Move over mass-media advertising. The flavour these days with advertising agencies across the board is below-the-line (BTL) and out-of-home (OOH) communication. The last six months or so has seen agencies literally put their money where their mouth is as far as BTL & OOH is concerned.
Consider this. Leo Burnett launched its BTL-integrated arm Arc recently. WPP Group launched its OOH consolidated - Kinetic - an equal joint venture between Ogilvy & Mather and Group M in India, a couple of weeks ago. After acquiring BTL marketing agency Solutions Integrated Marketing Services in November last, Publicis is planning to bring in its global BTL brand, Publicis Dialog, into India very soon. And Mudra Communications has travelled the BTL/OOH road the whole hog by reorganising itself along delivering advertisers solutions, which are media-neutral. This was done after strengthening its BTL and OOH capabilities by acquiring promotions company Kidstuff last year.
“Agencies are taking the cue from advertisers who have already invested and got great results from BTL,” says Partha Sinha, chief strategy officer, Publicis India. Though figures vary on the size of the BTL market - encompassing promotions, exhibitions, point-of-purchase and retail merchandising and on-ground activities - industry estimates put a quarter of the Rs 13,200 crore annual ad spend by India Inc accounted by these activities.
“BTL growth has been explosive in India in the past couple of years. As big ad agencies, we are bringing an organised, integrated, seamless and efficient approach to a marketer's BTL initiatives,” says Arvind Sharma, MD, Leo Burnett. And in categories such as financial services, leisure, tobacco & liquor, marketing spends have already reached 50-50 between mass-media and BTL and OOH.
“With mass-media's return on investment going down drastically because of audience fragmentation and media-cost inflation, marketers are looking at BTL more and more to deliver customised solutions for their brands,” says Meenakshi Madhwani, MD, Spatial Access, a media audit firm.
As a result, Indian agencies are perhaps for the first time trying to follow the global ad agency model, where over half of all revenues is accounted by marketing service, in total. “The past year or so has seen agencies seriously constructing competencies in these disciplines through either acquisitions, strategic alliances, or building it up,” says Madhukar Kamat, CMD, Mudra Communications.
The Rs 1,000 crore OOH market - essentially billboards and the like - is also seeing lot of action from agencies off late. Apart from WPP's Kinetic, the Aegis Group, through Percept, had launched its global agency, Posterscope, last year. “Big buyers don't prefer fragmentation. And as a result OOH in India, is getting consolidated, both at the agency as well as the vendor level,” says Pratap Bose, South Asia MD, Kinetic. Kinetic, kind of Group M of OOH in India, will aggregate all OOH spends across all WPP agencies in the country - O&M, JWT, Grey, Rediffusion DY&R, Bates Enterprise et all.
What's also interesting here is the huge change within agencies as far as BTL and OOH is concerned, quite away from its mega-revenue spinning possibilities. “Previously BTL was just a space-driven discipline. But now agencies, much like its clients, are open to its potential of unlocking new consumer insights, in-and-around the actual purchase activity for instance,” adds Sinha of Publicis. The advertising industry caste-system of yesteryears, of big boys doing television and print, and the outcasts saddled with BTL and OOH is also fast disappearing. Speak of money having no colour.