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'Innovation is the name of the game'

By M4G Bureau - May 12, 2014

OOH medium is escalating at a faster pace in terms of quality, scale and business. However, this growth will hardly make a difference, until and unless the industry issues get resolved, whether it is the issue of clutter, measurement or business margins coming down. Outdoor Asia speaks to industry veteran, Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media Group, India & South Asia, to get an inside view of the industry's current strengths and challenges.

Anita Nayyar has more than 25 years of experience in both the brand and the agency side of the business.  She has witnessed the OOH industry evolve from hand-painted boards of yesteryears to today's new formats like building wraps and virtual kiosks. As an industry professional, Anita is optimistic about the OOH medium. However, her biggest apprehension is over the fact that the OOH industry concessioners are still talking about decade- old issues, instead of finding solutions.  Presented below are excerpts from a conversation with her. 

What changes have you observed in the OOH industry over the last few years in terms of business, campaigns, etc?

There has been a dramatic change in OOH as a medium. Earlier, one used to see only hand- painted hoardings and formats like 100/20 or 100/40 or 80/40, whereas now you see that it is technologically very upbeat and sound. According to me, OOH has come a long way. The complete role of OOH is no longer what we used to call as being a reminder medium. Also, in the past, the budget left-overs were allotted for OOH, since it was considered only a reminder medium. But today this is no longer so. There are lot of brands that actually launch on OOH. If we leave the TV medium aside and talk about a medium like print, then I think OOH is giving it a run for its money. There are clients who say 'Let's do OOH; we don't know if print is going to be as effective'. It is taking that leap and I think technology is helping in its growth.  For instance, look at airport branding, it is amazing, whether it is the escalators, security belts or anything else within the airport.

Also, today there are so many opportunities available. We have flexes, LEDs  and so many other formats. Let's take the example of a place like Gurgaon. Look at the kind of options that this place has in terms of OOH.  OOH screens are available on buildings. Now, who would have thought that TV in outdoor could be considered an OOH option? If you look at high-rise buildings, you also have building wraps . Cyber City building was in fact the first one to wrap itself for INQ mobiles, our client.  Kiosks, which used to be in a 30/40 kind of a situation, are very slick and smart now from a quality perspective and are aesthetically pleasing  as well. 

Today OOH is not synonymous with just hoardings, kiosks or BQs. OOH is anything that happens in the outdoor space in terms of advertising which gets the visibility of the audiences.  Cyber Hub, for example, has got an amphitheatre and a cyber fan park, which again has been used by a lot of clients, especially to telecast cricket matches wherein you get a huge crowd and this is yet another form of engaging.  Also, from the technology perspective, LEDs and virtual kiosks, besides mall activations with engagement opportunities, special zones created within malls or events to give away experiences are all big opportunities and trends.  Look at the Rapid Metro, where the entire station has been branded for the fist time. So there is indeed a lot of opportunity

I think slowly even clients are realising this because earlier there used to be resistance in putting ads on OOH for the simple reason that there was no measurement. Yes, this industry lacks this and is something that needs to be looked into. Years ago, I think Ogilvy had started something called Oscar to do this, but the problem is it isn't sustainable. The industry needs to come together and pitch in, as it costs a lot of money.    
However, from the quality side, I don't see any reason why OOH as a medium shouldn't score very well. This is something which is already visible right in front of your eyes and you know the kind of traffic that it caters to . Of course, there is an overall slowdown in the industry, but increasingly you will find a lot of clients actually experimenting with OOH. 

It's true the medium is labelled as a 'reminder medium' even when most of the brands are using it as a mainstream medium. So how can this medium actually become more than just that?

I don't blame the clients and agencies for looking it as a reminder medium. If you look at the intrinsic definition of OOH and the opportunity that it provides, it will always be in the area of reminder. For instance, radio was also looked at as a reminder medium earlier. But with the advent of FM and with the way radio is being interactively used today, it is no longer a reminder medium. Today clients and agencies are not looking at radio as just a reminder medium where they play jingles.There is so much of interactivity, activation and engagement for which it is being used today.

I think a similar thing is happening with OOH too. It is also in the interest of OOH media owners and specialist agencies to educate the clients so that the reminder tag gets removed. We as an agency don't see OOH as a reminder medium. I think we see it as a medium which complements the other media and the fact is that there is nothing better than OOH in terms of localisation where you can sweep the whole place with the available options.

 The transition has already happened, so I think it is in the interest of all of us to take OOH to the next level and say that it is not a mere reminder medium.

The biggest struggle for this industry seems ROI. There are a few companies who are trying to work on it. But how do you think this can be done? And what if we don't get any mechanism in place? Is it going to be hurt the medium in any way?

 As far as clients are concerned, any investment that they make needs to have a ROI and accountability. If you go by that definition, any advertising medium has to be accountable. That way I don't think anything is better than digital, which is accountable. TV is accountable to a certain extent, as everybody has accepted TAM as a TV currency or in the case of print, IRIS or INS has been acccepted as a currency. Now, there is no such currency in OOH. Since I have tracked the industry for a very long time, I understand it is difficult. But at our end, we have a portal for all information on the outdoor media plan and on ambient media. We are taking these initiatives from our end to move OOH to another level. I must confess that we are reaping the benefits. The discipline and function is too huge for anybody singularly doing it. So I think it is in the interest of advertisers, agencies and outdoor owners to actually join hands together, which I must say, has happened to some extent because it is important and the industry has been talking about it. But then again, the industry has been talking about it for a very long time. I don't know why and when this will happen, but from our perspective, we are making our own little contribution. I am not saying we are being charitable in doing this for the industry. But the point is that we are improving our product offering, though it needs to be done on a larger level and driven by all stakeholders 
Another issue is that clutter is increasing everyday and business is coming down. What solution do you see to this?

