Can ambient media rain on transit media's parade?

As the OOH industry enters a crucial 2014, many expect transit media to continue its explosive growth trajectory as it did in the last couple of years. However, could ambient media be the dark horse in the race?

e4m by Abhinna Shreshtha
Updated: Feb 21, 2014 9:31 AM
Can ambient media rain on transit media's parade?

The new breed of client expects not only visibility, but also engagement with the customer. One of the obvious ways to do this would be to use digital signage and hoardings, but there are still government obstacles that need to be cleared in this segment before it becomes more widespread. Some, like Haresh Nayak, MD of Posterscope, are of the opinion that it is captive/ ambient places like malls and coffee shops where people actually sit and talk and those are emerging as favoured OOH medium for advertisers.

We have seen some innovative use of advertising in malls, especially over the last few years. One example that springs to mind is Tata Photon’s ‘Robot’ campaign that had won the Bronze in ‘Most Innovative Use of Indoor OOH Media in a Point-of-Purchase Environment’ at exchange4media’s OOH Advertising Awards last year (

Another notable campaign was the McDonald’s McSpicefest – Smoking Ears campaign, which made great use of not only ambient media like malls, corporate spaces and residential buildings, but also transit media like bus stands (Milestone Brandcom spices up McDonald’s outdoor play).

However, other OOH players are still unsure about the relevance of ambient advertising. When asked about how effective advertising in malls is, Sunder Hemrajani, MD, Times Innovative Media said, “I don’t know how successful advertising inside malls will be. Most of the place is anyway taken up by the in-house stores. Advertising outside the mall, on the road, is actually a more viable option.” Times OOH handles inventories for Mumbai Metro, Mumbai Airport and Delhi Airport. Hemrajani feels that transit media will continue to grow especially with increased infrastructure development in the coming years.

Sanjeev Gupta, MD of Global Advertisers, though agreeing that there are advantages in terms of engagement with ambient media, pointed out that it does not have the reach of traditional OOH or even transit media. “Who will be able to see these ads? Only the people who enter the mall or the coffee shop,” he said. One perspective given by Chetan Shah, director of Ventures Advertising, is on how many people pay attention to advertisements in places like a coffee shop. “Most people go to such places with a fixed agenda; either for a meeting or to catch up with friends. They will not get swayed by branded ads or even digital OOH if they are too busy talking with someone,” he said. He further added that what is needed is more creative advertising to catch people’s attention.

Nayak agrees that it is difficult to get data about ambient media advertising. In an earlier interview with exchange4media, he had said, “There is scale and scope in transit media, so it will definitely keep growing, but the volumes will be driven by ambient media. As media planners we know where the money is going. It definitely has a lot of potential.”

To cite an example, IMARC Group, in a recent report, said that transit advertising in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22 per cent during 2013-2016. Similar bullish trends have been noticed by other research firms too. According to Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook report, transit media grew at a rate of 28 per cent in 2012 as compared to a growth rate of 2 per cent for traditional media. The same report had forecasted transit media to continue to grow at the rate of 10 per cent in 2013. Studies on the growth of traditional OOH sector and the current blue-eyed baby—transit media are easily available. However, there are not many comprehensive studies available on how ambient media performs. Activations are relatively easy to keep track of, but what about the actual advertising?

Of course, the thing to be noted here is that both Gupta and Hemrajani are speaking from only an advertising perspective. Malls and other hangout places have always been a favourite for activations and other brand activities due to the large number of footfalls and maybe that is where the opportunity still lies. But, citing the example of a prominent mall in Mumbai, Nayak informed that the ratio of spends on branded advertisement and activation typically is 80:20. Perhaps, with better data on actual spends in ambient/ captive media, the confidence in this field will increase among OOH players.

With engagement becoming paramount for advertisers, OOH agencies will have to start thinking out-of-the-box and more often to capture eyeballs, whether it is for ambient or transit media.

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