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'If you can't say it smartly in 15 secs, don't say it at all!'

By M4G Bureau - August 26, 2013

Content is an area with a lot of scope for improvement in the digital OOH space. Outdoor Asia interacts with Raika Gazder, who heads the content team at Times OOH, and who believes that the reason behind the slow growth in digital OOH content is the lack of knowledge. Here are excerpts from the interview…

Creative/ content is cited as one of the reasons for the failure of digital OOH in India. What is your view? Where do you think are the Indian creative people going wrong with Digital content?

When the failure happened, there were many aspects. As a corollary, we should talk about the success. At Times OOH, we have experienced the same, and feel that if the creative and content are done right, then the media becomes a success. Is content the reason for the failure? Well, that is debatable, because whenever there is a failure, there are several factors -- like the timing, lack of understanding of the medium etc. Times OOH succeeded in digital OOH because the group has a heritage of understanding'Media'. Inthe coming years, the onus of putting up the content and re-purposing the client's communication for digital is going to be on the media owner. If you understand that theroot of digital OOH is different, then 70% of the job is done. Sunder Hemrajani, our MD has, right from day one, emphasized the importance of content as the soul of any digital OOH offering, it is his key vision that has enabled Times OOH to set the benchmark for India. His eternal drive towards innovations, processes and error-free execution is one of the main factors propelling our leap, and as a team we are all mentored to focus more on'what goes right'. So I'd rather elaborate on what can be done right when it comes to content.
How creative friendly is the digital format?

The digital format is extremely'creative friendly'. However, the converse is not true as most of the creative are not'format friendly'.The formats are a big problem today in digital creativity. For example, a creative that comes from Hong Kong is very different from a creative from Istanbul in terms of formats. We have to understand the formats especially given the protocol of most global brands and while handling international clients. When you talk about a full HD at eye level, it needs to be that much sharper and correct in terms of brand colors and imagery. One thing that we have to remember is that a bad creative in full HD will look "full HD bad” and a good creative in full HD will look "full HD good”. You can't get away with a mistake in'larger than life' at eye level. Here you are making a unique content for a unique media, so format sensitivity is integral. Our CEO, Rohit Chopra always highlights the importance of accuracy and relevance when it comes to even the simplest of communications like festive greetings, so we continuously revisit our content mix and find ways to ensure that creativity is balanced with'viewer value'.     
Could you share some guidelines that should be adopted while developing the creative for digital format? Also does the guideline change when it comes to different styles of formats?

India is India and what works in India doesn't necessarily work everywhere else because people's approach to consuming content in this country is very advanced since ancient times. Content is a very old thing in India; examples are the revered epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, classic cases of content consumption. So when you are in a country where content consumption is so well understood, it is very important to have guidelines that are flexible. The communication in a mall would be different from that in anairport. You also have to understand the pulse of the consumer.-For e.g., arrival screen content at an airport has to be different from the departure screen content. Maintaining70% pictorial content is important as well. This is a total game changer. While TV content has audio, digital content oftendoesn't have audio, so already it has one sense less to connect to. But the 70% of pictorial content takes care of that. Also, we try to communicate everything within15 seconds-the ideal slot length, which is not an easy task. We will soon be the first to launch scent technology in digital OOH for this market.These guidelines are very generic which are applicable on all kind of sizes. But some innovations have audio facility and are interactive, therefore depending on thedigital OOH solution, the guidelines vary. The entire design aesthetic requires the use of a certain intelligence i.e. incorporating the understanding of a person's movement in OOH.          
Digital Outdoor Advertising is a mix of many factors -- property location, images, the visual elements, the copy etc. But ultimately what does it all boil down to? The visual, the copy, or the message? Could you elaborate?

The context is the most important, because it is a combination of all factors. And I think all the visionaries at Times OOH who have developed this product were ahead of their contemporaries simply because they understand the context so perfectly. It is not really copy or visual or hardware. Ask this: what is the context in which the digital OOH is meeting your customer, if it is an airport, make it match the airport standards. Consistency in the context is also important. Execution is also very important. Consider things like: where are you putting the videowall, what do you want to say, from how far is the guy going to understand the message and is the customer really in the frame of mind to get the message etc. The best part about digital is that "it is digital” and it is going to grab the eyeballs.So instead of saying something stupid in those 5 seconds, you rather not say anything at all. All other things revolve around context predominantly.
There don't seem to be too many creative people working specially in digital content. How can we kindle their interest towards digital?

