industry veterans offered their views on the things they like and dislike about outdoor media at the Outdoor Advertising Convention (OAC) 2008.
Subhash Kamath, group chief executive officer, Bates 141, was the first to proffer his views. He said right at the outset that he hadn't kept to the brief he was given - to talk about the 10 things that he loved in Indian outdoor. He said he was going to tell the audience the 10 things he loved in outdoor from all over the world. "It's time we set the benchmark higher and competed with the world. This year's Cannes performance has said just that about us," said Kamath optimistically.
He started with many examples of outdoor work. These examples were those that most of the others had cited during the course of the OAC, mainly because they were genuinely superlative outdoor work. "Most of the time, outdoor is perceived as billboards," said Kamath. Treating it as a reminder medium takes away from this very powerful medium. The attitude towards outdoor, and here he meant billboards in particular, is one headline, one visual, logo and five seconds to get a message through. Kamath said he thought outdoor was a more disciplined medium.
He gave the example of a creative guy who told his team to first prepare a poster of the thought at hand; only if the poster was approved did he let them go ahead with the entire campaign. "Once you've cracked the headline, visual and logo that convey the message, you've got it," said Kamath. Amul, he said, still uses what is surely the longest outdoor billboard campaign with satirical takes on daily happenings.
Kamath also pointed to the billboard for Fortune toothpaste. The entire billboard was white and curled at one corner. The curled corner is shown getting into the mouth of a man in the corner. Another campaign Kamath cited was the one for Xenon car lights: A car is shown mounted vertically on the billboard with its headlights projecting upwards and illuminating the sky.
All in all, Kamath said technology is the backbone of execution. "If we keep an open mind, the city is our landscape. All you need is an idea," he concluded.
Ashish Bhasin, chairman, India, and CEO, Southeast Asia, Aegis Media, spoke about the several things that he dislikes about Indian outdoor advertising. Bhasin said he was aware that his views might not please the audience, yet somebody had to hold up a mirror.
"We are not an industry," he started. There needs to be much more focused effort to become an industry, he said. He said he felt the standards and ethics within the outdoor industry were very poor. "OOH as a business has carried the tag of being 'shady' for a long time," he said. Since it has been unregulated, there is lack of transparency.
The third point Bhasin listed was people. There is a need to consistently attract the right skill sets. "The quality of people getting out of the business is much better than the people coming in," he said. There is no common cause that outdoor addresses, nor is there a common language, currency or benchmark. If the outdoor industry needs to carry out research in matters such as measurement and reach, it needs a common set of parameters, said Bhasin.
Outdoor has been treated as a stepchild of the media plan with the last rung of creative people working on it. OOH is on the lowest level of the food chain at both the client and agency end. Creativity is another essential factor that is missing in OOH. "Usually, it's the creative guy who wants to win awards who makes the creatives for outdoor," said Bhasin.
Finally, Bhasin said, the industry lacks accountability. Clients don't always have the faith to go ahead with an idea and remain in doubt about whether it will give them adequate returns on investment. This can also be blamed on the fact that vendors in the outdoor industry don't pride themselves on what they do.
"The vendor is trying to justify himself all the time and remains on the defensive," said Bhasin. When all these issues are addressed, the outdoor industry will be able to take pride in what it does and that will be reciprocated by the client, he said in conclusion.