For an industry that has been blamed for decades for being unorganised, unscientific and immeasurable, a session by Ravi Kiran, chief executive officer, South Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group at the Outdoor Advertising Convention 2009 proved to be a reality check. Given the topic 'Proprietary planning tools minus industry-wide data equals gut feel', Kiran began by saying that he instantly wanted a different topic to speak on, the moment he heard of this one. "I have to talk about data in an industry that is marked by the lack of it!" he quipped.
While one has research and measurability bodies such as TAM for television, IRS and NRS for print media, ILT (Indian Listenership Track) and the more recent RAM (Radio Audience Measurement) for radio, and digital media by its very nature is measurable, outdoor leaves a lot to be desired. It is only now that the Indian Outdoor Survey has been launched, but Kiran has his reservations.
Coming back to the lack of science in the outdoor medium, Kiran said that most marketers today are plagued with how to plan for outdoor. "But I'll tell you one thing: the dichotomy of data versus ideas is dead. It's about intelligence and intuition, not intelligence or intuition," he declared.
Often, people go by gut feel in this business, and gut feel is equated with guilt in most situations as it is a subjective matter. Largely, experience drives gut feel in outdoor: experience leads to expertise, which leads to creativity and finally, the execution. Kiran reiterated that gut feel is important, and "not all tools need industry data in OOH."
Kiran also touched upon the 'measurement paradox' in OOH: measuring what's right versus measuring simply what is easy or possible. "We have been doing the latter for a long, long time," he mused. Furthermore, he stressed on the importance of measuring the outcome of an outdoor campaign, instead of just measuring its input.
The model of measurement thus far has been a reach-frequency one: terms that a media planner is a tad too familiar with. This has led to an exposure based measurement system, which needs to move not just to engagement, but to an overall brand experience.
As is known, the brand engagement model starts with awareness, leads to liking and finally, intent. "In outdoor, there is too much of a chase for awareness everywhere in the world, which is a wastage of monies," Kiran said. "Intent is by far more important, and a marketer ought to concentrate on increasing intent amongst potential consumers, rather than getting more and more people to be 'aware' of his brand, which leads to little."
In other words, while a hundred people may know of, say, a toothpaste brand, only 9 per cent of them may buy it. So, the task would be to increase this percentage, rather than focus on roping in another 100 to be aware about the brand. This is vital in the outdoor medium now more than ever, Kiran said, and measurability should follow the same rule.
"Look at the iPod today: half a million pieces had been sold in India before the first ad was released - it was totally word of mouth driven, and the outdoor medium ought to learn from such things," Kiran said.
Furthermore, Kiran advised people in the business to think like programming people and not an ad agency. "Advertising cannot be intrusive any longer, and as there is no editorial in outdoor, unlike print or TV, people have no reason to give it attention. So outdoor has to be that much more compelling," Kiran concluded.
Just before exiting the dais, however, Kiran couldn't help himself from quipping, "Oh, and will clients please stop asking for at least one sign on the boss' way to office? Sad that this is the state of the medium today!"