About a year ago India's largest telecom operator by subscribers, Airtel, was aggressively pushing its 'Open Network' campaign that sought to put into perspective the issue of network strength, given that the problem of call drops across carriers was rampant. Airtel wanted to address the issue head-on and climb on to the plank of transparency for its brand communication strategy. The company used the familiar route of television and digital advertising, but interestingly, it also turned to OOH (out-of-home) advertising, for effective and real-time engagement with customers.
In New Delhi, through its outdoor agency Milestone Brandcom, which is part of the Dentsu Aegis Network, Airtel set up a digital kiosk at a busy bus-shelter in Nehru Place. Consumers were asked to come in and find out about telecom towers in the city. Type in any location within the city and the details would pop up instantly on the kiosk. The kiosk was bursting to capacity at almost all hours of the day.
Airtel is not the only brand to have pushed its outdoors budget and capabilities for creating an interactive customer experience. An increasing number of brands are tapping into OOH for sophisticated awe-and-ambush advertising. A desire to push the advertising rupee further among companies and the need among agencies to create differentiated and measurable experiences is fueling the trend.
The Airtel experience was rewarding not just for consumers of the brand, but even for subscribers with rival networks. Nabendu Bhattacharyya, chief executive officer and managing director, Milestone Brandcom said, even non-Airtel subscribers appreciated the effort with nearly 11,500 consumers trying out the kiosk in three days.
The push factor
Marrying digital with the outdoor display infrastructure is just one example of how advertisers are pushing the pedal to the metal when it comes to brand messaging in outdoor. Be it life-size models of products that leap out of hoardings or photographs that light up when one comes close, the OOH segment is pushing the boundaries when it comes to communication.
The reason, say experts, is the growing need of companies to get greater bang for the advertising buck. As ad clutter levels grow across media including OOH, companies are pushing outdoor agencies to come up with sophisticated solutions that target the right audience at the right location.
The move has also been fueled in part by lack of transparency in the medium, which according to media industry estimates is pegged at around Rs 3,000-3,500 crore. While this is the size of the organised outdoor advertising market, there is a large unorganised segment, which is out of bounds of any media measurement service.
"In India, lack of a common currency (to measure outdoor) has long been a concern for advertisers and OOH agencies and has often been cited as one of the reasons for the industry's lack of growth. Independent agencies now have their own outdoor measurement tools to ensure advertisers get the best return for their investment," Bhattacharyya says.
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Sanjeev Goyle, CEO, rural and OOH, IPG Mediabrands, says, "While the past saw the medium plagued with lack of transparency, the advent of network agencies has made OOH more structured and organised. Established players are launching new methodologies (to measure outdoor) and investing in data, research and analytics." So, while IPG Mediabrands' outdoor agency Rapport conducts research on an on-going on the impact of campaigns on consumers, agencies such as WPP Group's Kinetic, Madison Outdoor Media Solutions (MOMS) and Dentsu's Milestone Brandcom, all key players in the business, have proprietary tools to ensure clients get the best service.
Kinetic, for instance, recently launched Aureus that provides data on billboards and outdoor inventory in 16 cities allowing the agency to target consumers precisely based on the client's brief. "Aureus was a tool developed globally by WPP almost two years ago," says Suresh Balakrishna, CEO, South Asia & Middle East, Kinetic Worldwide. "While it could have been launched earlier, we spent the last one year collecting data on outdoor inventory in the 16 cities we intended to cover as part of the tool. This allowed us to develop a robust system, which harnesses local market insights including traffic counts, hoardings and other outdoor points to craft effective solutions," he says.
MOMS, on the other hand, has a tool called 'View on Street' (VOS) that allows the agency to understand the effectiveness of a site based on 38 parameters. "Based on this we come up with a matrix or index to determine whether the site can be part of the media plan for the client. The tool allows us to work out what we call a cost per VOS to give the client precise sense of how effective his investment will be if he utilises a particular site or sites in a designated city. This is an offering we provide to all our clients, since advertisers are keen to know how their money is being invested in outdoor," says Soumitra Bhattacharyya, CEO, Madison OOH.
Milestone, on the other hand, has an audience measurement system covering the country's top 10 cities that measures efficiency of an outdoor campaign, gross and category impressions, as well as market and category threshold levels in a fraction of a second. As the rigour in outdoor measurement and efficiency grows, agencies are being pushed to come up with tools targeting specific locations such as malls, multiplexes and airports as advertisers look to target consumers who congregrate there.
Balkrishna, whose agency launched one such tool called Aviator recently targeting airports, says the movement of people in these locations is high, demanding specialised attention.
Experts say the level of sophistication will only grow as clients demand more digital solutions in outdoor as opposed to static billboards and hoardings, which is the norm now. The bar in outdoor is clearly getting higher.