What Clicks – bringing transparency & accountability to digital media initiatives

Rahul Vengalil on how What Clicks is trying to solve three big challenges of digital ecosystem - talent, fraud and fragmentation

What Clicks

“Fraud is the daughter of greed,” Jonathan Gash.

US digital marketing spends will near $120 billion by 2021. Investment in paid search, display advertising, social media, online video and email marketing will pace to 46% of all advertising in five years. A recent EY report reveals that digital advertising in India is expected to be the fastest at 26% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2016-2021, while television advertising is expected to grow at 11% CAGR.

But where there is unprecedented growth, there is fraud too.

News is that Unilever threatening to pull marketing spending from Facebook and Google unless the tech giants provide more disclosure on how online adverts perform. Facebook has already faced an advertising boycott by major companies including Havas – the world’s sixth largest advertising group with UK clients including O2, EDF and Royal Mail – which pulled its entire £175m UK digital ad spend.

According to research commissioned by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), advertisers will lose $7.2bn to bot fraud this year. That is up from $6.3bn in 2015.

Indian marketers are well aware of ad fraud but the attitude is ‘let’s talk about it when it becomes an epidemic.’ Marketers are busy finding new trends to talk about, the latest being Digital Transformation or as many prefer Digital Business. Companies are glorifying their digital transformation but at the same time they don’t have basic 24*7 consumer support. With crawling digital budgets, efficiency and transparency are two words that are slowly eroding from the minds of marketers.

The current problem is that the digital spends are not hurting marketers at all, perceives Rahul Vengalil, Founder at What Clicks. “Once it starts hurting, the call for efficiency will kick in, CMOs & marketing heads would try to understand the metrics more or understand digital better, transparency will become important, ROI would be measured, benchmarking would come in and so on. We estimate that it would be another 2 years before that happens and from then on every stakeholder would be more careful on how money is spent.”

Rahul Vengalil What Clicks

Earlier this week, Rahul met me at one of the coffee joints on the busy streets of Indranagar, Bangalore. Dressed in casuals, sipping his espresso, he remarked that after spending a decade in digital advertising, he has realized that strategy is the most abused word. “Neither the brands nor the agency truly understand the meaning of strategy. Once you understand what strategy is, and how it can help your business, whatever advertising you see from brands, you try to bring in logic and the thought behind it.”

“The reality of digital agency & media biz is that strategy is a good word to discuss, but not to be implemented.”

This really got Rahul thinking on whether he wanted to exist in an ecosystem where ideas did not have a meaning or logic, or to get out and make a difference. He decided to start up What Clicks, a digital media audit and strategy firm. Incorporated earlier this year, the foundation pillars were laid last year along with three partners (Pramod Nagaraj, Toshal Shenai, and Aatsi Desai). “The initial genesis of What Clicks was to be a strategy consultant, but our research & discussion with multiple stakeholders even before that launch led us to what we have today.”

By now I am a tad confused sipping my cappuccino. I felt What Clicks is nothing beyond an agency or eventually will turn into one when reality kicks in. Rahul senses my confusion; he simplifies it by listing the three challenges the market faces now. He calls it the triangle of challenges that the startup is aiming to solve:

1. Talent, 2. Fraud, and 3. Fragmentation

“To address these problems, we started with educating all stakeholders on the existence of the problems. Digital is still at a very nascent stage. If we do not bring in a radical shift in the way digital is being used, it will always be a secondary medium, which brands wants to experiment on. While it isn’t mentioned overtly, there is still a huge lack of trust on this medium because there is no transparency, no single measurement, fraud, etc.,” he added.

What Clicks Team
The team – Rahul, Aatsi, Toshal & Pramod

TO SOLVE THE TALENT PROBLEM, the startup has gone the old school way of creating original content. Starting from blogging every week on key digital issues to creating YouTube videos. “The idea is to talk about the basics of advertising, and how it translates into digital & what are the challenges that we have today. This channel, while we hope brand leaders subscribe to, my gut feel is that it would be consumed more by users who want to understand more about digital, including young talent.”

Conducting workshops is also one of the ways, by which it is trying to solve talent problem. “We take workshops for brands & agencies, depending on the digital maturity of the participants. While our process remains the same, we customise the program to match the requirement that the participants have.”