There are two ways to look at it. One is that it is wrong to believe the more is merrier. When there is volume, the value will come down. It is a very simple equation.  Either you look at the more-the-merrier appraoch and at volumes deriving lesser value out of it, or follow an 80-20 rule where your 20% inventory gives you 80% of value. But in this  case, it will only be premium. Looking it very objectively; there is probably some merit in the more-the-merrier approach, because it allows you to experiment and explore so many other forms of advertising that are available. If you are not doing  that, then you get restricted. But it is much neater and less cluttered. But in the other case, when you are exploring more, there is so much more that you can do with the medium. So I think both models to that extent have their own pluses and minuses. It is for us to figure them out as long as it is not hazardous for the city and impacting the lives of people and city as a whole. For instance, in Chennai and Delhi, the governmental body said it was cluttering the city and making it look ugly.  But if the corporations were to plan it a little better in terms of making steady structure, they can add to the overall aesthetics of the city.
We seem kind of stuck on cut-outs, neon, backlits, etc. How can we match international standards in campaigns?

I don't think that OOH restricts creativity or that the creative people don't look at it as a medium which allows them to be creative. The problem with our country is that there are a lot of approvals that one needs to take from various authorities, which becomes very restrictive. For example, I don't see a car or a helicopter being put on hoardings or human beings placed on sites, because permissions are extremely painful. The resistance comes more from within the city, from the government bodies or municipal authorities. If we look at the West and markets like Singapore, it is extremely planned and uncluttered.  I think we need to plan well and permissions needs to be made easy. When a creative person conceives of an idea, the first thing he or she does is to check with the media owner if the particular innovation will be allowed and this, is something that needs to be changed. We even had a discussion at a forum where it was agreed that advertisers, creative agencies and ad agencies had to look at creativity from the media owner's perspective in terms of getting the authority permissions. We have that lacuna in the overall system, which is also one of the reasons why creativity is limited in OOH. I will also add here that creativity is not limited to cut-outs and such and that there are many interesting things that people have done.   

Newer formats like metro media, digital, etc are not really taking off in the OOH medium. Do you think brands are hesitant to experiment or is it that the industry folks are not able to sell them?

I think it is a combination of both. All said and done, in spite of the money allocated on OOH, it does come in a little late in terms of allocation, with the main reason being TV. With the kind of money available, the client has to be brave in experimenting with the medium. But there are clients who actually see it coming and invest in them and reap the benefits later. Fact is that, given the current situations in our country, advertising is looked at as an expenditure and not as an investment. So from that perspective, the budget limitations play a larger role in terms of actually activating the possibilities in OOH. So yes, there are different kinds of clients; those, like I said earlier, who see things coming and just tap them and those, who don't want to experiment, so it is a healthy combinations of both. A lot of the earlier perceived limitations about the medium no longer exist and it is interesting because the more you experiment in terms of visibility, the more possibilities you discover.   

Digital OOH kicked off at a good pace but then slowed down. Do we need to start from the scratch again? 

I don't think starting from the scratch is the solution. I think it needs to be sold properly; the offering has to be spelled out properly. LED is just one part of digital, so I don't know how effective it is. When we look at LEDs, we have to look at the opportunities that the LED display board can offer, which have to be very  creative. With everything going digital, I don't see any reason why the same can't apply to OOH as a medium as well. Yes, there will be limitations in terms of the broadband facilities that we have. I have seen, in places like Bangkok and Honkong, OOH on bus-stops with a bar-code which can be clicked with a cell phone and a sale can happen then and there. So these things need to be really looked at and taken forward. I believe it has to be a collective process to see what the medium can do for a brand and take it from there.            
What is your take on brand's budgets? Do you see a change in the way brands are allotting budgets to this medium?

 There is no data available as it is not possible to track. Also, you can't put a figure on it as it is not about having one size that fits all. The budget completely depends on the brand's requirement and objective. I remember years back, when I was with Ogilvy; we had launched the Shell campaign purely on OOH. It was a very simple creative and campaign in the 90s. We also handled a brand called DLF IPO in 123 cities where the campaign only had the DLF IPO logo and the dates; the idea was just to call for invites. So the budget could vary, from 2% to 10% of the total sum, but that completely depends on the brand objective.

From local to national and now international brands, a range of brands are advertising on OOH. Your own outdoor wing, Havas, has several big accounts like Emirates. What are their OOH ideologies ?

To them, I think maximising reach and impact is important. So typically, if we look at the airline category, it is an inventory which is perishable for them. There is a war that is happening in terms of budget travels and again the question is about who is able to take on inventory faster. A lot of airline brands are advertising on OOH and they have been very successful. For instance, in the case of Emirates, their Dubai special offer was very successful. They have seen the traction and seen how OOH as a medium is able to register in the audience's minds.

So what do you think will drive higher OOH spending?

While I can be a purist and say measurement, I don't really see measurement happening pretty soon. We have been talking about measurement for decades now. But while it will help, I wouldn't go as far as to say that till measurement happens, outdoor cannot be sold. Havas has its own outdoor wing called Havas Active which is doing pretty well. Measurement is a part of it and if it happens, it will be great as we will finally be able to quantify the medium. But having said that, I think innovation is the name of the game. If you are able to able innovate on OOH with new formats, then the medium will see a lot of life and we have already seen that traction happening. If we are able to experiment and convert the available options into a far more engaging offering, then I think it will drive spends on OOH.

Finally, how do you think the OOH industry will look like five years from now?

If you look back five years and compare the scenario to today's, you will see how it has progressed. And I see that progress happening at a much faster pace in the next five years, because of technology, digitisation, availability of options and formats, among other things.

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