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'Our budgets are based on the strength of ideas'

By M4G Bureau - May 14, 2014

Swedish automotive major Volvo Cars has demonstrated immense faith in the OOH medium. In adopting a sniper approach to media planning, the brand directed focus on highly innovative OOH initiatives, such as, the luxury lounge at T3, Indira Gandhi International Airport. Sudeep Narayan, Marketing & PR Director, Volvo Auto India, shares his thoughts in conversation with Outdoor Asia on the OOH medium in India and what it can do for brands. Excerpts:


What role do you see for the OOH medium in automobile advertising? What has been Volvo's towards this medium?

OOH plays an important awareness medium for automotive traditionally, but I feel it is also a strategic medium and should have a firmer place in the marketing strategy decks. Typically, OOH is treated by marketers as'let's have a huge hoarding in front of a congested traffic area and we have achieved our objective'. I feel this is a very short-cut approach and we as marketers need to go deeper than the obvious for OOH to work. At Volvo Cars, our OOH strategy has been'Hat-ke', not just for the sake of being different but actually with an intention of seeking interest among the prospective eyeballs.

What is your average spends on OOH advertising as a percentage of your total marketing budget?

I make sure budgets at the beginning of the year are not apportioned as a percentage for various mediums. Our budgets are based on the strength of ideas that we generate for the brand. Is it prudent to say 10 per cent of the budget is allocated to XYZ medium? Why not 8? Why not 20? If marketing was based on a handbook, there would be a dozen software programmes developed on this stream. Why isn't there any? Having said this, yes our spends on OOH have gone up considerably, but, it has gone up owing to the strength of idea and not just a mere tick box on the marketing strategy. I still do not believe in mentioning a percentage to quantify this question because I think it is irrelevant.

In this highly cluttered automobile market, how has OOH helped you in creating maximum impact and establishing reach? Could you explain with some examples and numbers?


We have taken the sniper approach vs. the carpet bombing ubiquitous approach. OOH interactions at strategic locations have helped us create that omnipresence (in the mind of the prospect, not in reality). Apart from the various initiatives one stands out head and shoulders above the rest -- the exquisite Volvo Cars Lounge at IGIA's T3 domestic departure. It is built to provide the same experience of Swedish luxury as our showrooms across the nation. And this project is intertwined seamlessly with loyalty/prospecting/CRM to provide Volvo Cars a luxury car appeal. It is a unique project in the world not just for Volvo Cars but also perhaps for any car brand.

I know a car brand has done something similar in India but that was more like a display stand and not a proper lounge with CRM, lounge cards, etc. So, we have customers who are provided the platinum card (unlimited access to them + 5 companions/co-travelers). The gold card is on special invitation to VIPs and journalists and is also provided to various databases we have including tie-ups with likeminded brands. It provides unlimited access to the card holder + 3 companions.

Then we have a silver card that is distributed among dealers to handover to prospects and for promotions on digital platforms for a single-person, one-time access. The lounge has restricted access by invitation only but there is a car display which we keep changing every month with a different carline and a different theme.
We are currently finalising unique digital experiences at the lounge as well. The success can be measured in terms of the 1,700+ prospecting data we have collected in less than a quarter. We have been successful in converting 7-8 per cent as well but that is not the primary objective for the time being. The lounge is envisaged more as a'brand shaper' to reap future benefits but we are extremely happy with the conversion results we have seen so far.

We have done another OOH with Electro luminous treatment in 2012 wherein we showcased our active bending light curving in a curved OOH format.

What are the typical formats you look at? And, have you explored any new formats in recent times, like perhaps digital OOH?

The starting point for us is not formats. It is the key message based on a strong idea. Yes, we have explored new formats like digital OOH. The impact to me as a marketer is not on pushing your message across, it rests more on getting a reaction or triggering a thought process with the prospect. We have been successful in delivering that over a consistent period of time. For example, walk-ins to our showroom now seek more information on the automatic braking feature's relevance in Indian traffic (which is unique to Volvo cars). Or they seek explanation on how our seats were designed by orthopedics for optimised comfort. These were the nuggets we feed in our digital OOH communication which is starting a brand conversation.

In terms of regions/markets, which one according to you has the maximum potential as far as impact from the OOH medium is concerned? Which state/region gets maximum OOH budgets?

Our OOH strategy is different for different states/zones. The starting point is behaviour. So, there is a specific reason why we are visible on highways in AP, Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala, for example. People travel a lot by road in these states and the communication we have is 'sturdiness/safety/comfort' of Volvos on highways. States/regions get OOH budgets depending on the short- and medium-term need. We do not calculate percentages for budget allocation. It is difficult to say which state gets more budgets in absolute terms as well. A simple OOH in Mumbai at a premium/strategic location for one month could be the entire year's budget for a small state.

How would you define innovation in the context of OOH advertising? Any recent examples you can share of any of your own OOH innovations?


Lexicon has it that innovation is a 'first time'. I get examples like brand X has done this innovation and hence let us also do this. The second time is not innovation, its following. Often times, the word 'gimmick' is perceived as innovation or an out-of-the box fabrication is perceived as innovation. With due respect to all, who does the innovation? The marketer or the fabricator? Innovation according to me is the idea and not just the execution. One of the sports brands in Tokyo laid real grass on the pavement so that people can experience walking barefoot on grass (otherwise impossible in Tokyo). That is innovation. The tube tunnel in Brazil (if I am not mistaken) where people inside a moving train could actually see a muted film of a watch outside on the tunnel is an innovative idea. The cantilever done by Mini which reads the mini registration plates and has a short personalised message to the owner like 'happy motoring John' is innovation. Of course, the two examples of innovation we did might be unique but there is still so much scope for innovation and we intend to keep our 'dimag ki batti on' to do much more.

What are your main challenges in terms of rolling out an innovative campaign? Are these challenges specific to a state or region?

The main challenge is the conversion of the innovative idea to execution. That's it. Once India has a better execution infrastructure I think we should be able to do more innovation. A lot of times we haven't been able to execute purely because importing devices have been prohibitive expensive.
 
Could you share with us the thought process behind arriving at the creative for any of your OOH campaigns? What are the parameters you look at?

Various. The approach angle, the vanishing point, the position of the Sun, the mood of the on-goers (the mood in traffic in different in the morning vs. evening, the mood in easy intersections is different vs. congested intersection), etc. Creativity is not just art, its science too.

ROI measurement is a highly discussed issue in the OOH medium and there seems to be no final resolution to this. What has been your own experience? Have you taken any initiatives in this regard?

We all know there has been very little progress in this regard, although there are some companies that have made valuable forays into OOH ROI. We have tried to obtain different sales consultants' numbers for different OOH sites to estimate the ROI.

With changing dynamics in the medium, thanks to changing consumer behavior and evolving market, and with the need for newer innovations, do you see the role of OOH specialist agencies changing? What are your own expectations for them?

I think the role has changed already. They work as OOH partners and some of them are becoming strategic partners. OOH is no longer an adaptation of press ads in most counts. This is a welcome change
.
What about outdoor media owners? Any message to them?
We know what we may not have known a decade ago!

Finally, what would make you spend more on the OOH medium? Policy change, perhaps?


Ideas. Ideas. Ideas! I am no one to comment on policies. I think there is always room for improvement.


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