Plain vanilla outdoor ads are gradually becoming more dynamic as billboards are getting smarter and connected. These digitally connected billboards can be bought programmatically, altered in real time, linked to social media networks, and offer dynamic and interactive content delivery.
But it’s still early days. In India, smart digital billboards or the digital out-of-home (DOOH) industry, worth Rs 100 crore, accounts for just 2% of the overall out-of-home (OOH) media industry, according to a report by MAGNA, IPG Mediabrands’ research arm. At the end of 2017, there were approximately 1.2 lakh OOH ad units in the top 30 cities of India, of which around 1,000 screens located in Delhi and Mumbai airports were digitally enabled. The report predicts that DOOH will grow to 5% of the total OOH industry by 2023.
Several brands are going the digital way. In January this year, SBI Life Insurance launched a programmatic DOOH campaign in Maharashtra and Delhi-NCR. The company used the Google Marketing Platform along with DOOH inventory from Lemma Technologies to serve ads on OOH screens, and then deployed cross-device retargetting for those who had seen the ad on the screens.
Meanwhile in October last year, consumer durables company LG and Times OOH sourced data on air quality and displayed it in real time on digital display boards across airports in Delhi and Mumbai to promote LG Air Purifiers.
Indrajit Sen, executive director, Indian Outdoor Advertising Association (IOAA), says that due to the visual superiority of the display and other strategic advantages that technology provides, “digital display rates are double that of static display rates”.
But the cost to brands could be kept in check. DOOH allows multiple brands to block slots on one display board during the day. This lets media owners split the cost of the inventory across multiple buyers, shares Pramod Bhandula, MD, JCDecaux India.
Moreover, DOOH ads seldom translate into sales. Hence, brands are merely using DOOH to create brand awareness. Shilpa Singh, marketing manager, LG Electronics, says, “If sales is the only objective, then DOOH alone cannot be a media solution.”
Static outdoor laws have historically been lax in India, except in Delhi, Gurugram and now Bengaluru. The result is excessive static outdoor inventory, leading to low costs to brands, making static outdoor a preferred medium for advertisers.
In contrast, most Indian cities prohibit the use of digital screens on roads especially in the line of sight of traffic lights. Further, there are laws stipulating that digital ads on roads cannot be animated. “Because of these limitations most of the DOOH inventory is restricted to controlled environments like airports, malls, gyms, cafés and metro stations,” adds Bhandula.
Then there are other unforeseen issues. Nabendu Bhattacharyya, CEO and MD, Milestone Brandcom, says that despite having all the permissions necessary, the traffic police could call for dismantling the digital innovation. “Executing an innovative campaign is sometimes not worth the hassle. At best, innovations in OOH use lights, cut-outs, or a movable element,” he adds.
Many brands prefer to play safe or “take the shortcut” by using the TVC on digital billboards, even at the cost of it being ineffective. “The blame is often wrongly put on the medium, instead of focussing on the creative content,” says Sen.
Often, DOOH media owners demonstrate the ways in which the medium can be used — by relaying live match scores on these screens or update airline passengers about flight status, the temperature at the destination city, etc. None of these are exactly novel ideas. Meanwhile, OOH agencies and media owners have built their own creative teams to develop campaigns that suit the medium.
“Furthermore, the development of new airports, smart cities, malls, and metro stations are making way for the growth of the Indian DOOH industry,” says Haresh Nayak, Regional Director, Posterscope Asia Pacific and MD, Posterscope Group India.
Currently, Pune and Kolkata have DOOH screens on roads. Delhi and Bengaluru may follow suit. “In these places, the demand-supply balance can be restored only by converting around 5-10% of the locations into digital displays,” Sen states. Mumbai could also light up with digital screens post the general elections, based on the recent BMC regulations that make room for digital displays.
Experts fear, however, that with challenges such as municipal regulations, incompatibility with weather and environmental conditions, the small scale of the industry and limited opportunities, DOOH could end up becoming a gimmick in the marketer’s playbook, despite its potential.