Indian Railways now open to advertising

By Shivani Mathur & Dhaleta Surender Kumar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In OOH News | August 05, 2008
Airtel and Max New York Life Insurance are the first to take up the opportunity to advertise through the Indian Railways

Newspapers, television, radio & #BANNER1 & # and out-of-home (OOH) are the traditional options available to advertisers to promote their products. The boom in the retail sector has led to many innovations in the OOH segment. But one area which has always seen high footfalls, but remained underutilised is Indian Railways - both the trains and the stations. This is despite the fact that advertisers have been thronging airlines and airports with their messages.

Well, better late than never. Indian Railways has woken up to the fact that the property can be used as a medium, not only for carrying passengers, but also advertisers' messages. The Delhi division of Indian Railways has tied up with Peacock Media, a Mumbai based outdoor media company, to convert trains into "moving billboards".

Sandeep Chawla

Rakesh Saksena
As a pilot project, five rakes (physical trains) on three routes (the Railways calls routes 'trains') - Delhi-Bengaluru, Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Thiruvananthapuram - have been chosen to sport ads.

These are not the first branded trains in India. Pepsi had done a similar initiative with the Blue Billion Express plying between Delhi and Jaipur to cheer the Indian cricket team that took on England during the ICC Champions Trophy match. Similarly, three trains running between Bengaluru-Nagercoil, Bengaluru-Chennai and Bengaluru-Hubli were branded Kurkure Express. But these were all one-off activities.

Peacock Media, which hopes to get a contract for 50 rakes this financial year, pays a licence fee of Rs 25 lakh per year per route to Indian Railways. Currently, Airtel and Max New York Life are the two advertisers that are taking up the opportunity to advertise on the trains. Airtel has taken up three rakes and Max New York Life Insurance has one while the fifth is also expected to be taken up by them.

Each train is vinyl wrapped with the sponsor's branding. Other opportunities for brand visibility inside the trains are posters, table top covers and pamphlet/ leaflet dispensers. The housekeeping staff also carry the brand name on their uniforms.

In addition, Max New York Life Insurance has been authorised to have its sales agents within the trains; the agents can use the opportunity to try and convert passengers into prospective customers.

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Sandeep Chawla, director, Peacock Media, says, "With an average of 1,000 passengers on a one-way journey, there is a huge concentrated target audience for the brands to connect with. And the eyeball count is much more."

Chawla says the trains traverse the length and breadth of the country, stopping at several stations on the way. "Railway platforms are thronged by swarms of people every day, unlike airports, which are open only to passengers. Also, unlike local trains, these trains have more than 80 per cent new passengers on every trip," he says.

Peacock Media is spending close to Rs 1 crore on the upgrading and upkeep of the trains. It is charging the advertisers 15-20 per cent more than it spends (Rs 25 lakh as licence fee + Rs 1 crore on the upgrading of the trains).

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The upgrading is being handled by Peacock Media's associate company, CTS Management, and includes laying high quality, abrasion resistant flooring, maintaining clean toilets, and putting in soap dispensers, tissue paper dispensers, deodorant based toilet flushing systems and automated fragrance dispensers in the compartments. The trains will have house keeping staff, a new concept for Indian trains.

"Every little detail like the carpeting, the perfumed compartments, clean toilets and personal service will add to the passengers' experience. The comfortable journey will firmly entrench the brand in the minds of the passengers," says Chawla.

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The routes were not a random choice. According to Rakesh Saksena, divisional railway manager, Northern Railways, the three Southbound Rajdhanis take more than 30-46 hours to complete each one-way journey. "You are locked with the brand from 30 hours up to 46 hours - the time the trains take to cover the journey. The vinyl wrapping outside the train is inconsequential to the passengers inside the train. Their experience within the train will play a pivotal role in establishing the brand connect."

Meanwhile, it's a win-win situation for Indian Railways. While the vinyl wrapping saves it the cost of painting the trains, it also gives the trains a much cleaner look and makes them easier to maintain.

But is the private sector upbeat about the newfound medium? Not really, says Saksena of Northern Railways: "The market isn't ready yet for an innovation of this sort. Moreover, being a new medium, most advertisers haven't allocated budgets for trains."

Saksena says Max New York Life Insurance invested the money it had allocated for hoardings in South India on the trains. He says he is hopeful that once advertisers are more aware of the opportunities offered by trains, they will feature more prominently in next year's media plans.

He's right. With an estimated 25,000 sq. ft of visual area per train, (about 11,000 rakes covering a distance of about 64,000 km), the medium will be hard to ignore. Saksena says he has received enquiries for shorter routes as well - Delhi to Amritsar, for example.

In fact, Chawla imagines an interesting scenario in the near future, in which trains will be branded, rather than being called a Rajdhani or a Shatabdi. "Competing brands will fight for their share of customers and eyeballs with their trains and names such as Vodafone Express or Airtel Rajdhani," he says.

Indian Railways' Delhi division has earned a whopping Rs 155 crore since September 2007 by leasing various properties on its 213,000 sq. ft of immovable assets for commercial publicity. This includes the property on platforms and in and around the railway stations in Delhi. The options available are hoardings, video screens, scrollers and advertising on the backs of tickets and reservation charts.

In fact, Garnier Fructis has been using the space on reservation charts since last year. Vodafone and Airtel are the major advertisers at the New Delhi and Nizamuddin railway stations in Delhi. The latter already has a video screen displaying advertisements and public utility messages.

Saksena hopes to introduce digital infotainment in all the Shatabdi trains in the near future. "Video screens are not possible in the Rajdhanis because all of them have sleeper coaches. But this is possible in the Shatabdis, where the passengers can sit and view the screens."

With all the hullabaloo about breaking the clutter and innovative outdoor opportunities, advertisers will definitely keep a close watch on Indian Railways. After all, this public sector behemoth seems to be doling out great ideas!

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