As the digital ecosystem continues to march on, the pressure on traditional media like print, OOH, radio and television to keep up with it is only increasing. However, an elusive Holy Grail in front of every medium is how to devise the best currency or metric that will make everyone, from agency, media owner to the marketer happy.
It is a task that has been predominant in discussions and industry get-togethers for a long time but no medium, not even digital, has been able to come up with an answer that is universally appealing.
Let's focus on this discussion with regard to traditional media. When it comes to print and television, we have seen the often intense feelings that discussions on this topic usually engender.
The private FM sector in India has also long expressed a desire to update and expand its existing measurement system to one that is more robust and inclusive. If industry players are to be believed, then work on this project has already started in earnest.
So, where does this leave the OOH advertising sector? And is this sector in danger of losing its competitive value if other traditional media steal an edge over it in the metrics race?
The OOH Sector As It Stands Today
The less observant might shortchange outdoor advertising, and, why not, it is usually not considered as "cool" as most other mediums. But, outdoor provides a very potent way of reaching out to consumers, both captive and in transit. Over the years, there were fears that the OOH sector might stagnate due to the rise of the digital medium, as was being seen in a few other mediums but, on the contrary, there are many instances, as is being seen in more developed markets, of how the OOH sector can leverage the power of digital.
As we can see above, the OOH sector has seen a steady growth in overall ad spends in the last four years with this growth expected to continue this year too (though the amount might reduce due to the continuing effects of demonetisation and GST).
From the above graph, we can further see that though there was a sharp dip in 2016 (which was a case for most mediums due to demonetisation), the medium is expected to bounce back in 2017.
In this four year period (2013-16), OOH advertising grew at an average rate of 11.7 per cent YoY. The comparable rates for TV, Radio and print are 13.2, 17 and 10.9 per cent respectively (Source: Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook).
As we can see, OOH growth rates outperform print and are not too far behind television either.
How Can A Common Currency/Metric Help?
"A common measurement metric is very important for all media channel as that is what delivers RoI numbers against committed spends. Hence, it is a no brainer that it is supremely important for the OOH medium too," stated Nabendu Bhattacharya, MD and CEO of Milestone Brandcom. He also agreed that due to the absence of a common metric, OOH loses out revenues to competing mediums. "We are taken as a medium that works on 'gut feelings'," he said.
The first thing that a common currency does is that it makes the medium more responsible. Advertisers know exactly what they are spending for and this helps to generate trust.
This could directly lead to the second benefit, which is more respect and influence, something Alok Gupta, Director at Graphisads, says is currently in short supply. "We should first look at treating the OOH industry with respect amongst media peers. For that, clients who have placed huge bets on this sector successfully should come forward and share their case studies with others to emulate. Mainstream media events, other industry events should provide a chance to professionals in this sector to share their experiences. It can be a starting point for industry to build some influence," he told us.
"OOH media definitely needs to have a measurement metric. The credibility of the media is often questioned despite visible impact and returns. In the absence of any measurement metrics, brands have adopted a cautious approach, which has affected the growth of this media and industry. Most of the leading agencies have either created something of their own or are working independently for the development of such a tool. There's a need for a common industry currency in line with the other media formats," said Atul Shrivastava, CEO of Laqshya Media.
Another interesting thing pointed out by Bhattacharya was that OOH advertising in countries like China , Canada, Australia and the UK experienced a nearly doubling in growth rate once a common measurement was introduced. The question is: when can India see the same?
The Problem & Possible Solutions
There have been, and continue to be, efforts made by the Indian Outdoor Advertising Association (IOAA) to bring this dream to fruition. Talking to us a few months ago, IOAA Chairman, Noomi Mehta, informed us that the association is in talks with foreign agencies to carry out a feasibility study in India, which would be a precursor to setting up a common metric for the sector. But the issue is a little more complex than it actually looks.
For one, conversations with agency heads and media owners suggest that there is no consensus in terms of who will foot the bill, which are certainly not insignificant investments, and would be required for setting up the system. This is further exacerbated by the highly fragmented nature of the entire ecosystem where there are a number of very small-sized agencies peppering the length and breadth of the country.
"We have to look at it from a practical point of view. OOH is a very fragmented industry compared to other mediums like radio, TV, print. Not only are there various types of media but also there are small tenures of contracts for media owners also to think about while investing in a common metric. Outdoor media owners are fragmented in any case since most of them are SMEs that have to deal with multiplicity of authorities in every state. Imagine 1000 odd media owners dealing with approximately 150-200 municipal authorities on PAN india basis, unlike print/TV/radio which have to deal with common license providers, usually the Govt. of India," points out Gupta.
In the absence of a common metric, individual agencies, especially the big ones, have released their own solutions. For example, Milestone Brandcom has a tool called Optimizer. Others like Kinetic too have their own proprietary solutions for audience measurement. There even a number of start-ups which specialise in creating OOH audience measurement tools for brands.
"The need of the hour is an industry unified research which is to be followed by all OOH stakeholders as common currency, including clients, to unlock the real value of the medium. A strong single OOH association body should be formed at all India level. It should understand the need of such research and invest in immediately conducting such an initiative. Clients should immediately aggressively start pushing media owners and agencies for such initiatives," opined Bhattacharya.
Another solution that Gupta suggests is to set up a system that works like BARC or ABC to collect data pertaining to viewership, footfall, etc. "Along with that, we can have SEC A/B/C and demographic data for each city to track what is community behaviour like in those cities," he added.
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