The onus of that would be on the media owners. Times OOH has been able to do things different from what the other airports are doing. Our content is to do with pictures, our ads are muchmore monetized and we are probably the first OOH network, which has been able to do monetized content. We have been able to monetize our content in the second year; I think this is big. When we started, there were a lot of speculations and people were wondering if we would be able to sell this. But I think the sales team did a fantastic job in believing in us, in a short span we have rolled out over 140 campaigns, many of which have lasted a year. Now there are a sizeable number of agencies who propagate digital OOH and they experienced the infinite options right in the first 6 months of operations. Today 90% of clients whose slots are running for even a short period of two months are changing their creative campaigns at least thrice, which means that the agencies have realized the flexibility of the medium and they are running different creatives within the same media budget. So the day will be when account managers and creative directors realize this and I would say a lot of them are already realizing it.

But there is a notion that creative guys don't give much preference to digital creativity. Are brands ready to accept or experiment when it comes to digital? What reactions have you received from your clients?

You are right, in-fact when I decided to move to doing OOH content from being a creative director in a mainstream agency, everyone I knew told me to control my imagination and get real. But I remember my first three-minute interaction with our MD Sunder, in my interview: his vision was so clear. In an instant I said I have to work with these guys who have the guts to dream of a Times Square' in India. Creative guys alone can't change the industry; it is the media that drives the change. Also now client hesitation is weaning and more clients are confident after they have tasted the success of effective digital OOH. Creativity is so magical in its pure sense and digital OOH is equally alluring, it's only a matter of time before the desire to experiment spreads across the creative community.

What are the other main challenges inherent to the digital format? Do you see any solutions to them?

In Times OOH, most of the challenges have been overcome because there is an understanding regarding the source of the challenge. Also, a strong leadership steering the organization helps in overcoming them. These things are not learnt in a day. So our first and biggest challenge was to change and refresh our content with live updates. Today, we have content and creative mix where we are the only digital OOH player in India to put live updates i.e. the weather feeds coming directly from the India Meteorological Department. The second challenge was the legal implications,since there is some ambiguity when it comes to any new media.Digital OOH is very new in India and people try to approach it either like web or like TV, fortunately it is finding its own identity.The third challenge was the ownership of what we were putting up there. There were many doubts clients had over file formats and stuff. So to put an end to the confusion, we have tooled up with all the relevant software available in the market to ensure that we are equipped to access creative videos and even raw files irrespective of the format, convert it and put it up. We have all the necessary backendconverters and tools for renderingand repurposing ad content.

Any particular favorites that you would like to recollect and share with us in terms of an interesting copy or other creative elements, some special moments perhaps, or anecdotal memories?

Your first few campaigns will always be close to your heart simply because of the entire struggle involved to put it up. I think from a content point of view, the first campaign we did with a vertical video is one of my favorites. I think it is still considered one of our biggest milestones. A camera has a horizontal orientation but the entire concept of vertical video is already practiced in UK. We are very futuristic and like to engage with new media, but here in India our cinematographers and photographers are not really shooting with vertical orientation because vertical digital OOH really is very miniscule and they are shooting 80%of the content for TV. So when we played the vertical video in full HD on our vertical screens, itwas a big moment. My personal passion for shooting videos and photos is an added advantage for me as I shoot vertical content keeping the media in mind. But the good thing is that lot of people have now started shooting in the vertical format for their vertical digital OOH ads as well. Also, scent technology is in the process of being tested, our first few scent campaigns will surely be special to me. My next favorite is going to be the day we roll out 4D content. It is this imagination of possibilities that fuels our creativity.We have created Channel-T, our mascot is a T-BOT and we are focused on dishing out creativity and interactivity for every client.The trait of a good media is to show by example what is possible on it.

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