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The real deal: What's behind the recent ad-stripping of Mumbai's King Long buses?

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In OOH News | April 07, 2011
Outdoor industry persons speculate on the real reasons for the RTO's move to remove all advertising films from the 250-odd King Long buses in Mumbai.

April 1 was no Fool's Day or laughing matter for the advertisers who had their ads up on the King Long buses in Mumbai, as these were stripped off the 250-odd buses in the city.

Top Way (a unit of Shree Advertising and Marketing), the company that owns the advertising rights to these buses, had bagged the exclusive rights to fully wrap the fleet of air-conditioned King Long buses. The rights were awarded by BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking) in 2010 for a period of 10 years.

The reason given by the Regional Transport Office (RTO) is that the side windows of public transport vehicles have to maintain 50 per cent transmission of light or visibility, while vinyl advertisements on the AC buses allow only 30-40 per cent of light to pass through.

Therefore, while commuters inside the buses could see outside through the vinyl ads, people outside couldn't see the passengers. This is against the transport department rules laid down for all passenger vehicles.

Tushar Gogri, group head, Shree Advertising and Marketing, informs that the RTO served a notice to the company on March 8 and called for a checking of visibility, following which it gave the company a 15-day notice. That notice was extended till the end of the month, following which all vinyl wraps were taken off on April 1.

This effectively means that if the ban stays, the company could face losses of about Rs 60 crore annually, with the ad rates for these buses estimated at about Rs 2-2.5 lakh per bus, per month. Contributing to this were brands such as Future Generali Insurance, Cloud 9, the Lodha Group, Kotak Mahindra Bank, South African Tourism, Citibank and Coca-Cola, among many others, that took to this swanky transit medium.

BEST only earned Rs 4.5 crore annually as license fees from these buses. Thus, the margin between procurement of ad rights to these buses by Shree Advertising and eventual ad sales has been vast, leading people to speculate about the real reasons for this action by the RTO.

When afaqs! spoke to industry persons to get their perspective, here's what they had to say:

Mangesh Borse, director, Symbiosis Advertising feels that it is a terrible thing to have happened for the contractor, as well as for the advertiser. "Globally, such ads are permitted on buses, so I don't see the problem now. Also, such things (visibility issues) should be taken care of before the ads are allowed on the buses - why tear them down now?" Borse wants to know.

His opinion is that all the RTO needed to do was to pass a rule for the visibility levels of the vinyls, instead of a blanket ban.

"I don't believe it is the issue of the consumer (passengers) at all. All these are authorities' issues," says Nabendu Bhattacharyya, founder and managing director, Milestone Brandcom.

Many industry insiders are of the opinion that this has happened not just because of visibility, but other vested interests. Industry sources tell afaqs! that this move was a result of a competing, larger media owner's heartburn for not having the rights to these lucrative buses.

Mukesh Manik, man-in-charge, Encyclomedia Networks, whose new campaign for Coca-Cola, 'Brrr', was launched on King Long buses on March 21 (and was later taken off, as well) points out that if the RTO stipulation is visibility of 50 per cent, the quality of vinyls that was supplied by his agency was of that standard. He therefore thinks that this is a technical excuse being used by the authorities.

"The '50 per cent visibility factor' can be achieved easily, and hence, I'm positive that the ads will be back up soon on these buses," adds Manik.

While Gogri shares that the agency is in talks with the RTO and is sure that these ads will be given clearance soon, Mandeep Malhotra, president, OOH services, Mudra Max, talks of the implications of such actions.

He says that it is things like these that scare and discourage international outdoor companies and professionals from using this medium or making large investments in this industry.

He adds, "This is what I don't get - instead of seeing this small agency's success and trying to replicate it across the country, authorities and media owners would rather fight over this pie."

While everyone is sure that the issue will be 'settled' soon, such an instance only tells the true story of an industry which, even after coming a long way, continues to struggle with ambiguity and lack of transparency.

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