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Amar Thomas

Head of Marketing | 02 Mar 2015

Outdoor media industry has to move away from selling space to selling audience. That would be the first step to retain more brands towards it. OOH as a medium is fantastic in some towns and quite a disappointment in others. Cities like Delhi and Chennai offer very few traditional OOH options. Hence brands looking to strengthen their focus on such cities find it almost impossible to leverage OOH as an option. However the same cities have enough sites mushrooming up ahead of a political campaign. These call for introspection and commitment in the administration of making the environment business-friendly.

Amar Thomas, Head Of Marketing at BlackBerry India feels that planning can only take you a certain distance as success in OOH campaigns lies in the execution. Thomas is jury member of the upcoming OOH Conference and Awards 2015 organized by exchange4media, which will be held on March 27, 2015 in Gurgaon.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Abhinn Shreshtha, he shares his thoughts on outdoor advertising and what it takes to create a great outdoor campaign. Excerpts.

Q. When it comes to content in outdoor campaigns, what are the prime things you look at?

Outdoor is about driving a single message and is a one-point agenda. The medium doesn’t allow you to communicate more than one product/offer at a time so size of the site, legibility of text, impact or imagery and perception of number of eyeballs a site receives are factors one considers while planning an OOH campaign. However what is noticeable is the emergence of ambient and captive media options like airports, transit media and mall facades, all of which lead to instant purchase or drive huge impact.The content strategy in these medium is more flexible than traditional OOH. The success of OOH is in the basics.

Q. What are the essentials that a brand should have for an on-ground activity?

Any brand aims to drive touch and feel and provide first-hand experience to the target group when it embarks any BTL activity. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and hence customers look to experience the product first-hand to drive the brand into their purchase consideration set. Hence it’s important to articulate clearly what are the attributes you want the customer to evaluate you on and have the right set of team on-ground to be able to impart the information that educates the customer as much as it informs them about the benefit to choose Brand A over Brand B. On-ground activity also allows you get into direct comparisons with competing brands as the conversation between the brand advocate on-ground and prospective customers is one to one and more personal. Direct comparisons are hard to execute in ATL and BTL allows you do that with more effectiveness.

Q. The OOH industry is largely labelled as unstructured. Where does outdoor feature in your media plans?

There always a bit of fun in the chaos and OOH is no different for our cities that are about to get smart we have over a few 1,000 cars being added to our streets daily so OOH certainly works as a medium for anyone who commutes from home to work whether it be by their luxury sedan or public transport, they are never far from spending time looking at communication on OOH media while they are crawling through city traffic. Hence OOH is a very important ingredient to the perfect media plan.

Q. Beyond innovation, do you think smart planning should be the ground rule while designing an outdoor campaign?

Planning can only take you to a certain distance but with the challenge in OOH and the fragmentation between media owners the success of any OOH campaign lies in its execution, sites will always look prettier and impressive on the media planner/brand manager’s laptop than it would look when you see it from an average distance of 50 to 80 feet driving past at 40 to 60 KMPH. Hence it is critical to ensure enough attention to layout, font sizing, colors and imagery. Clutter and text heavy OOH is a strict no. It’s also a good idea basis viability to recce the sites being selected and try and get sales teams who are on ground to gather views on a certain site if one is not sure. This ensures that once the campaign is on there is no dissonance in the mind of the media buyer.

Q. What are the changes needed in the outdoor industry to retain and attract more brands towards it?

Outdoor media industry has to move away from selling space to selling audience. That would be the first step to retain more brands towards it. OOH as a medium is fantastic in some towns and quite a disappointment in others. Cities like Delhi and Chennai offer very few traditional OOH options. Hence brands looking to strengthen their focus on such cities find it almost impossible to leverage OOH as an option. However the same cities have enough sites mushrooming up ahead of a political campaign. These call for introspection and commitment in the administration of making the environment business-friendly. However brands are finding ways to overcome such obstacles as in the case of a smartphone brand adopting an entire metro station in Delhi NCR which is an innovative way of relevant OOH and brand building exercise.

Q. Do you think there is a need for self regulation in the OOH sector?

Self regulation is easier said than done, the industry is at an inflexion point and where it goes from here depends on the united front that industry players can put up or fail to put up. Advertisers too have to help agencies without putting undue pressure on them to innovate and break clutter by taking unauthorized means or routes that don’t comply with laws of the land. In the eagerness to win brownie points agencies try and come up with options to win client confidence without being transparent on the means adopted to get such sanctions. Hence there need to be a strong body that creates regulations within which players need to operate.

Q. Do you feel outdoor agencies need to be more flexible in terms of their offerings?

OOH agencies need to understand the challenge the brand is trying to address through this campaign and try and customize the offering to drive messaging basis the marketing challenge that the brand is addressing. Hence there is a need to bring solutions that take brands closer to consumers than sell space. Transit media, cinema advertising, mall facades, office complexes, airports and traditional media are options; sometimes just one of them would help the brand while at other times a combination of it helps. Hence the cookie cutter model that the industry adopts doesn’t help.

Q. The outdoor industry doesn’t have a common currency. As a marketer, how much does this worry you?

Measurement is always debatable and marketers don’t manage brands they manage perceptions. The same is the case for selection of a media vehicle; ratings of TV, print and radio have been disputed and debated since Adam. Hence marketers eventually settle for a combination of out of home sites that they perceive as good sites that bring impact and visibility. At the end of the day a good campaign would get noticed and social media, word of mouth and the fraternity would give a good indication to marketers about the response to a campaign. Sales teams and trade partners is the final acid test and the feedback they provide is also extremely important to gather and incorporate in plans coming up later.

Q. From a technology perspective, what do you think is needed to better attract audiences?

Sadly, people have only experimented with technology and no one brand has adopted it whole heartedly. Though you have seen integration of mobile and OOH or social media and OOH or for that matter even radio and OOH. It captures the imagination and drives a clear CTA from the target group. Asian Paints, Colgate, Axe have all at some point integrated mobile and OOH in the same breadth and seen good success. However being the medium it is, you have only a few seconds to communicate to your audience and innovations are more possible in airports, malls or transit options where people have more time on hand. Augmented reality and barcodes are a fun way to make customers discover your brand or messaging and have been successfully tried in countries like South Korea and Japan where people could shop at metro stations by simply scanning barcodes of a wall and have the good delivered to their doorstep before they reach home. Hence it’s the responsibility of marketers to encourage the use of technology in communication and make innovation the central point of their marketing communications.

Q. Digital OOH has still not taken off in India, as a client do you think this form of outdoor advertising will help your brand and what is the progress you would like to see in this regards?

Digital OOH is at an interesting cusp of tying in with the explosion in mobile and connected devices and hence digital inventory owners will need to find a way to bridge the gap in integrating the two mediums. Make interactivity and participation with content on digital mediums so compelling and rewarding that it becomes hard for the consumer to ignore. The future of communication is through mobile and connected technology and it is critical that we assess the future of how content and information consumption is on the rise. While India has as close to 900 million mobile connections, only a fraction of that is smartphones and with the proliferation of low cost smartphones this is only bound to grow and hence digital screens will need to adopt what is called the internet of things where digital advertising formats would need to scale and talk to smartphones people carry and personalize information and content in a rewarding and engaging manner.

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