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OOH Interviews

Indrajit Sen

President | 26 Oct 2004

“Traditionally, when people talk about outdoors, it approximates Rs 875 crore business annually. This is what the industry spends. One normally talks of outdoors when it comes to out-of-home communications and says Rs 875 crore, but actually this is not the case. If you are looking at out-of-home as outdoor along with visual merchandising and the rest of it, then it all amounts to a whopping Rs 2,000-crore-plus industry.”

With an annual growth rate of 17 per cent and given the way things are going, outdoor advertising is all set to outpace television ads, anticipate industry insiders. Prime Site is the first company in the integrated Out-of-Home (OOH) Communications space that started this kind of communication. The agency provides integrated solutions for OOH as opposed to bundling of separate products (like outdoors and signages) being attempted by certain other companies. Prime Site recently unveiled ‘Proactive Suite’ – India’s first Integrated Out-of-Home Solutions packages – a range of new solution frameworks that are catered to provide a holistic OOH solutions ranging from traditional outdoors to more sophisticated B2C solutions. And, the brain behind this vision is Indrajit Sen, President, Prime Site. Speaking to Malini Menon of exchange4media, he talks about how clients prefer new innovative ways of advertising than the traditional media.

Q. What is contemporary out of home communications? How is it different from outdoor advertising?

Out of home communications transcends outdoors and at the same time encompasses what we call signage, visual merchandising, designs, etc. In fact, the best way of putting it across is anything that is non-armchair advertising, not being consumed within a four-wall environment, something that is not just limited to print, television commercials and radio. Anything outside this space is what we operate in and that’s the space we have explored. Traditionally, when people talk about outdoors, it approximates Rs 875 crore business annually. This is what the industry spends. One normally talks of outdoors when it comes to out-of-home communications and says Rs 875 crore, but actually this is not the case. If you are looking at out-of-home as outdoor along with visual merchandising and the rest of it, then it all amounts to a whopping Rs 2,000-crore-plus industry.

Q. How is out-of-home communication visualised by the industry today?

Traditionally what happens is when an advertising agency looks at it, they look at it above the line, which is what the traditional media spend, wherein the outdoor figures as 7-8 per cent and then below-the-line, which is merchandising, signages etc. Earlier, primarily the sales department handled these things, which is why the separation of spends above the line and below the line. Increasingly, when brands have started getting established and the brand marketing is the most important factor, then this entire thing has got blurred and the entire spends is handled by marketing and goes into building the brand’s equity. That is what has made all the difference. Today, all of a sudden instead of looking at Rs 875 crore, we are looking at an industry, which is close to Rs 2,200 crore.

Q. How is out-of-home different from outdoor?

Typically, outdoor has been given a piecemeal strategy in terms of it being only for awareness or only to be a reminder. The perception is that outdoor can only add to mainline idea and one really can’t be innovative and exclusive with it and is more or less a tactical idea. These are the myths associated with outdoors. Well, that surrogate treatment is immediately done away with as soon as you see out-of-home communications. Though one must admit that hoarding still make the most of the bulk and if you look at hoardings per se, they make up to 80 per cent of the outdoor spends and anything between 50 and 80 per cent of out-of-home spends depending on which category you are in. If you look at certain sectors such as financial sector, you will see that they are spending huge amounts in visual merchandising in their outlets, customer care centres, etc besides spending a huge amount of money on outdoors. This is an easy thing that can be tapped. Increasingly clients are looking at marketing solutions and innovative ways of saying the same things.

Q. How do you think it is possible to popularise this?

The need of the hour, as brands continue to proliferate, is to engage and not just merely get in touch or connect. The contact is not just enough. The demand from brand marketers is to find new and interesting ways to engage.

Q. Do you feel that there are limitations of traditional media vis-à-vis out-of-home?

Yes, there are. Traditional media is again egging on what out-of-home is trying to do. The reason why out-of-home is very popular today is that there is only very limited things that you can do in print because of its format. In terms of TVCs, the channel proliferation and limited retention span, too much of clutter has stopped giving the real returns. Interactive digital media has a lot of potential and that is something that can be looked at because that is where the growth is. Interestingly, the most attractive target segment between the age groups of 15 and 25 is increasingly spending time on the internet rather than reading or watching television. Growth of course is also there in radio, considering that it is a new media that’s making a come back. So, all this leaves us with the out-of-home. This is something that’s limited only by imagination. We have created some really innovative outdoors. For instance, for the launch of Tata Safari, we had come up with one billboard. The idea was to ‘make your own road’. We created a billboard — one on a beach, one on a waterfall and one crossing a river. This was used in all the six metros. Best creatives, of course, stand out even in the worst clutter. This is why billboards still exist but is subject to the creative quality.

