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Guest Column: Outdoor – Then and now

21-June-2012
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Guest Column: Outdoor – Then and now

The late 90s saw the emergence of new form of printed advertising in India, courtesy arrival of vinyl/ flex printing technology on large formats. It offered the luxury of replicating everything that a print advertisement could carry and put it up on a format size of your own choice. The freedom of ‘column per centimeter’ to ‘feet per square meter’ revolutionised the outdoor industry and its demand.

The tedious task of putting up the scaffolding and hand-painting gave way to swift and sleek printing and instant mounting. The stunning size visuals with the clarity of a print medium became the fancy of every advertiser. Suddenly, the demand for OOH medium started registering 12-15 per cent growth year on year. Marketers started allocating larger budgets and the medium became an eternal part of almost every market plan. However, the media itself was not able to raise its presentation level. It also lacked in offering the measurement to advertisers making it difficult for them to draw matrix of RoI. As a result, the enthusiasm of the marketers turned into confusion and they started groping for the authenticity of the value, they were getting against the rupee spent. Hence there emerged, the era of outdoor specialist agencies in India.

The outdoor specialist agencies, however, could graduate only as planning/ buying and execution experts. They didn’t have anything more than this to offer to meet the campaign objective. They never bothered to understand how the efficacy of this medium can be enhanced and how the client be given clarity than confusion on the essence and business model of this medium. The outdoor medium, however, continued offering stunning visual impact and helped brands to become talk of the town. Remember Home Trade or 555 cigarettes? Where did you see them or do you recall noticing them? Hence, there was another twist in the outdoor saga in India and what started and became the biggest dilemma of this industry – it became ‘a necessary evil’. You can’t leave it and you can’t take it!

There was no research, no data or post campaign analysis or dip stick study, which could help measure the impact of OOH campaigns in general. Yet, OOH continued to remain the part of the marketing plans as the strategists at the clients’ end insisted on it. The marketing team and the agencies struggled to define the best location, best site and most competitive rates. Media specialist agencies were never challenged earlier to offer outdoor solution, hence it was not in their knowledge domain and they opted out of it and the outdoor specialist agencies became the choice from agencies to the client.

The OOH agencies became the ‘angels’ of the industry, offering everything under one roof. There was, however, no study, no traffic research, no visibility index or rating and gut feel or self assessment remained the evaluation criteria, even for the experts of outdoor in OOH agencies. The result – it became free for all. Disasters of academic career and rejects of various professions too, became media specialists and custodians of the OOH ad budgets of accomplished corporates.

Intrigued about the stories and experience floated by OOH specialist agencies on the functioning of the outdoor industry, clients’ expectations came down. In any case, there was no measurement available and, therefore, the accountability never mattered. The new low of ignorance or the negligence of this medium, however, came to the fore when the creative used for a press advertisement was replicated on OOH medium as well. Imagine a communication artwork for a format, looked at from 17 inch is also used on a medium, which is looked at from minimum 17 feet!

The average time a reader spends with print medium starts from a minute, while for OOH medium it ends much before a minute is completed. The shortcut on creative adaptation and last minute finalisation of the OOH plan deprived the clients from utilising the medium to its true potential. Specialists and non-specialists never insisted that outdoor medium can be more effective if we start working on outdoor special creative. An outdoor friendly creative communicates in 7 seconds… If we spend a little time and extra money, it would double the strength of the rupee invested in this medium.

Of late, clients, agencies and specialists have felt the importance of creative and have started working separately on it in some cases. Creative unit or cell is a must now at many outdoor specialist agencies and they help adaptation of creative to suit on OOH formats. I recently noticed one consumer electronic brand being mounted on three adjoining ad panels. All three were in three different colours and different font sizes. It was a pleasant surprise to know that these are the test prints and client will finalise one, only after seeing the actual impact of every visual. This really is welcome and such serious focus, which enhance the reach and impact of the OOH medium. Another welcome change is the innovation in creative. It is becoming common in every new OOH campaign in the market. This is possibly the strongest proof of the need for outdoor special creative, which will change the face of this industry.

A great outdoor creative will help bringing down the number of units utilised in any campaign. Effective visibility will come from limited number of units itself and numbers will not play the big role. This will help restricting the clutter of existing and growing number of just a vinyl mounting structure in every corner of the city and media owners will get the requisite returns on their investments on up-gradation and quality of outdoor medium across the country.

The author is Chief Operating Officer, Laqshya Media

 

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