one step forward with a commercial and tag line - Love is Bru. In the latest and greatest installment, Bru has used a life-of-slice theme. In this, the wife gives more coffee to her successful husband who is under office pressure. He asks her why and she states he is the breadwinner and undergoing lots of sacrifice and stress. The husband returns the favour stating the sacrifices she has done for him and the family can't be matched by anything.

What do you think about this latest advertisement from Bru Coffee and how the brand has evolved…?