The women were dressed in fashionable gym gear, sported earplugs connected to their personal music systems, and were running on a treadmill, an everyday sight at upmarket gymnasiums around India. Only, these women weren’t in a gym, but on a crowded Mumbai street. And they weren’t gymming but earning a living, advertising Sony Ericsson’s Walkman phone and Reebok’s shoes.
Indian advertising’s latest trend is being played out in most large cities, from New Delhi’s Moolchand flyover to Mumbai’s Shivaji Park to Kolkata’s Park Street.
With traditional media such as print, television, and radio crowded with advertisers and their messages, companies are turning to a unique medium of advertising: people.
Thus, when Paprika Media decided to launch a Delhi edition of Time Out, a city-listing magazine, it hired a dozen young people and made them read the magazine (displaying the cover prominently) in crowded places such as malls and restaurants. “This approach is very contextual as the readers we are targeting at these places are doing exactly what we are writing about,” said Mahendra Swarup, CEO, Paprika Media, which is a content partner for Mint.
“Some 30% of the total Rs70 lakh advertising budget of Time Out Delhi is devoted to such below-the-line activities,” he added, claiming that this was an “efficient way to beat the clutter.”
Time Out wasn’t the first magazine in recent history to try the reading-at-crowded-places stunt; the Indian edition of popular celebrity gossip magazine Hello! did the same thing in Delhi and Mumbai, positioning its “readers” on flyovers and crossroads.
“Human banners and hoardings are mostly used for new launches to create a quick impact and spread awareness, but many established players also use this medium because it is cheaper and effective,” said Sanjay Shah, chief executive officer, StarSight India Pvt. Ltd, an out-of-home advertising agency.
Hindustan Unilever Ltd recently did just this by creating a high-rise platform beside a hoarding for its Bru brand of coffee, and having four people pretend to be at a formal sit-down dinner.
Using human hoardings or human advertising, as some advertising executives term it, is an economically attractive proposition, although its utility is limited.
Actors or “live advertising mediums” can be hired in most large cities for between Rs150 and Rs800 for a four-six-hour shift. Models, such as the ones used in Sony Ericsson’s campaign, are likely to cost more. A hoarding can set a company back by as much as Rs500,000 a month depending on the locality. In some cases, companies do not even need to scout for a location to stage their live advertising. They can do it in their own offices or retail outlets.
When BBC World wanted to advertise its show What Affects the World Affects you, it decided the best way to do so would be to hire some people, seat them in its display window, and show passers-by how happenings in the world impact their own lives.
Benetton India has used people instead of mannequins in its store windows.
“Innovative marketing initiatives are developed by retail companies to provide a unique way of generating brand awareness. All retailers today realize the importance of wooing and retaining customers for an enduring relationship, particularly in the light of tough market competition,” said Sanjeev Mohanty, regional director, sales and marketing, Saarc, Southeast Asia and Australia, Benetton India.
Shah expects the trend of using people as advertising mediums to accelerate. He said this kind of advertising would soon account for 10% of total advertising spends on outdoor media such as hoardings. In 2006, outdoor media spends in India were just short of Rs100 crore.