Robin Carruthers: Merely aping international practices has led to stonewalling of projects

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, New Delhi and Mumbai | In OOH News | February 10, 2011

The outdoor industry has evolved from being a last-minute, supplementary medium to a primary communication form in the media communication matrix. I feel that this trend will continue as more brands look at using OOH in their communication mix.

Emerging and new media formats have taken the outdoor industry from being a static medium to a more interactive one that is closer to the end consumer. Traditional media formats are now being extensively replaced by newer formats just as in developed markets.

The emergence of the secondary markets today forms an important part in the growth of the outdoor industry. With an ever-increasing number of brands and marketers looking at rural and semi-urban India as important markets, OOH advertising gives them increased options. The predicted buoyancy of the economy and the rising spending power the secondary markets will sow the seeds for an important growth phase of the industry.

Transit, digital and urban infrastructure will be the buzzwords on development of OOH. With intercity spaces shrinking transit outdoor advertising will take on a whole new meaning. The advertising options at airports are testimony to this. In the same vein, intra-city spaces are expanding, throwing up a plethora of options to be developed in terms of street furniture and public infrastructure projects. Digital outdoor too will grow. However, this growth will be comparatively slower owing to huge investments and longer gestation periods.

What is scary is that the OOH industry continues to see price wars that degrade the business and ultimately end up selling a commodity as opposed to a media service or product.

Clients that have large outdoor spends - more often than not - place a heavy emphasis on the choice of their agency, based on lowest costs. While this is an important deciding factor it should not be construed to be the only one. This leads to a situation where it becomes a commodity sale rather than remuneration for services that should have been the matrix for choice in the first place.

Price wars to gain competitive advantages between specialist agencies also lead to cannibalisation. Until and unless an immediate overhaul and remodelling of the business is done, we will be looking at an even more unhealthy business environment. There obviously has to be a collective effort on the part of all stakeholders in the business to bring about this change. If this trend continues it does not augur well for the future.

Unplanned regulations, no uniform guidelines, sudden bans or unexpected imposition of tax continue to plague the industry resulting in low investments on the part of media owners. Adopting international practices and merely aping what developed outdoor markets may have done, without localising it, has led to a stonewalling of certain projects. Large sums of money are invested and wasted. I see little or no change in this trend and if it continues then we are looking at an extremely slow development in emerging media formats. This also scares away potential international companies.

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