Talent isn’t the only big challenge that Rahul’s team is fighting, the other one is fraud. “It is important to understand what fraud is. It is not always bots that come under fraud. Any place where a brand spends INR 100 and if only INR 90 reaches the intended consumer effectively, that is fraud. It is aided by clicks fraud, low viewability, wrong targeting and wrong rates.”

There are tools already present in the market that are fighting the same battle. One of the them is Sizmek with which the startup has partnered. “We are partnering with Sizmek in India to drive awareness for automated frauds, actual fraud detection and implementation, creating industry benchmarks on fraud in India and so on. The biggest challenge while we use tools today is that brand considers it as an additional investment. I don’t blame them, because their actual value was never communicated to them ever.”

If you are wondering whether verification is required or not then here is Rahul’s small explanation why it is a must:

“Let us take the base cost of INR 100 without any verification suite. The fraud averages about 40% of this (viewability of 55% & click fraud of 30%). In other words, the actual cost reaching end consumer is INR 60. Now look at verification cost of INR 8 with a clause that fraud shouldn’t exceed 5% and viewability should be 90%. This would mean premium inventory of let us say INR 110 + INR 8 (verification), reaching at least 90% of the end consumer.”

Understanding fraud and accepting the need to fight against it also needs a lot of education, for a market, which is still learning to use digital effectively. Hardly you will find any data related to fraud in India and nobody wants to talk about it!

This is why digital audit should be a mandatory process. What Clicks is offering it as one of the services. “Digital medium is one of the most fragmented, porous & complex medium. It is porous because there are many places where wastages can happen, including wrong website features, infrastructure, ad fraud, wrong targeting, wrong CTA and so on. Our estimation is that the wastages today are closer to 40%. Nobody is able to identify this because the agency partners need to defend their work, the brand owners are happy with those reach, views, visits, etc.”

“Globally, brands have already started adding the clause that a third party in their contract would audit all marketing.”

FRAGMENTATION IS THE THIRD and final challenge. From his previous experiences, Rahul recollected that a majority of brands work with multiple agencies. The specialists ranged from performance, affiliates, influencers, social, creative, technology and so on. Due to this, nobody had a holistic view on what was happening. This became a key obstacle while optimizing the plans as everything was done in silos. This also led to the behaviour that everyone started forgetting paid, owned & earned together created an impact on the brand.

Besides lack of knowledge transfer has created a situation where every stakeholder has to start from scratch on benchmarks, as well as everything that has happened so far, which leads to operational inefficiency. Along with it correlating data between paid, owned & earned was missing because the measurement metrics are different.

To solve all these fragmentation challenges, the team has been working on a product called IRA. The product aims to cut across the fragmentation & give a unified view of digital marketing to all stakeholders on what’s happening across platforms and to add all the historical data to create benchmarks that would create highly efficient plans.

Lighthouse Insights hasn’t tested the product but has been informed that it provides a unified dashboard that talks to multiple agencies, media APIs like ad serving & fraud detection, ad words, social insights, social listening, Google Analytics and gives you beautifully visualized data, which helps you take strategic calls on planning, buying, social, etc.

A marketer’s dream today is to get a fancy dashboard where he can plan, execute and watch all his marketing activities from offline to online. Additionally, the tool should be intelligent enough to make smarter suggestions based on data. Per a report, marketing automation software market is expected to be worth $5.5 billion by 2019. Not just What Clicks, there are a bunch of companies who are trying to solve a similar problem.

However, in a short span the startup has got two brands on board that are quite happy with its capabilities. Going forward in the next few years, IRA would be transformed as a planning product. “I wouldn’t want to get into too much details at this point & give out our vision of IRA. However, we firmly believe that planning would be automated in the next few years. We estimate that in the next 4 years or sooner, there would be 30-40% lesser planning job, as that would be automated. We want to create a robust tool that would add value to brands & agencies at that point,” he shared.

The biggest challenge for the startup is lack of awareness on inefficiency. Besides digital is still not commanding marketing spends. “Unless and until it hits 20% of the overall spends, key stakeholders wouldn’t want to understand the finer details of digital, including the right measurements. We believe that it would take another 2 years for this to become mainstream. That’s also the reason we are creating assets across blogs, videos, guest articles to bring in the awareness to one & all in the industry.”

It’s a long road. More since it is trying to bring in a cleaner digital ecosystem. Someone has to be the crusader.

“We started What Clicks with a single vision, to have a cleaner ecosystem. Any dent that we can make in the current ecosystem would make us proud.”