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Quick peek: Singapore's signature outdoor advertising style

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In OOH News | July 20, 2009
A glimpse at the outdoor advertising scenario in the Lion City and what makes it one of the hottest advertising markets in Southeast Asia

Going from a place such as Mumbai, where digital and new technologies in out of home (OOH) advertising are just about taking off, to a market like Singapore, where outdoor advertising is so spectacular, can be a jaw dropping experience!

Last month, I travelled to the island country of the 'Merlion' (a landmark structure which is half-lion and half-mermaid) and the infrastructure, high level of sanitation and strict rules left me highly conscious and in awe of the place. In fact, people there often pun about how Singapore is a 'fine' city, referring not only to how great the place is, but how often people are 'fined' for eating on the metro or littering, among many other things.

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The new landmark, the humongous ferris wheel Singapore Flyer, is the country's answer to the London Eye and offers a fantastic view of the city. This is close to the Esplanade, river-side twin theatres shaped like the eyes of a bee. As tourists, these structures are bound to impress, but what surprised me was the standard of OOH advertising in the island.

The outdoor advertising in Singapore doesn't come out from nowhere hitting one in the face, but stands out effectively from existing structures and varied media formats.

The kind of OOH advertising that struck me the most, being highly visible (maybe because I was moving about so much) was transit advertising. Larger-than-life bus wraps and well-designed bus shelters enrobed with stylish ads, not to mention the superb advertising on the mass rapid transit or the MRT (metro service), were hard to miss.

Later, Krishnan Menon, country manager, Kinetic Singapore, confirmed that transit in Singapore is indeed where the lion's share of the OOH spends are funnelled. "The top four media owners by sales volume largely deal in buses and bus shelters, trains and stations -basically covering road transit, road transit street side, rail transit and rail transit stations. These four media owners control more than 75 per cent of the OOH spend in Singapore," said Menon.

The hugely popular Incredible India campaign caught my eye at an underground MRT station near Raffles Place, where it was wrapped around three large pillars, bright warm colours standing out from between the otherwise cold stainless steel escalators and white tiles of the underground station. What an impression it made!

Another MRT wrap that received superstar attention was the one for the Nokia 5800 Xpress Music at the Orchard Road train station, where the entire area, including floor and pillars, were wrapped in pink and purple stripes - these being the colours of this specific campaign. Such outdoors just bring the whole place, which would otherwise be dreary, to life!

Even automatic doors opening up to the MRT were used as effective media formats, where brands ranging from FMCG and telecom to energy drinks were advertised.

While in India, restaurants, speciality cuisine outlets and food festivals are not advertised much, these were seen amply advertised in Singapore, owning probably to the fact that it is a tourist destination and sees a motley crew of people arriving from all over. I spotted one such ad for a Japanese restaurant, where the ad was placed on the long sloping stretch between two escalators. While the creative wasn't great, the sheer location of the ad demanded attention.

Evlyn Yang, general manager, sales and marketing, JCDecaux Singapore, shared that in Singapore, industries such as fast food restaurants, telecommunications, movie distributors, FMCG and banking services are popular adopters of outdoor advertising formats.

Something else not seen in India yet and done at a Singapore MRT station was at the Orchard Road Linkway, where the entire exit on the escalator from the underground to the top allows a brand to display its messaging and product on three whole panoramic surfaces, two sides and the ceiling.

The rate card cost for the media in the Linkway is at a steep Singapore $60,000 per month, or approximately Rs 1.98 lakh.

Fortunately or unfortunately, when I passed this area, no advertising was being displayed. It was converted to resemble an underwater world, where only shadows of sea creatures could be seen swimming around. I was informed that the Orchard Road Linkway was shut down for renovation. I could only imagine what could be done with the media space if it was so impressive in the first place!

Exiting from the Linkway onto Orchard Road, promotions for the annual Singapore Sale, with colourful posters hanging from street lighting poles running across the entire stretch of the road, caught my attention. Brand names in neon stood out from building facades and from mall window displays, while a big LED screen displayed ads. The street was buzzing with people and not surprisingly, many compare this place with downtown New York.

In fact, Orchard Road is one of the most popular shopping belts in Singapore, a well-planned street with commercial buildings and shopping arcades lining the street. The area, therefore, sees major outdoor advertising.

Yang added that Orchard Road is definitely the hot spot for any brand looking to debut its latest products and/or services.

Buses, such as those of the SBS Transit Service, were also draped in superbly done wraps, where the products, displayed in a larger-than-life fashion, were extremely eye-catching. I was able to shoot a couple of these, one being for the new Nikon D700 and another for an FMCG brand, the Ginvera body wash, where large images of the bottles were stuck on both sides of the bus.

Free standing hoardings were hardly seen in Singapore as billboard structures are banned in the island.

Menon of Kinetic Singapore explained, "Billboards are allowed under different legislations, one for long-term brand advertising content, and another for short-term promotional content. The former is much harder to come by and is only allowed in certain parts of the country, mostly on the expressways and very few in the shopping and business district.

The short-term category of billboards is available in small numbers at select locations within the commercial, shopping and business districts. All of these large formats are wall and building side sites as billboard structures are against the law."

The rules governing outdoor advertising forbid the use of structures created solely for advertising on the street over most of the island, except in the case of bus stop shelters, which explains the clutter-free environment.

OOH contributes to 8-10 per cent of the total ad spend in Singapore, as compared to the 6-8 per cent outdoor contribution to the total ad spend in India.

Yang of JCDecaux summarised it best when she said, "Singapore has changed enormously over the past 10 years, from a highly regulated environment to one which is tolerant of many types of innovative creative executions. Ads are no longer confined within a light box and ambient media has been on the rise. However, there is a lot more we can do in terms of new platforms, creative and innovations."

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