Uzma Khan, Head of Media, Unilever Pakistan, on why the industry needs to adopt and invest.
- The most innovative change has been the incorporation of digital technologies in OOH, particularly in Lahore, where many digital screens, streamers and pole signs have been installed. Internationally, this is a common phenomenon, but in Pakistan, most billboards still use static images and skins and this is something Unilever would like to change.
AYESHA SHAIKH: What prompted Unilever to organise the vendor convention platform?
UZMA KHAN: There was a realisation across the industry that there is a lot of clutter in Out-of-Home (OOH); it was static, run-of-the-mill, boring and no campaign was really standing out. In fact, this was defeating the purpose of OOH. Unilever began speaking to their agencies to encourage them to start thinking digitally. The big idea in OOH is to develop synergies with digital because conventional OOH practices have become redundant. Digital OOH breaks the clutter by engaging customers with experiential marketing. Since the last two years, there have been ongoing conversations about revisiting OOH and this led to the first vendor convention platform in September.
AS: What purpose does this platform serve?
UK: This is an initiative Unilever Media have undertaken to educate OOH vendors, advertising agencies and technology providers about the international trends so that they start thinking and doing things differently. This is an ongoing process and we will be meeting with the stakeholders again to discuss new developments that have taken place and analyse what progress has been made.
AS: Who are the stakeholders and what was their response?
UK: Initially, there was a lot of reluctance and resistance. However, once we won a PAS Award for the LUX Style Awards (LSA) billboard with Mahira Khan inviting people to be a part of the event, the stakeholders realised that conventional OOH is no longer enough to generate talkability for brands. Digital OOH had become the new focus and it was then that we invited the stakeholders in OOH to come together on one platform. In addition to Unilever (representing the advertiser), there were technology providers, OOH vendors and advertising agencies, making it a four-party platform. The agenda was to listen to everyone’s side of the story, understand the issues and convey our vision that OOH has to go digital because soon, there will not be another choice. Expecting the entire OOH advertising industry to be structured and digitised overnight is unrealistic, but the planning process for this shift needs to start now.
The most innovative change has been the incorporation of digital technologies in OOH, particularly in Lahore, where many digital screens, streamers and pole signs have been installed. Internationally, this is a common phenomenon, but in Pakistan, most billboards still use static images and skins and this is something Unilever would like to change.
AS: Why is Unilever spearheading this industry transformation?
UK: Unilever have been an industry leader in media and advertising in Pakistan since 1947 and therefore we consider it our responsibility to develop the industry, help vendors evolve and introduce changes. The industry tends to follow what Unilever do, so the onus is on us to be proactive.
AS: Is this a global Unilever initiative adapted for Pakistan, or developed specifically for this market?
UK: This is for Pakistan only. OOH is a national medium, not just an urban phenomenon like digital; when brands use this medium, they are talking to consumers across Pakistan. Research indicates that it is the second most effective medium to develop consumer awareness and for some brands, OOH has proven to be more effective in building brand equity than even TV. This puts the onus on all industry stakeholders to extract the maximum from this medium. People are constantly on the move and OOH is always there in front of them, unlike a TVC which runs in a specific slot and for a set duration. It is only logical that brands start exploring how they can make the best use of the 24/7 advertising space available to them. Personalised, clutter-breaking and out-of-the-box OOH campaigns, like the one for Lifebuoy ‘High Five’ screens and LSA last year, are those people will remember.
AS: What developments have shaped the OOH industry in the last few years?
UK: The most innovative change has been the incorporation of digital technologies in OOH, particularly in Lahore, where many digital screens, streamers and pole signs have been installed. Internationally, this is a common phenomenon, but in Pakistan, most billboards still use static images and skins and this is something Unilever would like to change. Digitising OOH is a challenge; brands need an audio-visual representation to register with consumers and this is missing in conventional billboard advertising.
AS: Is digital OOH equally effective for all brands?
UK: It depends on the target audience. Obviously, if the target is rural then there is no point in spending money on OOH.
For an urban brand, there is all the more reason to do so. For instance, for this year’s LSA airing, we set up a digital kiosk with a celebrity interacting through live video with people and it created a buzz. If we had put up a regular billboard with the dates and timing of the event, people would have walked past it.
AS: Despite the promise of increased awareness and recall, digitising OOH has a cost attached to it. Are all stakeholders willing and able to make the investment?
UK: Costs will increase across the board, but it is a trade-off. For the extra expense, you get more eyeballs. Remaining restricted to conventional billboard advertising is safe and inexpensive but I believe in the mantra of ‘fewer, bigger, better’. The stakeholders have responded positively and there is excitement. The cost differential is a factor but this is what is going to create more message relevance. Unilever believe in doing things in a disruptive manner to stay ahead of the competition.
When the billboard ban came about, the industry almost collapsed, but it was also when 3D advertising took off. Since then, digital ad spends have been growing steadily (compared to print and radio) and it would be foolish to ignore this trend when it comes to OOH.
AS: Apart from the ban on billboards by the Supreme Court, what other issues are affecting the growth of the OOH industry?
UK: The industry needs to be streamlined. There is no regulatory authority, so there are no controlled pricing mechanisms, tariffs or a fixed formula for price increments, which is why no one knows what the real ‘price’ of a billboard is.
It is the responsibility of the outdoor associations to ensure that site owners do not arbitrarily charge prices. Measurement of Outdoor Visibility and Exposure (MOVE) – an OOH organisation – has introduced an audience measurement system, but it needs to become the industry currency, the way Peoplemeters is for TV. Once this is done, brands need to work on deriving useful insights based on customer data and this is not happening at the moment. When the billboard ban came about, the industry almost collapsed, but it was also when 3D advertising took off. Since then, digital ad spends have been growing steadily (compared to print and radio) and it would be foolish to ignore this trend when it comes to OOH. As far as Digital OOH is concerned, rather than adopting the technology itself, the challenge is changing mindsets so that brands, agencies and vendors start thinking in terms of ‘digital first’. Price will be an issue because bringing in technologies, customising and deploying them is expensive, but ultimately, if that is the only option available, the industry will share the cost. Advertisers will be willing to bear the additional cost burden if they are assured of a better product.
AS: How does Unilever see this initiative evolving and what are the objectives going forward?
UK: We plan to continue the dialogue with the stakeholders and monitor developments in OOH. A crucial part of the plan is to identify the changes technology providers and OOH vendors will bring since the first discussion earlier this year. Although digital has made inroads in OOH, there is still considerable untapped potential and this is where the vendor convention platform has a crucial role to play.
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