ad:tech India – Has The Digital Event Only Grown In Scale And Not In Content

This year ad:tech India saw participants from 31 countries; while the event is bringing in some great business, it is time it thinks about content too

ad:tech India, the yearly event is a Mecca for digital marketers. If I’m not going overboard, we can safely assume every marketer must have made her trip to the event at least once. To my bad I hadn’t been a part of ad:tech until this year. The event at which India’s modern marketing and media community meet, was in it’s sixth year hosted at the Leela Ambience Hotel and Residences in Gurgaon on March 3 and 4. All thanks to ARM Digital for taking care of the logistics within a day.


After battling the morning Gurgaon traffic, I was hit by another massive crowd at the event. I had to struggle quite a bit to find my way leading to the main conference hall, through the crowd of over excited folks at the exhibits on both sides.

As I made myself comfortable in the last row, Michael Chrisment, Global Head of Integrated Marketing, Nescafé, Nestlé was showing some of the interesting work by the brand in 2015. As a digital market observer and writer, the keynote had nothing to excite me.

Post the keynotes, I started the juggling between two-conference hall which felt separated by miles due to the overcrowded exhibits all over the place. It took me a half day to find my destination without getting lost!

By lunchtime I was exhausted by the quality of the content and over the top crowd. I wasn’t the only one thinking this way; I met a known face, a digital marketer from the city of Kolkata who travels every year for the event to discover insights and meet industry fellows. “This is the sixth year I am coming to ad:tech and it is disappointing to see how the curation of the event topics has gone down. However the ticket costs are going up.” He isn’t coming next year nor is he sending any of his employees, he said to me.

What are you missing at the event? “We want to get some real life marketing insights that you don’t get on Google. Most of the speakers are talking as if digital is just scratching or giving examples that are well known. The discussions are lacking hardcore on-job marketing experiences.”

I had to nod my head and sip my coffee that was doing a great job. I’ve never understood how can a panel of 5-6 people discuss and share their view points in a limited time frame. My thoughts got more power when, all of a sudden, I collided with a senior digital head of a popular television network. “Most of the international speakers think that Indians have bare minimum knowledge when it comes to digital marketing. Tell us something we don’t know,” he sighed.

However, my thoughts met with a reality check on the second day, when a formally dressed guy with a French beard asked if he could join me for lunch. It was his first time at ad: tech and he was quite happy with the event. “The campaigns shared at the event have been enriching for me, specially the one shared by Pepsi. The event gave me la ot of pointers to think and upgrade my digital knowledge in two days.”

Before we finished our desserts and bid good-bye to each other,  he told me that for the last few years he has been a sales guy for offline publishers. He wishes to join the event next year too.

This is where ad:tech has been consistently growing every year since it was first launched in India in 2011. This, in a way, reflects the growth of Digital Marketing in India and the opportunity it presents, added Jaswant Singh, Country MD at Comexposium. He is the man who has been producing ad:tech and iMedia Summits in India, which are now part of Comexposium Group, one of the world leaders in events.

With digital being the motto of the country, consumers living a mobile-first life and marketers increasing the pie of digital, 2016 attracted participants from 28 countries. “We are all very excited with the positive response we’ve received from all quarters. 2016 was big for us and saw a 26% increase over last year with 8000+ registrations and more than 6400 people attending the 2 day event. Not only has the attendee count increased, there has been a massive increase in exhibitors, sponsors, networking events, conference sessions, and speakers as well,” Jaswant informed.


Further, he added that ad:tech in India has become a truly global event and the participation was not just from the digital marketing community in India, but from over 31 counties including Israel, China, Norway, Poland, Russia, US, UK and Japan.

“The exhibition today is the largest in the digital marketing space with 91 companies including 50+ first time exhibitors.”

There isn’t a doubt that ad:tech is doing good on the business front, specially when everything you see or touch is sponsored by some company. However, don’t you think content at the event hasn’t scaled as have the revenues every year?

Jaswant isn’t buying the thought process, he confirms that ad:tech reflects the most current issues facing marketers; an extremely supportive board of advisors does them. “The board of advisors comprises of the who’s who from our industry and is a fair mix of the different stakeholders in our ecosystem - Advertisers, Agencies, Publishers and Solutions providers.”

