Home >opinion >online-views >How Housing.com grabbed eyeballs

It was a simple news report that started the debate. Last week, at 10.30pm—the official deadline for this newspaper to go to bed—an editor got into an argument with a reporter who had filed the story on Housing.com’s advertising campaign. The story said that the online real estate website operated by Mumbai-based Locon Solutions Pvt. Ltd, which broke its advertising campaign in print, digital and outdoor, would launch its television commercial in the next few months.

The editor insisted that the story was incorrect as she had already seen the Housing ad on television. Her colleagues on the desk had seen it too, she argued.

After some bit of squabbling, the story went with the original line.

Indeed, Housing.com is yet to launch a TV commercial. When Housing’s chief marketing officer Pratik Seal was asked about the confusion regarding the advertisement of his brand, he guffawed. The company’s own research showed up recall for a TV commercial where none existed. That’s not all. Seal said he had received calls from some TV channel executives asking why their channels were not chosen for Housing ads!

How is it possible for so many people or consumers to feel they have seen a commercial that has not been created? Seal’s own explanation is interesting: He thinks the creative execution of the campaign done in-house struck a chord because it told a likeable story of the life journey of a young couple via a static medium (print and billboards) rather than through the audio-visual medium. It was a story in motion in a static medium: “People capture a moment in such ads. We were stringing together moments to create the story which moved forward," he says, explaining why people felt they had seen a TV commercial.

That’s plausible.

The campaign features a young couple sharing a pizza, with unopened cartons in the background. In the next ad, they are seen looking for a house. A third shows an expectant mother. A fourth shows a young child playing in her own room. On billboards, the ad changed every seven days as the story moved forward, although 25% of the billboards retained the older ad to retain continuity, Seal explains.

Media buyers have a simpler explanation.

They say the misplaced brand recall was owing to the halo effect of the extensive outdoor media campaign launched by Housing.com and a massive print media blitzkrieg. For print, the company bought jacket ads—four-page jackets initially—in national newspapers in English and regional languages. Like most venture capital and private equity firm-backed e-commerce companies, Housing, too, is burning cash in marketing, and a large part of the 50-80 crore advertising budget it had set aside for phase 1 of such efforts was moved to billboards when the company saw a huge jump in traffic after the launch of its out-of-home campaign.

In seven cities, including the metros, the company reached threshold visibility through billboards. Threshold visibility simply means visibility that spans platforms (despite the ad largely being on one or two platforms). It is kind of a tipping point which packaged goods brands try and reach when they buy spots on television. Housing inundated one medium quite smartly and achieved that threshold. The halo effect of outdoor was so strong that the campaign was naturally associated with the stronger medium that is television. Media buyers say that billboards often come lower in the hierarchy when people try and recall where they saw an ad. Or, simply put: if you remember an ad, it must have been on TV.

Housing pulled off with outdoor what other e-commerce brands are attempting to achieve with expensive brand ambassadors and associations with valuable sporting properties such as the Indian Premier League. The media and entertainment industry report released by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and KPMG last month noted a significant surge in spends by e-commerce companies, which are said to have spent between 750 crore and 1,000 crore on advertising across media.

Backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group, Falcon Edge Capital and Nexus Venture Partners, Housing is planning its second phase of advertising which will launch in May and also run for eight weeks. The television ad will surface only in the third or fourth phase, the company says.

So it may be a while before the television commercial actually shows up. Seal claims he is only just getting into brainstorming sessions with his colleagues.

The out-of-home sector is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 9.8% between 2015 and 2019. It is expected to touch 2,440 crore this year. And Housing.com will definitely have a role to play in that.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing, and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff. Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com

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