Selling through the outdoor...

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The outdoor medium is seductive and persuasive but also largely untapped.
The outdoor medium is seductive and persuasive but also largely untapped.

Harish Bijoor

EVERY medium sells. So does the great `outdoors'. Outdoor life has always fascinated me. But I have always been an `indoors' kind of person. So have a majority of marketing people in every country there is to name in the great marketing game.

Marketing in most societies has been an indoor-oriented game. It starts as that and largely remains that. Very strangely so. While advertising, marketing and branding activities are meant to have a reasonably balanced skew between outdoor orientation and indoor, in most societies, the indoor media have dominated the game of buying, selling and advertising. Outdoor is a medium that is yet to be explored and exploited to its full potential. It has not attracted enough value as yet. Let me begin exploring the issues at hand with a bit of advertising history.

Peek keenly into the way the purpose of commerce has been fulfilled in the last 200 years of modern-day buying and selling. Very crisply.

Rewind to the days of yore. All selling and buying, along with its attendant needs of advertising necessity, was performed rather simplistically. The process was completely 1:1. The buyer met the seller at a common marketplace on the day of the weekend market. This happened in Portobello Street in London just as it did in Peddapalli in Andhra Pradesh.

The buyer displayed his wares for sale. He also used the process of demonstration, depending on what was being sold. If it was a cow, he made the animal stand up, milked it in the presence of the prospective buyer, and even had the cow's teeth examined!. The entire process was 1:1.

And the lead process was barter. The exchange of goods and services of largely equal perceived value.

As the years went by, as barter gave way to monetary systems, and simple exchange was replaced by a common currency of exchange as we see in today's markets, the 1:1 process became difficult to maintain. When the `buyer meeting seller direct' ceased, in came the intermediaries, who stocked the product and attracted the sellers to stock their goods with them for a sale; they got the buyers to throng their outlets for a deal. This is the birth of modern retail as we know it now. In the process, in came the need to advertise the product well before the consumer stepped out of his house to buy.

In the beginning, it was through word of mouth. A person who actually bought something from a retail point went back home and spread the good word around her neighbourhood. This again remained largely a 1:1 format of advertising.

As more years went by, 1:1 word-of-mouth was fuelled on further by 1:1 visits by salespersons to the consumers' homes. You bought a saree sitting in the luxury of your home as the salesperson carrying bundle-loads came to your doorstep. He got your family of decision-makers together before he opened the Pandora's box of goodies for you to inspect, salivate upon and hopefully buy.

But life soon got complicated. The range on offer at the doorstep was just not enough. The shop in the marketplace, therefore, became a destination to visit. And this is when advertising truly took off.

The consumer sat at home. The shop was in the marketplace and the brand message had to reach the consumer to make her stir out of her home. 1:1 was just not enough as a form of communication and word of mouth alone was not enough.

Advertising, therefore, morphed from 1:1 to 1: many. In came the medium of print. It took the advertising message to the consumers' homes in the morning.

In came radio. It took advertising in an audio format into the home and hearth.

In came mass media television, which brought in seductive messaging possibilities that combined the audio with the visual!

Advertising focused on everything in-home. In-home remained the focus of interest.

After focusing on in-home advertising for generations, the world of marketing is now waking up to the power of the outdoor.

Look at the process today. There are three points of importance to the marketer touting both toothbrush and turbo-prop engine. The first is the point where the consumer lives. The home. The second is the point of purchase. More often than not, it is the retail outlet. And in between, is the cusp medium of outdoor. A medium that affects the consumer as she goes to shop and work and entertains herself in the great marketplace at large. Outdoor is, therefore, a cusp medium. A medium that lies in between home and shop. A medium that is waking up unto its own, wanting to bridge the gap that lies between in-home advertising and in-shop point of purchase. The outdoor medium demands to be used to its full effectiveness - that cries to be used to the full meaning that the advertising diktat `use the medium as a medium' demands.

Marketers mostly falter with this medium as they find it easy to use it as an extension of their in-home campaigns in print or television. Very few go beyond this and use the medium to its full efficacy and potential. The guy who put a girl eating her Soupy Snax on a hoarding in Bangalore recently tried it. The guy who saturated the long stretch from home to office in Mumbai with hoardings in serial order used the outdoor medium to his advantage for sure.

But these are efforts far and few. Most marketers just don't understand the potential of outdoors as yet! The future of the outdoor medium is yet to be explored. The potential lies out there largely untapped. The future surely lies in outdoor.

(The writer is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.)

Picture by Bijoy Ghosh

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 19, 2006)
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