29 Dec 2017 16:48 IST

Betting on billboards

Smart brands are capitalising on the under-leveraged out-of-home category which seems poised for take off

Those monitoring the news coming out of agencies can’t have failed to notice the series of announcements on out-of-home (OOH) from Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) agencies recently. While Posterscope launched an OOH rate benchmarking tool called rateOOHmeter and unveiled OOHZONE, an automated live dashboard that tracks media inventory of 60,000 OOH sites, Milestone Brandcomm and Hyperspace announced new solutions too.

On one hand, Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO, South Asia of Dentus Aegis Network, has been beefing up the group’s digital armoury aggressively. On the other, he has also been quietly flanking it with investments in OOH solutions

“OOH is the most under-rated medium in India,” says Bhasin, who believes this is a category poised for a big take-off. He bases his calculation on the spate of big investments in infrastructure – the new airports, metro rail networks, bridges, flyovers, malls, which lend themselves to billboards as well as the changing demographic profile of India.

“We have more young people who are outdoors most of the time, congregating in malls, coffee shops, public spaces,” he says, also pointing to how road traffic has become slow-moving. “We now have the right ingredients for outdoor to get moving,” he says.

Naresh Gupta, CSO and Managing Partner of Bang in the Middle, agrees that a big revival is happening. “It’s because of the new modern airports and metro rail networks that have hired consultants for their OOH space and offer great locations,” he says. Also, the advent of digital screens, especially at airports, is making OOH exciting. He points to how they allowed flexibility for the Buy Delhi, Bye Delhi campaign that Bang in the Middle did for Delhi airport’s duty-free shopping. On the streets too, locations are getting interesting, he says. “In Mumbai, on the Sealink, people can play with location as there is one billboard after another after another. At the Mahim Causeway, there is a very large-format space.”

Digital fuel

Globally, there’s been a big resurgence in outdoor advertising fuelled by digital OOH solutions where augmented reality and other fancy stuff can be used on billboards. For instance, a really funky digital ad in Sweden for a haircare product shows a woman’s hair blowing whenever a train arrives at the subway station.

According to a study by Magna Intelligence and Rapport, OOH advertising is now a $29-billion market and accounts for 6 per cent of the $500-billion global ad spend. The study was done in 22 markets including China, India, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. In some of these countries, the study says OOH market share could rise to as much as 10 to 12 per cent. According to DAN’s 2017 ad spend forecasts in India, radio and OOH are expected to grow at 10 per cent. And ambient (OOH spaces such as backs of cars, straps on railway carriages, shopping trolleys) is predicted to grow at over 15 per cent growth rates.

Also fuelling the interest in OOH is the way brands can combine it with digital. Ad industry veteran Ambi Parameswaran describes how Apple, in its Shot on Iphone campaign, used outdoors beautifully to bring alive the photography and camera quality. The huge billboards put up all over the world from New York to Tokyo to Delhi and Bangalore that carried photos shot on the iPhone, also triggered a search on the Internet to see how the shots were taken. Apart from digital search, OOH can be combined beautifully with radio as well.

Smart brands are already leveraging the power of outdoor. Apollo Tyres is one of the early leaders in recent years, hogging prime space in India and abroad at airports, stadia (Old Trafford at Manchester, no less) and commercial establishments. Fliers can’t have failed to notice the Go the Distance ads.

Satish Sharma, President, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, Apollo Tyres says that OOH is a critical component of the brand’s 360-degree communications strategy and it has been targeting marquee sites to attract maximum attention. “These great touch points connect us to our target audience, he says. “Our share of OOH expenditure has increased over time, and would be close to 12–15 per cent of our marketing spend,” he adds.

Measuring impacts

Sharma feels that if more marquee locations become available, and there is more effective measurement, “it will attract more investments from us”.

His point about measurement is a critical one. As Ambi Parameswaran points out, there is no reliable metric to measure outdoors. “Unless clients, owners, media agencies come together and work on it, it will be hard to gauge effectiveness of media,” he says. BARC is a good example to work with, he adds.

The other big challenge with outdoors is the fragmented nature of ownership – municipalities hand out licences arbitrarily, there are several illegal sites, and it’s plagued by corruption and cash dealings. Some estimate there could be 20,000 owners of sites. At the media end, consolidation is taking place though, with the ownership now resting with a few agencies. Agencies have been suggesting a handbook of sites with transparent rate cards. Currently charges are arbitrary.

However, some positive movement is taking place at sites too with a few big outdoor players such as Laqshya aggregating these, making it easier for media planners to access them without running around to find the owner.

In the good old days, brands such as Amul and Jensen & Nicholson utilised outdoor well. Today brands can actually do far more creative stuff – heat maps, GPS, all give clues to location-based behaviours and interests and campaigns can be planned accordingly. Yet these haven’t really been leveraged well.

As for the sites, the Holy Grail would be to come up with a place like Times Square in New York where millions of tourists congregate just to see the bright billboards.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)