Q. How do you see the situation in the current scenario?

The difference between the brands actually starts blurring because of the increased commoditisation, when the numbers of brands start increasing within any category. In fact, this is a common phenomenon; the moment you observe that any category is flourishing, immediately there is a clutter and five more brands jump into it. This is when the difference between the brands start blurring. Unplanned purchases account for 68 per cent of items bought while shopping and therefore advertising plays a major role at the time when there are buyers. And at that moment of truth, the best form of communication that is available is the out-of-home present over there.

Q. So whom do you target with out-of-home?

Anyone who steps out of home whether to travel, to study or going out to entertain himself or even go to a hospital.

Q. Then why is there a below-the-line approach to out-of-home?

This is because we are firmly convinced about the fact that all communication should speak one language particularly when we are talking of branding. Whether it’s a hoarding, signboard, banner or whether it’s a shelf from where you want your customers to pick up the item. Until and unless they are all speaking the same language, you have lost out on the brand communication part.

Q. How does the global trend support?

The global trend in out of home also has been supporting what I am talking about in terms of defining it. You say it’s moving up across the world. But whatever is happening in other parts of the world is also applicable in Indian context. Increasingly, people have realised that you cannot put a newspaper advertisement, convert it to out of home and expect it to work for you because the format changes completely. Increased professionalism and understanding is happening across the world as it is happening in India. When I spoke about the Rs 875-crore business, it’s noteworthy that almost 70 per cent of it is happening through specialised ad agencies. And this is happening because clients don’t want to have various points meeting fragmented media owners as well as avoiding the unprofessional system. Transparent industry norms and consolidation of ownership are also crucial factors that would help out-of-home.

Q. How is Prime Site going about with out-of-home?

Since last three years, we at Prime Site, have actually been talking out of home and creating integrated solutions for our clients. We started as an outdoor agency from Mumbai. Currently, we are in the communication platform with eight main and 10 sub offices with a total strength of 94, drawing in people form mainline advertising agencies, FMCG companies, media marketing professionals, architects and designers.

Q. Can you illustrate how you did out of home do with some brands?

When Maruti was launching the new Zen, targeting a much younger generation and a completely different mindset, we had to come up with a completely new idea at locations that engage this target audience; for example, we took this advertising to Café Coffee Day and created an entire atmosphere with a lot of research. So, we created an atmosphere in Café Coffee Day outlets and put our message across. This was followed by a complete event that facilitated test-driving. And how did we do this? Anybody who went to the outlet was given a card colour and if the customer took the card to the test driving centres, then depending on the colour on the card, he could test drive the car. So such promotional activities really involved the customers. Similarly, when McDonald’s needed to increase footfalls in some specific outlets, we came up with an effective campaign wherein we told the various office-goers the reasonable pricing offers and schemes that McDonald’s had to offer. So we did out-of-home inside Delhi Metro and various spots near Connaught Place. The launch of Reliance Infocomm was one of our most successful campaigns. Reliance was the last entrant in an already crowded market dominated by well-established players. With a vision of introducing the best technology at the lowest price and a target of getting five million customers in one year, we had a big task in hand. And, how did we go about this? It was launched in 110 cities simultaneously through 20,000 outlets spread across these cities using 49 different types of media, using more than 1.25 million square feet of print in 10 different languages. In about two weeks, we were in 49 different vehicles in different parts of city, 100 feet cut out of Reliance phones in Chennai, signages and scrollers.

Q. What other activities does Prime Site do?

We also do visual workplace management, which involves complete analyses of work process, architecture, ergonomics and internal traffic. We have to develop details of visual props and graphics that are required and then create nodal strategies that would define communication modes and to help any workplace to be totally identified. Verbal communication, information has to be translated to visuals. We are doing a lot of work on this with Tata Steel. With the kind of work that we have been doing, what we have succeeded in doing is identifying the common needs of most of the companies. Detailed information on real time basis, need for research and need for planning and logic. Most of our clients want an agency that can identify their needs. We also take up sector-specific needs that are common for units with large factories, which is conscious about productivity, healthcare, large entertainment, sports facilities, shopping facilities where there is mass contact and tourist resorts. One of the identifying factors for a quality of city in India in comparison to a city in Malaysia or abroad is by the quality of signages. This is the realisation that we have found people are getting conscious about. We have been interacting with experts abroad, relying on our trained manpower and we are coming up with workplace management solutions. What is the new launch that is being made by Prime Site? Prime Site unveiled ‘Proactive Suite’ – India’s first Integrated out-of-home solutions packages – a range of new solution frameworks that are catered to provide a holistic OOH solutions ranging from traditional outdoors to more sophisticated B2C solutions. The new products will consolidate Prime Site’s position as the leader across the various disciplines that make up the OOH space and give it depth in dealing with verticals in pharmaceuticals, town-planning, mass transit (station, airports) as well as retail and malls. Through ‘Proactive Suite’ Prime Site is expected to see growth rates in excess of 40 per cent. With this new Prime Site Proactive Suite, they expect to continue their leadership of this out-of-home space, which today is worth about Rs 2,200 crores.

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