A fountain outside Vashi railway station in New Mumbai managed by ICICI plays the bank's corporate jingle to the throng of commuters rushing by to either board a train or head home.
In Haji Ali in South Mumbai, a draft of fresh air greets you as you pass LG's air conditioner hoarding. The fountain and the hoarding and other props which define outdoor advertising are getting more interactive and aiding this phenomenon is technology-led outdoor planning packages, unleashed by the out-of-home Divisions of advertising agencies. Leaving almost no piece of street furniture unbranded, it's all about making the most of important locations, thus creating visibility for most brands which are in a hurry to get instant recognition.
Ad agencies with OOH operations such as Mudra (Primesite), Lintas (Aaren Initiative), O&M (Ogilvy Activation) and Madison Outdoor (MOMS) are incorporating software-led technology packages which are likely to further change the face of outdoor advertising in the country apart from boosting the business potential of this segment.
For instance, recently when Primesite, the out-of-home solutions outfit belonging to Mudra, decided to unveil `Proactive Suite', an integrated out-of-home solutions packages, it expected an over 40 per cent growth rate in the first year of implementation itself.
Offering a range of new solution frameworks that are catered to provide holistic OOH solutions, ranging from traditional outdoors to more sophisticated B2C solutions, the new products are expected to consolidate Primesite'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.
Says Indrajit Sen, President, Primesite: "We have been working in the out-of-home communication space for the last three years. The competencies in delivering integrated OOH communication solutions are now in place. The biggest gainers from this are going to be our clients who will now have information, reports, environment scans on demand and made available online with latest updates."
Giving a global perspective to the growing importance of OOH communication in the total brand communication exercise, Brent Kennedy, Head of DDB Creative, Japan, who was in India recently to conduct a workshop with Mudra's Primesite, adds, "In today's scenario, brands need to communicate with their customers by using the entire spectrum of available communication mediums, both conventional as well as non-conventional, and this is where OOH comes into the picture. It gives the brand the edge it needs at the moment of truth." OOH has revolutionised the way outdoor communication is being looked upon by marketers, and today it has transcended the traditional outdoors, extending to communicating with the customer at various touch points. OOH as a medium has the greatest flexibility in terms of being able to transform ideas and imaginations into reality."
Close on the heels of Primesite's package, comes Aaren Initiative's announcement of launching India's first integrated outdoor planning package. Aaren Initiative, the out-of-home company of Lintas India's Integrated Marketing Action Group, has launched an integrated outdoor planning software — AIPT (Aaren Initiative Planning Tool) — as well as an operations management software — AIMS (Aaren Initiative Media System). AIPT will not only rate and rank outdoor sites in eight cities, but will also have the latest pictures of the outdoor site from different angles, to facilitate a virtual site-selection process, based on ratings, rankings, visual inspection of photographs as well which sites fit the media planning process. With this the site selection process can be scientifically concluded without the need of physically visiting the sites. AIMS allows an end-to-end software-based management of clients' outdoor media investments and tracks operational issues like rates, sizes, estimates, invoices and monitoring. "AIPT is probably the first step that the Indian outdoor advertising industry has taken towards professionalising the outdoor planning process and Aaren Initiative has led this revolution," says Ashish Bhasin, Director, IMAG, Lintas India. "Since the Aaren Initiative is expanding so rapidly and new offers services in over 108 cities and towns, a software like AIMS was necessary to provide streamlined, real-time services to clients. As a part of the expansion drive, we have added on new professionals and invested in a new, state-of-the-art office," he further added.
Emphasising the effectiveness of these software-based solution packages and how it is expected to change the face of outdoor advertising in the country, J. C Giri, Country Head, Activation, O&M, says: "The software packages help in two ways. Firstly, if the research data is authentic, it does bring in measurability and helps in scientific planning and evaluation; secondly, it helps clients to see what they are getting, in terms of site visibility and quality."
In fact, software packages can also help in bringing in instant accountability into the medium. "This is the most cost-effective medium and unlike other media like Press or TV, which are fragmented, the OOH medium is not. Software would bring in measurability and would also ensure the there is accountability. Once that happens, the returns on the OOH spends would be justified with accurate and concrete data and thereby the worth of this medium would be realised and when that happens we would see the `changes' happen," claims Soumitra S. Bhattacharyya, Chief Operating Officer, Madison Outdoor Media Services Pvt. Ltd.
Besides, there have been agencies such as Portland (belonging to JWT) which have always been using software to measure the effectiveness of the medium. Says Arminio Ribeiro, President, Portland India, "Given that there is mention of some level of research measurement for outdoor in India as stated by OOH specialist agencies, Portland India's extensive PSV database (Portland Site Visibility), which has been in practice since inception, occupies a vital role in terms of being able to calculate a realistic audience passing each site (or hoarding)."
Data collected via Portland's PSV is able to give a strong indication of the percentage factor to be applied for each individual site. In addition, Portland has enough data about traffic counts in the Indian market and together with PSV information, is on par with audience measurement systems in other parts of Europe.
Taking the lead in bringing in proprietary software tools, agencies such as Portland and Ogilvy Activation have already been investing in software for a while. Claims Giri, "The agencies which have been introducing technology in the recent past are only following trends set by pioneers like ourselves — apart from Ogilvy, Portland is also having digital support. Ogilvy Activation has a set of proprietary planning tools across the activation platforms and, specific to outdoor, we pioneered outdoor research with `Oscar' and followed it up with digital mapping software called OTS (Ogilvy Tracking Study). This apart, we also brought in accountability by introducing a credible monitoring system."
While software will aid in bringing in accountability to the medium, it would also help industry bodies such as MRUC (Market Research Users Council), which has already initiated a study to bring about accountability in the medium. The study, which is an independent piece of research on the medium, will encompass all major outdoor vehicles including hoardings, bus-shelters, public utilities, lamps and kiosks. It will take into account the various outdoor options, traffic count - both vehicular and pedestrian - and the profile of the audience who are likely to be exposed to the outdoor vehicle. Based on this, the reach and frequency of the outdoor vehicle can be derived and a comparative analysis can also be drawn.
Claims Madison's Bhattacharyya, "The way I see it is that the first steps towards the OOH medium becoming organised and scientific has already happened. That step was when we agencies realised the need for a measurement tool, which is accepted by the industry. Most agencies have their own tool and so do we. But unless that tool is industry accepted there is no point. What MRUC is doing would address this issue and once there is an industry accepted credible tool, I believe more and more spends would be diverted to the outdoor medium for the simple reason that now it can be measured. Once that happens expectations would increase and demands for "quality deliverables" would force the change to happen for the better."
As the future of out-of-home solutions gets a facelift with technology and accountability giving a new dimension to the medium, the future of outdoor advertising seems bright. Portland's Ribeiro sums up the future of his industry, "The pendulum of opportunity has swung in favour of out-of-home advertising. Today, from just a reminder medium, outdoor advertising is now seen as a medium that can be used effectively, both strategically and tactically, to achieve brand communication objectives."