Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

From support medium to starring role

OOH was viewed as a support medium; today, it has moved to the centre of the overall media planning effort.

OOH advertising is one of the oldest mediums globally, as well as in Pakistan. In Pakistan, we can divide its evolution in three eras: hand-painted signage (1947-1990), large format spectaculars (1990-2010) and outdoor to out-of-home (2010 to present). This categorisation is based on discussions with, and assessments by, a number of key industry veterans including Sajid Bari and Muhammad Saeed Ahmad. I thank them for their input.

1.) Hand-painted signage (1947-1990)

Lahore’s film industry contributed immensely to the development of hand-painted boards – some of us may still remember the large format Maula Jatt (Sultan Rahi) and Anjuman portraits painted on cinema façades and their impact in drawing in the crowds. Initially, only a limited number of brands leveraged the medium. Hand-painted boards were generally found at railway stations, promoting electric fans, beauty creams, tobacco and tea. From the 70s onwards, there was a spurt in the usage of the medium.

2.) Large format spectaculars (1990-2010)

OOH was given a boost with the advent of large format spectaculars and digital printing in the 90s. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pakistan Tobacco Company and Unilever were among the first to invest in these new formats – providing both scale and impact. All the top brands soon followed suit.

Along with this came a major shift in pricing. The earlier hand-painted boards cost only a few thousand rupees annually; now, prices went into hundreds of thousands per month. Despite the price, these huge structures started proliferating across the major three cities and the municipal authorities started to impose taxes on them, which were then used to develop the city landscape. In this respect, Lahore owes a lot to the outdoor industry, given that the city’s horticulture landscape was mainly funded by taxes collected from the outdoor media. So aggressively did the authorities collect funds in exchange for permission to erect billboards, that an unprecedented number of structures went up between 2000 and 2010, especially in Lahore and inevitably, clutter began to compromise the effectiveness of the medium. Environmental pollution also began to take a toll. In 2008, the Punjab Government took measures to rationalise the installation of outdoor structures. All billboards in Lahore were removed by the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and by-laws were enacted to prevent their installation. In my opinion, this was a blessing in disguise. The reduction in the clutter enhanced the effectiveness of the medium and brands started reassessing OOH with renewed interest, leading to a demand for further innovation, such as backlit billboards and large cut-outs.


"We will remember 2017 as the year OOH started going digital in Pakistan and digital, once introduced, expands rapidly. In the UK, digital inventories increased from 6,181 to 17,356 (almost a 200% increase) in two years, between 2014 and 2016, and is expected to cross 50,000 units in 2021 (source: Outsmart/ Kinetic). In Pakistan’s case, the important factor will be how effectively all stakeholders leverage digital in terms of creative execution, effectiveness and placement."


With new options coming on stream, the need for specialised planning and execution agencies arose and the concept of outdoor media agencies (OMAs) started taking hold – pioneered by Unilever, with the appointment of Adservice, and Nestlé, with the appointment of Adkings.

3.) Outdoor to OOH (2010-Present)

Until 2010, outdoor was considered to be a support medium to TV and print. The artworks were a basic adaptation of print ads, with little thought going into the effectiveness of the communication. Then, another major shift took place when international specialist agency brands such as Kinetic entered the picture and outdoor started evolving into OOH. This included the activation of new touchpoints in the OOH space, within retail and on-ground. Clients started focusing on rationalising their OOH media planning in terms of target audiences and strategic challenges, with an increasing focus on the quality of the execution. Monitoring and tracking (once a huge transparency challenge) became a standard service offered by all OMAs. Today, tools are available to evaluate campaign coverage, assess creative impact, select sites according to specific target audiences and monitor and track results.

In 2015, Karachi too began taking steps to control the excessive number of structures cluttering the city. Like the Lahore initiative in 2009, this proved a blessing in disguise as industry stakeholders were forced to develop alternative formats to roadside billboards. Today, OOH advertising spaces can be bought across a large variety of locations including cinemas, shopping malls and restaurants; essentially, any public space of interest.

In 2015, the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) appointed Measuring OOH Visibility and Exposure (MOVE) to conduct OOH measurement. Despite the slow traction it has received, this development did provide a number of criteria (reach, frequency, gross rating points [GRPs] and cost per rating points [CPRPs]) for the selection of OOH, based on the target audiences of each brand (rather than selecting the sites most likely to be seen by the brand manager and the marketing directors). This also helped control the inflation afflicting the industry as a result of the arbitrary increase in taxation by the municipal authorities, as well as the higher prices demanded by media owners based on the exceptional increase in demand of OOH.

Today, with more capability and professionalism coming into OOH, brands are engaging OMAs at the strategic level, a paradigm shift given that not that long ago, OOH was viewed as a mere support medium; it has now moved to the centre of the overall media planning effort. The factors contributing to this development are changing consumer behaviour patterns, not least the fact that they are spending more time out of home. There was a time when, during the airing of popular TV dramas, the roads would be relatively empty with people glued to their TV sets. Today, there is no TV show that audiences need to stay at home to watch; they can watch it on their smartphones or watch the repeat in the following days. In fact, consumers are spending 70% of their waking life out of home and finding their entertainment on the go. Another benefit of OOH for advertisers is that it cannot be turned off, blocked or skipped and unlike TV and online advertising, it cannot be so easily avoided. OOH and mobile are becoming increasingly interlinked, and more and more brands are leveraging both media.

We will remember 2017 as the year OOH started going digital in Pakistan and digital, once introduced, expands rapidly. In the UK, digital inventories increased from 6,181 to 17,356 (almost a 200% increase) in two years, between 2014 and 2016, and is expected to cross 50,000 units in 2021 (source: Outsmart/ Kinetic). In Pakistan’s case, the important factor will be how effectively all stakeholders leverage digital in terms of creative execution, effectiveness and placement.

I am confident that with more structure, professionalism, and the introduction of international best practices, we will continue to see growth in OOH in the coming years. It is, however, critical to keep innovating.

Ahsan Sheikh is CEO, Kinetic Pakistan.