stimulating debate between three outdoor players was held on the second day of the Outdoor Advertising Convention 2008 at Nehru Centre in Mumbai.
The panel included Indrajit Sen, chief executive officer, Stroeer OOH Media; Mangesh Borse, director, Symbiosis Advertising; and Soumitra Bhattacharyya, CEO, Laqshya Outdoors. The debate was moderated by the effervescent Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison Communications.
Balsara started off the discussion by sharing some figures. "The advertising industry in India is pegged at Rs 20,000 crore (2007-08), and it grew by 20 per cent over the previous year."
"In fact, China and India are akin to a toast for the world when it comes to advertising and media. In sophisticated markets, the industry grows by only about 2 per cent and when it grows by 3 per cent, they pop open champagne bottles," he said.
First on the dais was Sen of Stroeer OOH Media, who said, "In India, we prefer large, and to us, crowded means popular. This implies that cluttered must be good. But a limit must be maintained because beyond a limit, the clutter will hide your own hoarding."
Talking about the new formats and companies coming into out of home, he said, "It is difficult for humans to accept change and more so in a market like India, where the outdoor industry is ruled by family led businesses and unskilled labour."
On the other hand, Sen pointed out, consumer attitudes are changing; as the literacy rate increases and consumers are exposed to global happenings, they want more sophisticated media. Site owners are undergoing an attitude change, too - revenue from rooftop hoardings is no longer that important because incomes are rising.
He added, "If public transport systems are vastly improved, many more people will start using them. More and more outdoor advertising will be aimed at pedestrians, not just motorists. Thus, pavement, roadside and transit displays will all come into play."
Borse of Symbiosis Advertising took on Sen's comments, saying, "Billboards have been around for so many years that they are now like raw power street furniture which can't be moved. Indians like it big, our festivals are big, celebrations are big. Bigger leads to better impact here. Also, there's better scope for innovation on a larger format, otherwise MF Husain would've painted on bus tickets."
"Billboards are noticed. Our companies run because of billboards. Billboards are like the shirt and street furniture are the buttons on the shirt," he said, making a comparison.
Large formats are also more preferred in a media plan. Giving the example of the popular topical Amul outdoor ads, he asked rhetorically, "Could you imagine seeing those on a bus shelter or in a mall?"
Borse added, "Sachin Tendulkar's and Shah Rukh Khan's faces dot the city during their matches and movie launches. Entertainment, teasers, financial messages, sports are all built on hoardings. When digital comes in, that will be fun because it will allow quick change of images. But billboards are a part of popular culture. They give a city its identity."
Balsara asked the audience, "Have you heard of the saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'? So, are we trying to fix something that isn't broken?"
Bhattacharyya of Laqshya took to the dais next. "We should not cling onto something that's going to go away," he said, referring to billboards. "The way ahead is the 3Cs - connectivity, convergence and collaboration. We have to adapt. We have to realise there is a home space, a personal space and everything outside that is the out of home space. Everything around us is media," he said.
He added, "But we have to add value to the audience's lives. We shouldn't repeat the mistakes we made. It has to be useful and seamless to the audience. India's multi-formats are increasing. Hoardings alone cannot meet the market's demand."
"We need to know when and where (from which cities) hoardings are going to go. We have to understand that the India of Mumbai and Delhi is very different from the India of Madhupur and Dhule," Bhattacharyya said strongly.
He said Laqshya's revenue share from billboards in 2007-08 was 45 per cent, in 2006-07, it was 65 per cent, and in the year before that, it was 100 per cent.
"They (billboards) are an important part, but not the only part. Hoardings will have their place in the sun, but they cannot 'overclaim' that place," he concluded.
At this point, Balsara posed a question, asking how and when the 'new OOH', or alternate media, started coming in. Borse said alternate media is for someone who can't make hoardings quickly.
At the start of the debate, Balsara interacted with the audience asking them whether they thought billboards were dying - 10 hands in the hall shot up in a yes. At the end of the debate, he posed the question once more - no hands were raised. He concluded the debate by saying that while billboards will continue to reign, their percentage will drop.
He also gave the industry a piece of advice: "Outdoor is an intermediate business. You must realise that the advertiser hates advertising because it takes away half his profits. But he spends more, hoping profits and market share will double. Keep the advertiser's interests in mind. If prices double, the markets won't double. Advertisers' profits will also have to grow for spends to grow."