Akshit Pushkarna

Metro services pull into non-metro cities; offer OOH advantage to brands

We look at the branding avenues the rapid transit system offer to brands, as they expand to cities across India.

It’s been about two decades since the nation's first metro service was established. The route was short, with only a handful of stations back then. Now, in 2022, the Delhi Metro service covers the entire city. There are 255 stations and the entire track is approximately 350 km long. As of September 2022, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had a daily average ridership of 47.3 lakh people.

Over the years, brands have deployed multiple experiments and strategies for the Delhi Metro, like covering the walls of metro stations with creatives, and the metros themselves, among other things.

Now, as metro services reach smaller cities like Agra, Bhopal, Indore, Meerut, Navi Mumbai, Patna, and Surat, multiple questions arise for marketers.

“Metro network is offering good branding options in every city whether it is a small city or a metropolitan city. It is catering to the low budget displays at good locations, which was earlier not possible with traditional OOH,” Amarjeet Singh, COO, Laqshya Media, says.

Aman Nanda, chief strategy officer, Times OOH, shares that the development of metro infrastructure can be a game changer for brands planning to expand into smaller cities. 

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“In smaller cities, where aesthetically made, highly maintained and well-structured infrastructure is always a challenge, the construction of metro stations will provide a clean, organised place for the advertisers to make their brand/product stand out."

Metro services pull into non-metro cities; offer OOH advantage to brands

Over the years, companies have used multiple innovations to make branding activities interesting in the metro lines. Broadly speaking, station signages, civil structure displays, Train wraps, and branding inside the coach are the avenues taken up by OOHs. “These options offer solutions to every budget- whether economy or premium. Better opportunities can emerge if digitalisation of the media is facilitated by the concessionaires and the authorities,” Singh says.

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However, there is no dearth of innovations at the metro wherein it requires creative minds and good execution partners. Nanda shares that Times OOH recently launched Medimix Beauty Coach Branding for female coaches where the female train bogie was branded from inside and outside. “Another example of metro branding was an activation executed for the movie ‘The Weddings of Munnes’ where the star cast boarded the Mumbai metro train to find a bride inside the metro,” he explains.

Metro services pull into non-metro cities; offer OOH advantage to brands

He, however, opines that station branding rights, a common practice in Delhi, continue to be the most sought-after branding method. "Station branding rights is one of the premium advertising properties that is replicated across the country for exclusive branding and promotion."

For Delhi, multiple stations have taken up brand names. For example, mobile phone developer Vivo took the naming right for Okhla's bustling metro station. However, more local brands also are capitalising on this opportunity. For Delhi's Karol Bagh, the surroundings of the metro station are populated with a ton of coaching institutions for IAS prep. People from across the nation flock to this part of the city for IAS coaching. A popular coaching institute, drishti IAS, has taken up the branding rights for the metro station of Karol bagh.

Nanda mentions that Times OOH, which holds the branding rights for many metro stations in Delhi and Mumbai, is dealing with all kinds of brands – be it regional, national or even international.

Phone brand Vivo took over Delhi's Okhla station recently.
Phone brand Vivo took over Delhi's Okhla station recently.

"Since metro branding has ample advertising opportunities, therefore, the clients can opt for media as per their marketing budgets. The big-ticket properties, such station branding rights, are mostly held by leading national brands, with comparatively better marketing budgets." 

Amarjeet Singh says that though big-ticket brands can benefit from advertising here, smaller, more local brands gain the most out of it. "Local brands are the biggest winners, but even international brands are comfortable using metro media, especially in the OTT category."

Delhi Metro wrapped in a OOH for inDrive
Delhi Metro wrapped in a OOH for inDrive

Given that the number of passengers is variable, one would assume that gauging the return on investments can be a bit challenging for metro advertisers. However, Nanda states that Times OOH has been able to provide metrics to their advertisers on the Mumbai metro. “With pDOOH advent, it is a lot more convenient and certain to count the impressions on each advertisement,” he says. 

Programmatic Digital Out-Of-Home (pDOOH) is essentially an automated technology that can be used to buy and manage ad spots in these infrastructures. Industry experts point out that there has been a significant increase in the number of pDOOH campaigns on metro lines. Times OOH has been focusing on implementing and expanding this technology in the stations of Mumbai Metro for which they have exclusive branding rights. 

“The RoI calculation is quite simple with metro branding with the help of ticket sales on a daily, monthly, and annual basis. The traffic count can be further used to understand the metrics such as impressions and eyeballs gained for an advertiser,” Nanda adds.

There are certain limitations if brands decide to take the metro route for advertising. Nanda feels that the biggest challenge with metro branding is that it is quite fragmented, with multiple players involved in selling the same lines. 

Singh opines, "Station branding has a limited audience, hence, it is not able to command the rates and demand, like traditional OOH." 

Nanda feels that when an individual is waiting for the next train to arrive at the station, he will likely pay more attention to the OOH advertising surrounding him. 

With new metro stations popping up across the country, industry leaders believe that metros would definitely be a part of the broad plans for companies taking the OOH route. The number of companies going the route is also poised to grow. 51 percent of advertisers expect to invest more in Out of Home (OOH) in 2023, according to a survey of brand marketers and agencies released by BWG Strategy in November 2022. This is in difference to what was predicted for the OOH industry back in July.

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