With the recent acquistion of Acxiom, IPG Mediabrands has scaled up its data capabilities and digital solution offerings to the global scale. At the helm of the affairs at the New York-based IPG Mediabrands is Arun Kumar, IPG Chief Data & Technology Officer. He is also the CEO of Kinesso. Kumar provides strategic counsel and leadership on data infrastructure across IPG’s portfolio of agencies, driving innovation and increasing efficiencies.
During his recent visit to India, e4m caught up with Kumar, who spoke at length on the global markets, the Acxiom acquisition, privacy laws and more.
As IPG’s Chief Data Officer, you have a view of multiple markets across the globe. How differently is data-driven marketing unfolding in India?
India is currently at the same cusp of digital advertising as China was a few years ago. India is getting its own set of regulations just like other markets, with OTT and Connected TV growing rapidly. Digital transformation that could have taken 5-10 years, got accelerated during the two years of the pandemic.
India has language and political similarities with the West. Very few markets have the potential that India has at present. So, we decided to open the Acxiom branch in India.
We are focusing on identity-based solutions for India, something that is heavily maintained and connected across the digital systems and builds bonds with brands. A lot of our IT investments are India-focussed. The next few years will be quite happening, in terms of consumer data, marketing, privacy and identity-based solutions.
With more and more browsers going cookieless, what are brands seeking from agencies now?
Their demands are quite diverse and largely depend on their journey, needs, and the search for partners to maintain growth. Some require hand holding for scaling up and so on. Data doesn't flow across the globe now. Hence, the clients’ focus is how are you going to help us deal with the uncertainty to maintain growth and ROI.
Is it possible for smaller brands to invest in the collection of first-party data?
A lot of clients are asking the same question. They cite a lack of funds to build the data system. We have different solutions across sectors and budgets. Sometimes, even small advertisers invest more on data infrastructure than the larger ones because they don't have a large IT team, and are disconnected with marketing. There are a lot of opportunities for smaller brands in the cookieless world.
Are you developing market/country-specific IT products as privacy laws are different across countries?
There are certain universal concepts. Common architecture is the same, you may even have common software. Changes are made depending upon partners of clients, different regulatory environments and other things. Commonalities shrink when there are more laws to govern the data.
How are agencies preparing themselves for the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill 2019 that India is coming up with?
India is no different from other countries as far as data protection is concerned. In the US, there are five to six laws with regards to privacy of data. In India, there is just one regulation so far and that allows opt-in and opt-out options. If data sets decline, your digital revenue will also decline.
In a market as big as India, advertising funds will shrink badly once the data protection law comes into place. Digital media houses can't survive without ads. There is a tendency to look at data narrowly. In the interest of protecting privacy, we are damaging far more things.
In India, digital spends is not that much compared to the US. We must think rationally and avoid pressuring the media. It is difficult to survive without ad revenue. Netflix has now opted for an ad-supported model because subscribers don't want to pay.
In India, it seems the government wishes to keep government bodies out of the purview of this PDP law. How do laws in other countries tackle this?
All over the world, privacy laws are applicable to the government as well, except for national security. The government must be transparent just as it wants private corporations to be. GDPR in Europe has exemptions for special security purposes only. Similarly, finance and health may have different sets of privacy laws, but everything will be under the purview of the umbrella legislation.
Which country has the best law for data protection?
Singapore is thinking in the right way; its privacy law balances the interests of both consumers and businesses. Singapore is giving equal protection to privacy and advertising with the right balance.
GDPR, too, has many flaws and does not take into account some legitimate interests of businesses. As a business, I need consent for everything. Bigger companies can spend for compliance, but what about medium and smaller companies who can't?
Such conflicts are increasing tensions between the economic affairs ministry and the data ministry. Due to privacy laws, innovative processes are stuck and this has affected a pretty large ecosystem. Privacy is human rights, fine. But what about one’s right to livelihood?
Do you see data breach cases in the US and EU?
Huge! Databases are hacked every other day. Besides, the threat of identity theft, cyber-security, surveillance from the government through software like Pegasus and by social media giants like Facebook through Cambridge Analytica are still there. None of those cases has been addressed by any of the laws so far.
We don't know what the government wants to fix. It doesn't really address the concerns of the consumers. Incidents of Aadhaar data available on hackers’ sites is far more worrisome than the consumers’ data.
Do we have any method by which ad frauds in digital advertising can be prevented at the source?
Frauds take place because there is a desire for cheap inventory. Fraudsters optimize cheap inventory. If digital advertisers decide not to buy cheap, bot-created, fake and unvalidated inventory, ad fraud will stop.