The Blimp Effect: Airships make their way to Indian skies

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In OOH News | March 22, 2010
Milestone Brandcom partners Lightship Asia Pacific to market airship advertising in India

In an interesting development in outdoor advertising, Lightship Asia Pacific, a subsidiary of one of the largest airship operators, has joined hands with Indian OOH agency, Milestone Brandcom to market airships (blimps) or Lightships in the country.

Beijing-based Lightship Asia Pacific is a full-service airship advertising company, which provides innovative airships for promotional/marketing campaigns.

In an official communiqué, Francis Chiew, managing director, Lightship Asia Pacific, says, "The Lightship is a proven and incredibly versatile method of bringing your message to the masses. We are extremely happy to appoint Milestone Brandcom to market this unique medium in India."

He adds that innovative companies looking to "bring bold and innovative marketing initiatives that rise above the clutter of traditional mediums can look to Lightships to put that message across."

Discussing the development, Nabendu Bhattacharyya, managing director, Milestone Brandcom, says, "We are extremely thrilled to partner Lightship Asia Pacific, to bring airship concepts to India. It is a unique dynamic medium that has proven capabilities in creating brand positioning. Overseas feedback on airship advertising points towards its fresh appeal and the ROI and efficiency delivered by Lightships is enormous."

Lightships blimps come in three different models, with length varying from 128 feet to 170 feet and height varying from 30 feet to 40 feet.

Bhattacharyya shares that not too many brands will be able to afford or are bold enough to recognize the airship's unique capability. Hence, the company plans to market it to a select few, to maintain its exclusivity. Regarding the cost of advertising on Lightships, he says that this would depend on how the customer wants to customize its programme.

An industry source shares that if a brand uses a blimp for a large sporting event for about 45 days, with the amount of media coverage and eyeballs it gets, the ad spends on this could easily run into crores.

Airships follow the general aviation rule of flying at a minimum of 1,000 ft above ground level. Permissions for these are sought from the (DGCA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), as well as other relevant authorities that are handled by a general aviation entity. Lightships can carry two pilots and five to eight passengers as well.

The Lightship is expected to embark on a series of nationwide marketing initiatives across India and will provide a new and innovative marketing and branding medium.

The advantage with airships, such as Lightships, is that they are clearly visible during both day and night. They can travel from once place to another, or stay put at one location all day.

Historically, airships were the first aircraft that enabled controlled, powered flight, and were widely used before the 1940s. However, their use decreased over time, as their capabilities were surpassed by those of airplanes. Airships are now more popular for purposes such as advertising, tourism, camera platforms for sporting events, and aerial observation, where the ability to hover in one place for an extended period outweighs the need for speed and manoeuvrability.

On January 1, 1959, a camera was fixed on a blimp for the first time, and captured images of a college football game between Georgia and Missouri in the Orange Bowl, Florida.

Smaller blimps, about 19 metres long, not belonging to Lightship, have been deployed at IPL matches in India. Tyre manufacturer, MRF, which is the official blimp sponsor, has MRF Blimps on display during matches at Mumbai, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Bengaluru and Cuttack. These do not require pilots to steer them; nor do they require permissions from the Directorate General Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Internationally, blimps have successfully been used for advertising by several brands, such as Goodyear, Budweiser, Disney, Volkswagen, Panasonic, GM, MetLife and Aquafina. Airships have been employed in about 36 countries, including the US, Singapore, Australia, Japan and China.

Besides Lightship, other companies that operate these internationally include Airship Management Services, Skycruise Switzerland AG and Worldwide Aeros Corp.

Skycruise Switzerland's Skyship 600 was flown over Athens during the 2004 Summer Olympics as a security measure. In November 2006, it also carried advertising calling it 'The Spirit of Dubai', as it began a publicity tour from London to Dubai on behalf of The Palm Islands, the world's largest man-made islands created as a residential complex.

Discussing the efficacy of airships as a medium, Ashish Bhasin, director, Posterscope Asia, Aegis Media's outdoor arm, says, "It is a very expensive medium. Internationally, blimps have been used around sporting events. In India too, I think it will do well around such events. " He also adds that this medium not only targets people in the stadium, but also attracts TV cameras; thus being relayed to a much larger audience.

He opines that airships have to be used purely as a branding medium, and one can't have too much copy on it. The advertising has to be smartly handled. It also costs a lot, because safety standards have to be maintained.

While the new medium has made its way to Indian skies and there is no question of it grabbing eyeballs; whether it will 'take off' with advertisers, due to its steep pricing, remains to be seen.

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