Self-Serve platforms open up possibilities for SMEs

Digital media buyers share insights on the impact of self-serve ad platforms, advantages for SMEs, market proliferation, and more. 

The ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 offers more than just excitement for cricket enthusiasts; it’s also a prime opportunity for brands to leave their mark upon tens of millions of live viewers. A whole host of brands have associated with the cricket tournament, aiming to maximise their exposure. 

Traditionally, such massive-scale events have been the bastion for bigger brands with substantial budgets. However, in a departure from the norm, small and medium sized-enterprises (SMEs) have now found a space to participate, courtesy of the Self-Serve platform launched by Disney+ Hotstar.

Self-serve platforms allow for quick and simple purchasing of ad space without the need to go through an advertising representative. They operate with a performance-based model, for example, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, where advertisers pay only for the clicks they receive on their ads, ensuring ROI for each rupee invested.

The feature is gaining acclaim from digital media buyers for many advantages, including quick setup, targeted advertising, cost-effectiveness, real-time analytics, content integration, geo-targeting, operational flexibility, branding opportunities and affordable packages.

Revolutionising SME advertising

Disney+ Hotstar first launched it in 2018. However, after upgrading it with several features, it was relaunched in August 2023, in time for the Asia Cup and the World Cup. JioCinema also launched its self-serve platform earlier this year, during the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Marketed with the taglines Run your ads your way and Your gateway to a winning campaign, Disney+ Hotstar’s Self-Serve platform provides advertisers with a direct avenue to advertise their offerings on the streaming platform, offering a user-friendly, end-to-end automated solution. This facilitates the planning, creation, management, and measurement of campaigns, secure payment processing, near real-time estimates, and sharp targeting options. 

Ramsai Panchapakesan, managing partner – investments, Havas Media India, states that the platform can redefine how SMEs approach advertising, fostering transparency and trust. He underscores the appeal to agencies and marketers, citing the convenience of setting up and managing campaigns without human intermediaries.

“Automation with technology, powered by data, reduces human interfaces and saves a lot of time in churning reports,” he says.

Harish Iyer, EVP, media and investment, Interactive Avenues, the digital arm of IPG Mediabrands India, echoes this sentiment, noting that such platforms can revolutionise SME advertising by providing advanced features, analytics, and real-time ROI measurement.

“Lowering entry barriers provides autonomy to SMEs over their budgets. These platforms reduce reliance on dedicated sales teams, offering control, flexibility, and affordability in reaching target audiences,” he says.

To access the Disney+ Hotstar platform, advertisers are required to have a minimum budget of Rs 10 lacs. Special pricing options are available, with rates starting at Rs. 49 (CPM) for the initial campaign, applicable to non-India matches without specific targeting. This offer mandates a minimum duration of two matches, and a minimum budget of Rs. 2 lakh. Additionally, there’s a special package for India-only matches at Rs. 199 (CPM), subject to the same stipulations.

However, Panchapakesan offers a cautionary note, emphasising that tentpole events like the World Cup involve past data and performance, requiring domain knowledge. Advertising platforms enabling the purchase of ad space without involving an advertising representative may be less effective due to a lack of holistic category knowledge and expertise.

“These are experienced-based buys and are applied in the plan to build reach instantly. The brands need an expert to optimise the platform to achieve the objective and effectiveness. This is where agencies like us come in and help the brands to run their campaign through self-serve in a well-informed manner,” he says.

Self-Serve platforms allow advertisers and agency partners to track their progress through detailed reports without the necessity of reaching out to the platform’s sales teams. The platform’s strengths lie in its sharp targeting capabilities, extensive reach, and comprehensive end-to-end automation.

An industry expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggests that this is currently the best option available to SMEs and brands are gradually embracing such platforms due to improved visibility and transparency.

“It offers a unique attribution model where your spends don’t go wasted,” he notes.

Disney+ Hotstar’s platform allows advertisers to tailor their messages to specific segments, with extensive targeting capabilities, offering over 75 unique targeting options that can be further cross- tabbed and combined for granular reach.

The expert finds it particularly attractive for SMEs, emphasising that, “Even if a business is situated in a remote location without access to a very high quality agency, they can operate those platforms automatically.”

However, he acknowledges that many marketers remain unaware of the diverse options available on self-serve platforms. 

“While most are aware about the existence of such self-serve platforms, they are not willing to put the effort of managing multiple platforms themselves. It requires a lot of effort to manage all these platforms separately. So they either outsource to an agency or they use only one or two platforms like Google or Facebook,” he says.

The expert anticipates increased adoption as awareness grows in the industry.

For SMEs with limited marketing budgets, the impact of this platform democratising access to advertising opportunities is particularly significant. To start with, it allows them to set their own budgets and scale up according to their needs, making such platforms more affordable compared to traditional media buys.The lowered entry barriers, combined with targeted advertising capabilities and cost-effective pricing, enable SMEs to amplify their brand messages to a wide audience, fostering brand visibility and equity.

Suraj Nambiar, national media head, Tonic Worldwide, says the platform is particularly helpful for businesses that lack the resources to develop high-end video content as they can create their own ad creatives within the platform.

“The self-serve model allows businesses to create, manage, and optimise their ad campaigns independently, without the need for a dedicated advertising agency,” he says.  

A notable aspect of Disney+ Hotstar’s platform is its extensive targeting capabilities, through which advertisers are encouraged to leverage the Festival of Cricket coinciding with the festive season for targeted impact. 

“With a streamlined onboarding process, SMEs could get their campaigns up and running relatively quickly, ensuring that they could take advantage of the event’s heightened viewership,” Nambiar adds.

Panchapakesan notes that self-serve advertising platforms thrive in an ecosystem where purchasing ad space is a swift process, providing brands with precise user demographics. They provide real-time dashboards where marketers can see key metrics, audience performance and conversion data. It allows them to pause, edit or simply end the campaign with no obligation to continue. 

Disney+ Hotstar’s self-serve platform

The platform allows advertisers to tailor their messages to specific segments, with extensive targeting capabilities, offering over 75 unique targeting options that can be further cross- tabbed and combined for granular reach.

“The advantage is its ability to analyse results in real time and pivot quickly when a campaign isn’t performing well. Just to draw a comparison, traditional media buys often involve negotiating the ad placement beforehand and assessing results at the end of the campaign, leaving little flexibility to make changes in between the campaign period,” he explains.

Proliferation in the market

Advancements in the digital space have ushered in a surge of self-serve platforms. Self-serve ads are now ubiquitous on major social media platforms such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter and other programmatic ad platforms. However, in the OTT market, Disney+ Hotstar has a competitive edge as other platforms, including JioCinema are still in the process of developing this feature.

Iyer says Disney+ Hotstar offers advantages over platforms like YouTube and Facebook, citing  exclusive access to Disney’s content library, a brand-safe environment, personalised recommendations, and parental controls. However, he acknowledges a shortfall in rights for some popular content, such as F1 and HBO.

“To maintain user engagement, it needs to invest in creating and acquiring new, appealing content,” he advises.

Panchapakesan notes that publishers mostly trade premium inventories and placements directly and, which may not be available through self-serve bookings.

“As self-serve platforms proliferate, the problem is likely to get worse, as each platform will behave differently and have its own nuances. As SMEs juggle campaigns across platforms, they could discover this the hard way,” he says.

(With additional inputs from Akshit Pushkarna.)

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