At present, outdoor
advertising forms a Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10,000 million) industry in India. On an average, it constitutes around 6 per cent of a marketer's ad spends. In a nutshell, outdoor advertising has achieved quite a bit in India, but it clearly has a longer way to go.
Grappling with some of the topical issues surrounding this industry was a panel of eminent persons chaired by Pratap Bose, CEO, Ogilvy & Mather India, at the Outdoor Advertising Convention 2007 held in Mumbai recently. The panel comprised Noomi Mehta, MD, Selvel Vantage Group; Amrit Pal Singh, MD, Adwel Advertising; and Indrajit Sen, COO and business head, Jagran Engage. After speaking to some small town outdoor companies, OAC arrived at some relevant questions on the future of outdoor advertising in India, which were then tossed to the panel members turn by turn.
Singh of Adwel took a realistic view. "Seven or ten years down the line, there will be a washout of local/regional players, unless they join hands with the larger ones," he said. Clearly, for him, consolidation was the only way forward. For once, Sen agreed with Singh. "We can't reach the deepest pockets of the country overnight," he said, speaking like a true large player. "Forget a city, every municipality has its own set of rules. We can only enter local markets by forging strong links with the local players."
Mehta then delivered a full toss when he spoke on the issue of tender contracts being of such small periods that the spends on outdoor activity are practically wasted. For instance, if one thinks of constructing something elaborate on a location and spends lakhs of rupees on it, one ends up with no profits as the contract period is only for some two years - most of which is spent in getting the structure in place. "This leads us to take short-cuts," explained Mehta. "We must collectively make a decision to not sign contracts that are for a period less than 10 years."
Then came everyone's favourite topic: the issue of policies and government regulation. Singh felt strongly that there was too much regulation and no organised regulatory body, leading to half-baked knowledge and quick people churns in the business. "The genesis of the problem is that we don't understand regulation," Mehta chimed in. "We need to comprehend the fact that outdoor is a legal business." While the law lays down rules on hoarding heights, aesthetic disturbance and distractions to the public, the current scenario goes much deeper: At present, the state of affairs is such that it is not clear who is making the rules - the judiciary or the legislature.
The debate wrapped up on the topic of research and measurement in outdoor or, rather, the lack of it. Most of the panellists felt that at this point, outdoor owners should not directly fund research studies for the industry, such as the MRUC one, or else it would lead to a view that the studies were biased towards some site owners.
According to those present, the answer lay in creating an industry body that worked at a national level, a thought that Mehta said would soon be reality as work on that is already under way.