I am told that this year the event had more than 36 conference sessions across 3 parallel tracks that were structured into 4 content steams  - Data Analytics & Insights, Engagement & Experience, Evolving Marketing Technologies, and E-Commerce & Mobile.

“We’ve always tried to keep things fresh and have tried to include multiple formats in the conference from Global Keynotes, 1:1 chats with leading brands/agencies, panels to crisp 10-minute sessions on what’s news in digital.”

Not just Jaswant, Karan Gupta, CEO at also shares a similar opinion: the content curated at ad:tech has been getting better with each year, and 2016 was great too.

However, Arnab Mitra, MD at LIQVD ASIA thinks that while the event has scaled, the content has been stuck to 3-4 years back. “I like to attend world events such as ad: tech as they help me shape my POV about various changes that the industry is going through and help me reflect on my opinion. With a lot of disappointment I have to agree that ad: tech India chapter has failed to match up to my expectations.”

Arnab, who had found value from earlier ad:tech events, believes that most digital thinkers are staying out of such event as they don’t add enough value.

“It’s a simple demand-supply equation. India is in a dire need for an event that helps shape thought leadership about the digital industry but in the context of the tectonic shift in the country itself. You show me a single such example? Ad:tech, at least, has a global lineage ensuring association with an event that looks grand.”

Not that Jaswant accepts it. He is of the opinion that digital marketers and decision makers aren’t missing the event and this year itself saw 24% attendees were brands, which included the likes of Airtel, Amazon, Axis Bank, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, Coca-Cola, among others.

While we may critique the content curation but creating content that appeals to brands that are at different stages of their digital journey is a big challenge. “For every show we have to find the right balance where we have content that appeals to new companies who are still experimenting with the media, and also for the ecommerce, travel, BFSI companies who are way ahead on how they use the medium.”

Besides, people dropping out or staying away from the event depends on the company as the content focus might shift from one subject to another each year, Karan emphasized. “The number of attendees and speakers are increasing and that, in itself, is a proof that the quality of the content has become better and more specific and relevant for the brands and marketers.”

Arnab Mitra

Along with participants, exhibitors have also found good traction from the event. AndBeyond.Media, a gold sponsor at the event, received good brand visibility and enough networking. “We are a young company and it has helped us to reach out to a lot of people who did not know about us and our products and technologies. We got a great response from the attendees and other exhibitors and speakers and have built some good contacts,” added Karan who has been exhibiting and visiting ad:tech for the last few years.

With Comexposium Group now coming into picture, this year first Mobile Media Summit (MMS) is going to be launched in India. MMS New Delhi is scheduled for 16th June’16. “Besides MMS, the 6th edition of iMedia Brand Summit is happening in September, which is the most influential networking summit for senior brand marketing executives to discuss the major strategic issues they face in marketing,” added Jaswant, while sharing the interesting developments he’s pushing in the event space.

I am told Comexposium Group is very excited about the Indian market and you would see a lot more events in near future. With digital pie increasing at a rapid pace, I’m pretty sure that Jaswant and his team will touch new milestones when it comes to scaling the business further.

But perhaps it is time to take a step back, and think whether we are putting the same amount of effort in content curation for the event, as we are doing to get more sponsors, exhibitors and running a larger than life show. We may be happy that we are doing good business, but at the same time we are just being followers and not the digital torchbearers. Time to stop aping the west, showing our work and finding the doers of the Indian digital industry and bringing them on the big stage, is what ad:tech needs to brainstorm on. Arnab sums it up brilliantly:

“Please stop being a follower. It’s been 16 years that our industry is just aping what’s happening at the western part of the world. I think 350 million users, 5000 advertisers, 8500 crore plus spends calls for thought leadership, new ideas, a stage celebrating the new. If even ad:tech doesn’t provide such a podium - who will?”

P.S. The roast at the end of the day was my best 30 minutes at the event. Kudos to Jaswant for allowing it to happen and also joining the stage to get roasted. Good luck!

Image credit: The Hindu