Ishan Raina, the former chief executive officer of advertising agency Euro RSCG’s Indian operations, wants to bring people commercial messages on a digital screen when they shop, order a cappuccino, wait outside the hall for a movie, or simply get their hair done. Advertisers like the idea. They’re looking for new ways to reach people, and being where they are is as good a place to start as any.
Raina, backed by venture capital firm 3i, will install 2,500 screens across India to help advertisers connect with people who aren’t watching television or are doing so in such an irregular fashion that it just doesn’t make sense to spend big bucks trying to reach them through the medium. That’s a significant number, a generation of Indians with greater choice and spending power. “The future, therefore,” says Raina, “is in reaching out to these people in places they are likely to be, through LCD screens in office spaces, business process outsourcing companies, cafés, restaurants, salons, malls and multiplexes.”
Over the past decade, television has emerged the most popular medium with advertisers. Over the past five years, though, the medium has seen explosive growth. In 2001, there were around 200 channels from which viewers could choose; today, there are nearly 400. Viewers can pick from 21 news channels, five music channels, and 16 channels that screen movies. Rather than pick individual programmes from various channels and advertise on them, advertisers, Raina is hoping, would prefer to try and reach these people elsewhere.
“Way back,” says the spokesperson for STAR India, the company that runs several television channels including Star Plus, “you only had Doordarshan. A media planner’s job was easy. 80% of the country was watching television. Now people don’t have the time. ”
The old order, of bombarding viewers with repetitive advertising, has made way for a word advertisers and marketers increasingly use these days: engagement. It means that advertisers are now trying to talk to people, not at them.
A case in point is that of Saffola, Marico’s cooking oil brand, which launched a successful radio campaign last year. Called ‘Mission 10K’, the campaign was about the attempt by Ashish Jagtiani, the host of a popular breakfast show on Radio One FM 94.3, to lose 10 kg in three months with assistance from Saffola’s health experts.
Viewers connected with the endeavour; Jagtiani’s diet was usually a popular topic on air. “The campaign got a phenomenal response from listeners who would call in for tips or just offer moral support and encouragement,” Jagtiani says. “The concept was so different that it had become a talking point of sorts, which worked beautifully for the brand.”
“While it did not increase the number of listeners, the concept was successful in creating a strong audience connect, both for us as a radio station and for brand Saffola,” says Shariq Patel, vice-president of operations, Radio One FM 94.3. Jagtiani has since regained the lost weight, and the radio station has decided to run the show again. “However, this time the other radio jockeys will join him,” says Patel. “Each will focus on getting fitter, whether it is by putting on weight, increasing muscle mass or losing weight,” he adds.
Ravi Kiran, chief executive officer of the South Asia operations of Starcom Mediavest Group, a media buying and planning agency, says that advertisers now realize their audiences consist of individuals with distinct tastes. “Now it’s more about you, and your liking photography, trekking, animals, and eating out,” he says.
In some ways, Raina’s advertising model is an extension of the traditional one—advertisements are placed where they are likely to be seen most: publications, channels, billboards.
Some advertisers and advertising professionals are approaching the problem differently. Rather than trying to find the ideal alternative medium, they are hoping to cut through the clutter by, surprisingly enough, fitting in.
Not too long ago, people watching a popular soap opera on Star Plus were surprised to notice that everytime the phone rang in the show, the ring tone was the popular theme that has always been used by Idea Cellular, a mobile telephony company. Sai Nagesh, executive vice-president, Insight, an arm of Lintas, is part of the team that devised the concept for Idea. “It was about touching lives without being intrusive,” Nagesh says. “Our cost analysis showed it worked very well.”
“It’s not like we changed our script to fit in the telephone calls,” says a spokesperson for STAR India Pvt Ltd, of which Star Plus is a part. Since then, he adds, “companies have come up with product placement ideas but you have to see if they are worth it.” He says the element of surprise is becoming very important to advertisers who now work on disguising their messages so that people don’t ignore them.
Last year, when car maker Maruti Udyog was about to launch Swift, it approached 18-20 television channels and asked their inhouse production teams to create ads saying the car was coming soon. “It was to prevent people from avoiding ads,” says Premjeet Sodhi, the head of Intellect, a division of Lintas that managed the project for Maruti. “The thinking was that if we could fuse it with the rest of the channel people wouldn’t avoid the advertisement.”
Audiences will likely see a lot more of that, just as they will see more attempts such as Raina’s. Only, advertisers have to follow their audience into malls, salons, restaurants and multiplexes without being preceived as being intrusive. Raina himself says he doesn’t know exactly how much people will accept.
Partha Sinha, the chief strategy officer for Publicis India, says the underlying problem is that advertisers and companies are yet to understand how much things have changed. “We still rely on the concepts of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘single-minded proposition If anything can be put in a nutshell, it probably belongs there,” he says, referring to the tendency to over simplify things.
YassirPitalwala contributed to this story.