Use of the Internet is growing but the extent and speed of the migration is unclear
Media agencies are struggling to keep abreast of the changes the digital world has brought to the way brands engage with consumers.
Wayne Bishop, MD of media agency PHD in Johannesburg, says the rise in digital media is bringing new challenges to planning and buying.
"The difficulty lies not in the implementation but in predicting the movement of the online landscape," he says.
"Due to the advanced degree of measurability of online media, we can accurately trade, serve and map inventory to follow the consumer in real time, but this is limited to the current landscape. What we don't know is which social network will be the next Facebook, how many more pages will be launched before the end of the week and what type of content might resonate in the market."
According to the Digital Media & Marketing Association, South Africans spend more time online - including by means of mobile devices - than in engaging with traditional media.
Traditional media is mostly predictable, but online media can change overnight, and this is the problem with the digital landscape, which is gradually taking an increasing share of marketing budgets.
Digital advertising spend in the UK and the US is already a dominant portion of the overall investment, as the Internet is now the most popular medium with consumers. But in SA, where broadband access is lagging, only about 3% of all marketing investments are made online, according to Nielsen AdEx.
However, MediaCom CEO Ian Manning says the figure is much higher. "We feel digital is a key medium and has been under-read by AdEx," he says. "We estimate it's just under 10% of the market.
"It is going to grow. It has expanded more than people acknowledge," he says. "The problem is that there is limited expertise, so we're sending people overseas for training and bringing in experts to share their knowledge."
To meet the migration of consumers' attention to digital platforms, MediaCom has invested heavily in digital capabilities. "Around 20% of our staff are now digital specialists," Manning says. "I estimate that in the next year digital spend will increase by 30%-40%. The share of spend that digital makes up will increase to 15%."
Carat SA MD Quinton Jones says the agency won't be making any new investments in digital skills. "Our group [the Aegis Group] is uniquely structured," he says. "We already have two full-service digital agencies, Isobar and iProspect, and there is a lot of interaction between the digital people and our strategists, who increase their digital skills in the process."
MEC Group CEO Michelle Meyjes also places the real media spend on digital at 10% of the overall investment. "I think we'll see a 3%-5% increase year on year," she says. "We're still behind the rest of the world. In developed markets as much as 60% of all marketing spend goes to digital.
"In SA we have a dichotomy of the target market. A large segment is geared towards television, while a sizeable portion is moving online - we already have 14m smartphones in the country," she says.