Not so OOH la la!

| | Updated on: Apr 06, 2017
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Bengaluru’s citizens recently cried foul over trees being mutilated to make hoardings more visible. But how relevant are these out-of-home (OOH) media today?

Recently, there was an outcry over the alleged poising and pruning of several trees to improve the visibility of hoardings in Bengaluru Environmentalists and concerned citizens gave vent to their shock and anguish over the act on social media. Notices were served to the advertising agency and the owners of the sites, and Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike pulled down the allegedly illegal hoardings.

Even as one awaits all the details, with the Lokayukta seeking reports from the municipal authorities and police officials on the serious allegations, the events turn the spotlight on the relevance of hoardings in today’s digital age. The logic behind this “mutilation” of the trees was reportedly to ensure people saw the hoardings clearly. Now this brings up this question: Is the digital-savvy consumer, who is busy twiddling with some gadget or the other at traffic signals, really looking up at hoardings?

Static, traditional billboards put up invasively at great heights may not always do the trick. Only really clever messaging will divert the consumer’s attention from her smartphone to look around (and not necessarily up).

In India, the outdoor medium is still under-utilised. Barring better reproduction and superior back lighting, the outdoor medium has not been explored well, says Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder, Integrated Brand-comm, a brand consulting firm. Traditional advertisers have to understand “old ways” won’t work all the time, he adds.

Ambient advertising, the future

Marketers would do well to explore ambient outdoor advertising through street furniture, bus shelters, bus panels, foot over-bridges and medians.

The poster campaigns in British and American railways make good use of the outdoor medium. Back home, some of the new-age marketers are discovering ingenious ways with the OOH (out-of-home) medium. Ola audaciously advertised its auto rides in grab handles in a bus, while online brands such as Snapdeal and Big Basket have dabbled with wrapping ads around buses and local trains. Amazon piloted ‘chai carts’ out on the streets to talk to local retailers about e-commerce, over steaming cups of chai, of course. More brands need to think on these lines.

Preserving a city’s character

Brands may also need to bear in mind that, with citizens’ awareness of civic rights increasing, they may not be impressed with hoardings that mar the city’s skyline.

Vinod Hayagriv, Managing Director of C Krishniah Chetty and Sons, a Bengaluru-based jeweller, advocates that no more than 10 per cent of space should be allocated for hoardings. “Such spaces should be small, beautiful, neatly marked-out areas. Hoardings must be non-intrusive, neat in size and specification, and of high quality.” He also calls for clearly published, transparent and non-negotiable rates.

“At no cost should the beauty and heritage of the city be compromised,” says Hayagriv, whose brand has taken a conscious decision to stop doing hoardings to preserve the city’s character. “We will stop being part of the visual ruination brigade of this city.”

Needs professional management

Then there is the issue of illegal hoardings, not just in Bengaluru but in other cities too. Despite the authorities promising to take stringent action against violators time and again, unauthorised hoardings continue to crop up.

With whom does the buck stop in respect of such hoardings? Tree doctor Vijay Nishanth, who has been working overtime to revive three of the 17 trees in Bengaluru whose roots were reportedly sprinkled with acid, believes brands must be responsible and aware. But MG Parameswaran, an advertising industry veteran and Founder,, says it is difficult for brands to monitor what goes up where. Nakul Chopra, President, Advertising Agencies Association of India, says it is the job of the local municipal authorities to ensure discipline and compliance.

Unless there is a proper audit of all the hoarding sites in the city and stringent checks and balances are put in place, it is not easy to monitor the industry, which is not the best regulated medium today.

The industry is in complete “chaos” and in dire need of professional management, says Parameswaran. “There is no clarity in ownership of the sites. Different parties are involved and there is a lot of sub-contracting.”

“Today, the outdoor medium has become a space for unpopular methods … does not have ethics. One agency blames the other or the entire environment,” rues Hayagriv.

Despite the issues associated with the medium, one cannot wish away the outdoor advertising medium, says Parameswaran. It is still a great way for municipal authorities to generate revenues, which can be used to improve the city. But this is not quite the case on ground. “For instance, if a client is paying ₹1 lakh for an outdoor space, only about ₹1,000 goes as government licence fee. Money passes through five hands.”

Obviously, there is a lot of inside-out cleaning to do on many counts!

Published on March 10, 2018

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