Aerial advertising: the new medium to help brands fly sky high

By Rohit Nautiyal , afaqs!, New Delhi | In OOH News | July 23, 2009
Chandigarh-based SkyAds offers the aerial medium for brands to paint the skies with their messages

Aerial advertising is a virgin territory in India and does not figure in the media mix of any brand in a big way. But Chandigarh-based SkyAds aims to change this.

SkyAds has obtained a Non Scheduled Operators Permit (NSOP) from the Ministry Of Civil Aviation, which is valid for a year and can be renewed later. Currently, the company has one aircraft -- Piper PA-18 Super Cub, a two-seat, single-engine airplane, exclusively fitted and certified for banner towing.

The company offers four billboard formats, which can be attached to the aircraft for aerial advertising - aerial billboard, logo billboard, flag logo and aerial letter banners.

The aerial billboard provides a canvas for showcasing graphic messages and computer enhanced artwork. Logo billboards have a small banner, which can carry a brand's logo, and a trailing banner, which can carry a message from the company or a tagline. In the flag logo, the text message comes first and the branding billboard flies as a flag at the back of the text. When not being flown, the billboards can be used as a static medium for events.

Aerial letter banners have red characters made out of high-strength, lightweight nylon fabric. Clients will get to choose from a variety of letter fonts, numbers, symbols and other graphics to create a customised banner.

The banners can be prepared within two days from the date of order.

In May this year, SkyAds got its first client - Frankfinn, the airhostess training institute. The company chose a letter banner that read. "Frankfinn - World's No.1 - Fly High", to be flown over Ludhiana and Jalandhar.

Samir Valia, vice-president, marketing and corporate communication, Frankfinn, tells afaqs!, "Our main objective behind signing up for aerial advertising was to attract our TG (students passing out of schools) with a clutter-breaking innovation. The timing was perfect, because from April to June, students are on the lookout for the right college. Our student intake is seasonal, and therefore, investing in a media like this is worth the risk."

Aerial advertising is widely used in the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, Russia, Thailand and other countries.

The costs involved are steep - banner towing fees start at approximately Rs 1,15,000 per hour for the first 25 hours, after which the hourly charges are lower. The fee will vary according to the size of the banner.

SkyAds claims that brands can reach target groups of 4-5 lakh people in one hour with this medium.

SkyAds' plane will be made available across the country, but clients will have to bear the ferry charges incurred to get the plane to the desired location for advertising. The ferry charges start at Rs 25,000 and will be higher as the distance increases from Chandigarh, the base of the aircraft. Since aerial advertising is a new medium, SkyAds plans to revise its rate card to make the option more affordable for prospective clients.

On the effectiveness of the medium, S S Dhillon, managing director, SkyAds tells afaqs! that many forms of advertising are ignored, because they have come to a saturation point; therefore, aerial advertising is a better option. "It has been estimated that, on an average, people are exposed to hundreds of advertising messages each day and they tune out of most of them. Complex methods of advertising are not the best. Rather, a simple message stated in this unique fashion tends to create a long-lasting impression. In this way, any time, one can find a ready audience and advertise to them in a fun, unobtrusive manner. it is a win-win situation for both the company and customers."

He adds that the regulations that govern this concept abroad are similar to the regulations set up by the Civil Aviation Ministry here. The agency went through rigorous procedures and conducted discussions and video presentations to prove the feasibility of aerial advertising, before getting the final nod from the ministry.

According to the guidelines, "The operations shall not be carried out over the congested area of a city, town or settlement; or over any open-air assembly of persons at altitudes lower than 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 ft. of the aeroplane. Aerobatic manoeuvres shall not be permitted during banner towing operations. Also, banner towing operations shall be restricted to hours between sunrise and sunset."

For now, the company is pitching to prospective clients in the telecom, finance and insurance and the beverages sectors. Also, the company is in talks with some leading media agencies to find better ways of marketing its brand.

Dhillon admits that there are more restrictions and lesser area available for aerial advertising in high-security zones such as Delhi and Mumbai. "In Delhi, we have the option of flying the aircraft over the North Campus area, which receives a good number of college goers. In Mumbai, we will be able to do this in Juhu," he says.

To find out the potential of this new medium, afaqs! got in touch with some key people from the advertising and media industry.

Tarun Nigam, director, India - North and Pakistan, Starcom India sounds enthusiastic about aerial advertising. "It is an interesting option and an exciting one. Brands such as media, apparel, soft drinks and other youth-centric brands will be interested in using this. Though this type of advertising is very much present in the US and UK, it will not be fair to compare the larger area availability in these countries for such activities with India. Also, you have to manage under very strict Air Traffic Control (ATC) regulations with restrictions from the Air Force. Overall, it's good to know that this medium will now be seen in our country." On the flipside, he also feels that this form of advertising will need extensive multimedia leveraging, as it cannot be successful as a standalone medium.

Praveen Vadhera, country head, 141 Wall Street, feels aerial advertising is more of a "gimmick" medium, which can create one-time impact for a brand. "The regulations are one major hindrance, preventing this new medium from taking off in India. The same issue comes up while doing hot air balloon advertising. This format will work well when an advertiser uses it for a big launch or as a PR exercise. Local brands, especially those related to retail, can be seen as prospective clients for this medium. Also, the telecom sector may be interested in using something like this, as it incurs approximately 43 per cent of India's outdoor spends. It would be difficult for this medium to figure in the regular, sustainable media mix of a brand," he says.

Pradeep Shrivastava, chief marketing officer, Idea Cellular, says, "Aerial advertising is the best option of advertising when brands are focusing on large population centres to create excitement. Yet, I don't see this as something that has potential to be part of the recurring media plan of a telecom company."

Raj Mohanty, senior business director, Poster Publicity, tells afaqs!, "We tried to do something like this before for a client. Unfortunately, our plans did not materialise due to the restrictions. Small cities, such as Jaipur or Chandigarh, are easier to advertise in with this format, because the restrictions are comparatively less stringent." He adds, "The best part of using aerial advertising is that the advertisement will be captured across the media, which will result in instant recall in the minds of the TG."

However, at a time when advertising spends are being reduced drastically, are companies willing to use this medium? Mohanty feels that if advertising is about using a clutter breaking solution, then companies will be willing to cut down the spends on traditional media and divert these to aerial advertising.

For now, there seems to be a consensus across the industry on the receptivity of aerial advertising -- most people agree that it can be used as a one-time clutter breaker to make a large impact, possibly for a launch.

Time will tell whether the new medium will prove to be a feasible format that brands would choose to use repeatedly.

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