A contact & #BANNER1 & # number with the name of the media owner on a white background. That's what a vacant hoarding looked like until a few years ago. But no more.
Bright Outdoor Media, for instance, now has this message: "Every day, we talk to 1,000 million people in every corner of India."
The game seems to changing fast in the OOH space. Players in this segment, be it small or big, have realised the importance of self-branding.
Another OOH player in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, Origins, has put up a hoarding for self-branding, which shows the close-up of an eye that has a cracked lens. The one-liner on the hoarding says, "Hit for sure". The company logo, along with the contact numbers, appear at the bottom of the hoarding. Interestingly, the creative was done in-house.
A senior industry observer corroborates, "Traditionally, OOH companies are considered to be conservative. They do not believe in self-promotion or self-branding activities. But the game seems to be changing now, especially after the entry of new players in this space. These players entered the market with a proper communication plan to promote themselves, like media owners in any other category, be it print or television."
"One obvious reason for this is that these new players have come with their experience from a cross-media presence," he adds.
For instance, ENIL's Times OOH came up with a very interesting message on its vacant hoardings. Times OOH has created and launched a campaign, Innovate, on its sites to inspire advertisers and agencies to use their properties differently and innovate on them. The campaign has been ideated by the Mumbai based advertising agency, Republic.
The latest creative in this campaign shows a cricketer doing a reverse sweep, signifying the innovative side of the sport. Since cricketers constantly innovate with playing tactics, the company has used this symbolically to show that innovations are possible with the use of its media, too.
What is interesting about the Innovate campaign is that the common creative has been splashed on five consecutive Times OOH hoardings on the DND Flyway, which connects Delhi and Noida.
Sunder Hemrajani, managing director, Times OOH, explains that the idea is to have recall value, because on an expressway, people will view any advertisement only for a split second. The campaign is targeted at creative agencies, brand managers and media planning agencies.
Jindal Steel's OOH division, Parivartan, too, has put up creatives on its shelters, which say, "Beyond Shelters..." Another creative shows pictures of eyeballs, with the message, "Be Noticed Here". The company works with different creative agencies to get the brand image right. It also has a campaign in the offing to inform advertisers about Parivartan. This campaign will include events, corporate social responsibility activities and subtle messaging.
It's not only about having an interesting and innovative message on the hoarding. OOH players are now game for rebranding and redesigning their logos as well. They are also ready to hire the services of specialised creative and design agencies. For instance, Alakh Advertising has invited design agencies to pitch for ideas on its rebranding. Symbiosis Advertising, too, is ready to hire a design agency.
The new logo was splashed across their sites overnight. "Our rebranding was treated like a campaign in itself, in which our sites underwent a change overnight," Junaid Kader Shaikh, director, media solutions, Roshan Publicity, says proudly.
He explains that branding is an important aspect of any organisation because it creates a personality out of an entity. Also, as technology and investments become critical for survival, a distinct brand will drive organisational growth. More importantly, it adds substantially to the company valuation.
Better branding gives better visibility and, more importantly, is a good starting point for upsizing. Borse adds that the new logo for Symbiosis, which was created in 2007, has certainly helped the company with better awareness, better identity and better performance.
Shaikh of Roshan Publicity, who represents the younger generation in this business and exudes zeal and optimism for the industry, says that the reason behind these initiatives is the change in the perception of this industry. "Outdoor was earlier looked at as a commodity, but not any more. The way we look at it is: If we can't market ourselves well, what will we do for the client?" he says.
Another section of industry observers says that the insecurity in the market has also made OOH players pull up their socks. "Earlier, most entrepreneurs and businessmen would prefer to keep a low profile and they had strong reasons to do so. Fewer sites, fewer media kept them protected from any invasion in their businesses."
However, the transformation of the outdoor business post-2000 was marked by a huge growth in formats and the number of outdoor media vehicles. "That's when they probably started feeling the need for better branding," explains Borse of Symbiosis.
Self-branding activities have increased in the last few months. As a senior media observer says, "The rising number of vacant hoardings has created a new opportunity for OOH media owners. They are using this as an opportunity to give a push to their self-branding initiatives."
Most observers of the OOH space feel that this is just the beginning. As Kader says, "The redesigned logo or revamped brand image of the OOH company is just one small step. This has to be taken forward with better services to clients, up-to-date reports of sites, and so on. The aim should be to partner with the client, and not just provide him a space to advertise on. Just like when you speak, the air is the medium that carries your voice, similarly, we are the medium that helps carry the voice of the advertiser to the end user."
Borse also believes that site branding and logo changes are necessary, but not sufficient. "Branding," he says, "needs patience. It is not a 10-day visibility campaign." The organisation needs to do a lot more than just create a better visual identity. For instance, it must ensure a professional team and demonstrate innovation initiatives and a proven networking ability.
Whether this wave of revamping OOH company identities makes the necessary impact is to be seen. For now, what one sees is the fight for survival and the need to stand out in the existing visual cacophony.