Rajneesh Bahl, CEO, Percept OOHbelieves that what the OOH industry requires more than anything is fresh ideas, which can only come by getting in talent from non-OOH industries. As a member of the advisory board of exchange4media’s fourth OOH Conference & Awards, Bahl gives his perspective on pertinent issues related to OOH marketing. Excerpts.
Can OOH agencies be creative partners to clients for marketing campaigns?
Most agencies are focused on buying and improving execution strength. Very few agencies are concentrating on the creative side. Creative is usually not part of an agency’s strength and we are not involved in the conceptualization phase of campaigns. What I have personally seen in the last couple of years is that clients want creative enhancements. They are demanding creative ideas from outdoor agencies, because they have realized that we think 24X7 outdoor and we understand the field. When you talk about innovations in outdoor campaigns that is where we can provide creative enhancements.
Right now it (outdoor advertising) is very need-based. Clients involve media agencies because they get insights about competition, trends, ROI, spends, etc. We need to graduate to a level where the client calls you right from the time of communication strategy. Only then will we have a basis to talk to the client; to convince him about the efficacy of the medium, how spending a certain amount will give him a certain value, etc. A client will only talk with someone if he gets some insights. We are not able to contribute in that sense right now.
Which are the areas that OOH agencies can look to expand in?
One thing we have struggled with is that there are no statistics about the efficacy of campaigns that we can take to clients. Most agencies have developed their own models but there is no third party metric to measure the efficacy of OOH campaigns. This is one area most agencies have not developed.
If we need to expand our business the first thing we need to do is focus some method where we can justify the client’s spends or ROI can be measured. If the planning model could be more scientific instead of depending on ‘gut feel’ we can increase the confidence of the client. Another thing is actually being able to tell the client how many people we have contacted through the outdoor campaign. If we can do this, we can take away more money from print and TV. Right now there is no measurability for impact and reach, if we can make this possible, it will be path breaking.
The Lok Sabha elections seem to have created a general feeling of optimism for the OOH industry this year.
The elections are definitely a windfall for many agencies, but if it becomes a benchmark,then 2015 will again see a dip. I am not that excited about spending by political parties but I am interested to find out what happens after the elections—how many clients actually invest money in OOH advertising? Most of the big clients are still waiting to see which government comes in and what reforms come about.
Any particular industry segments which have changed their spending habits recently?
Automobiles (four wheelers) were one of the biggest spenders in 2013, but they haven’t spent anything this year so far. We need to see which new categories come in. The problem is that brand budgets have gone down. Also, there are the issues regarding measurement that I spoke about earlier. When you (brand) don’t have a lot of funds then you would like to bet your money on the mediums that allow you to evaluate your spends.
Real estate has been a big spender in OOH advertising over the last couple of years. What has changed is that most of the builders are getting into very professional imagery and they are using outdoor in a big way to project themselves. Where, earlier, the campaigns used to be project-led, real estate players are now concentrating on brand-led projects, i.e. highlighting the brand as a premium name. Very few builders used to think this way earlier so this shift in communication has given a boom to outdoor. Another sector I see as big spenders in the coming months are the indigenous mobile manufacturers like Lava, Karbonn, etc.
Do you think there is a need for an entry barrier in OOH? Will that help solve the fragmentation issue?
I don’t think an entry barrier is needed at all. With more players, the industry will become competitive, which will give benefit to the client. Isn’t media (TV and print) fragmented today? Think about how many channels we have. Even broadcasting is still a fragmented industry; it just depends on our perspective. Only the agencies who are investing in intellectual property and the future will survive. So, after a point, the number will automatically come down. But in that entire process we will see the industry stabilize.
Why are so many rules for print or TV? It is because when the industry suddenly exploded, people realized that there was a need for governance, which is why they are so disciplined right now. The same evolution will happen with outdoor too, it just needs time to mature.
How important will the non-urban market be going forward?
The non-urban or rural market will be absolutely important, because this is one area that is totally related to sales. It is not about branding but selling products. For example, for some clients in these regions we have a business model that works on incremental sales. So, they pay depending on the number of units they sell post the campaign. This incentivises the process so even the agency puts in more efforts.
Do you think that mediums like captive audience and ambient are the future of OOH?
I wouldn’t say that they are the future of outdoor but that is where the excitement is right now. Consumer habits have also changed. People hang around malls and multiplexes more these days. Also, because tenders are so expensive in outdoor, this becomes a cost-effective solution. A few years back when hoardings were not that expensive, the outdoor sector did not pay much attention to these mediums. Today, because situation has changed, we have started looking at these options.
One advantage is, I agree, that in ambient environments you can better engage with the captive audience. It is quite an exciting thing for the Indian OOH sector. These mediums will grow and they will take a share from traditional outdoor spending. I hope hoarding rates come down to stay competitive if this happens. Right now these mediums are among the best options. How well it is maintained and taken forward is what is important. Can agencies maintain the sanctity of the medium without increasing clutter?
What are your thoughts on digital OOH?
Digital OOH created a lot of interest when it came to India a few years back but it has now fizzled out. Lot of people entered the segment with a lot of anticipation. The problem I feel is that in India, people don’t maintain their assets. Clients did invest in digital media but if you see digital media these days, there are a lot of operational issues that are not being solved. A few agencies are doing quite well but beyond that people are not able to encash this medium.
Even when it comes to traditional media, it is very important that maintenance of the medium is taken care of. The asset owner should have this vision if he wants to go a long way. I feel OOH, in general, is more about the vision than profits. If you have this vision then the sky is the limit.
What kind of innovation can OOH agencies bring to outdoor marketing?
One can explore innovations in planning and the usage of new media, like integration of ambient media in the planning and strategy. Beyond this, cross-platform advertising is an option. For example, one can look at integrating the digital medium with outdoor.
What according to you makes a great outdoor campaign?
A great outdoor campaign would comprise of different mediums depending on the TG. For example, if the TG is the youth, then it is important to go out and interact with them at various touchpoints like cafes, colleges, etc. Similarly, if the TG is motorcyclists, the bus backpanels could be a good medium since they are at the eye-level.
The biggest drawback today in the outdoor industryis that campaigns are planned according to the medium and not the TG. I would love to see campaigns being planned according to the TG, something that happens in print and TV. I think that graduation has started with people realising the importance of following the TG. To generalize, a great OOH campaign would be when you have covered the TG as a whole and every one of them can say that they have seen or experienced the communication post the campaign.
How important is fresh talent for the OOH industry?
The future is brilliant for the outdoor industry. There are more and more professionals getting into the industry and people are investing. The only concern is that the knowledge domain is not increasing. If this increases, the sector will do really well.
To boost the growth rate we need statistical data about campaignsalong with an increase in the knowledge domain. There is no new, fresh talent coming into the industry, which stagnates the growth and inflow of new ideas. At Percept OOH, we have started employing people from non-OOH domains. Our thinking is that we can teach them about the outdoor sector but the fresh ideas they bring in will help us in coming out with new ways of doing things.