Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Billboards in the starring role

Published Jun 05, 2018 01:43pm
Not long ago, OOH was viewed only as a support medium; today, it has moved centre stage in media planning.
A billboard for Sprite overshadows another one for Coke in Lahore. Originally hand-painted by talented artists, billboards in the early days were often works of art, derived as much from the imagination of the artist as from the brief given by the agency. They were few and far between and clutter was not a problem then. With the introduction in the nineties of digitally printed larger formats, the artists had to forsake their brushes and billboards became ubiquitous, leading to clutter and much public aggravation and then municipal intervention to restrict their numbers. As they become more interactive, digital billboards are changing public perceptions, becoming a source of entertainment with audiences. In 2017, Kinetic Pakistan won Pakistan’s first ‘Campaign Specialist Agency of the Year’ award for South Asia. (photo: Arif Mahmood/ Dawn White Star)
A billboard for Sprite overshadows another one for Coke in Lahore. Originally hand-painted by talented artists, billboards in the early days were often works of art, derived as much from the imagination of the artist as from the brief given by the agency. They were few and far between and clutter was not a problem then. With the introduction in the nineties of digitally printed larger formats, the artists had to forsake their brushes and billboards became ubiquitous, leading to clutter and much public aggravation and then municipal intervention to restrict their numbers. As they become more interactive, digital billboards are changing public perceptions, becoming a source of entertainment with audiences. In 2017, Kinetic Pakistan won Pakistan’s first ‘Campaign Specialist Agency of the Year’ award for South Asia. (photo: Arif Mahmood/ Dawn White Star)

OOH advertising is one of the oldest mediums, globally, as well as in Pakistan. In Pakistan, we can divide its evolution into three eras: hand-painted signage (1947-1990), large format spectaculars (1990-2010) and outdoor to out of home (2010-present).

Hand-painted signage

(1947-1990)
Lahore’s film industry contributed immensely to the development of hand-painted boards – and 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 found at railway stations promoting electric fans, beauty creams, tobacco and tea. From the seventies onwards, there was a spurt in the usage of the medium.


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.


Large format spectaculars

(1990-2010)
OOH was given a boost with the advent of large format spectaculars and digital printing in the nineties; companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pakistan Tobacco Company and Unilever were among the first to invest in these new formats that provided both scale and impact.

All the top brands soon followed suit. Along with this, came a 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 this, huge structures started proliferating across the major three cities and city 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. Inevitably, clutter began to compromise the effectiveness of the medium and 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 bylaws were enacted to prevent their installation. This was a blessing in disguise as 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.

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


This is a paradigm shift, given that not until too long ago, OOH was viewed as a support medium and has now moved to the centre of the overall media planning effort.


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 outdoors started evolving into OOH. This included the activation of new touch-points in the OOH space within retail spaces and on-ground.

Clients started focusing on rationalising their OOH media planning in terms of target audience, with increasing focus on the quality of the execution. Monitoring and tracking (once a huge transparency challenge) became a standard service offered by all OMAs.


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.


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, the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) appointed Measuring OOH Visibility and Exposure (MOVE) to conduct OOH measurement and 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 Point [CPRP]) 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).

Today, with more capability and professionalism coming into OOH, brands are engaging OMA’s at the strategic level. This is a paradigm shift, given that not until too long ago, OOH was viewed as a support medium and has now moved to the centre of the overall media planning effort.


We will remember 2017 as the year OOH started going digital in Pakistan and digital, once introduced, expands rapidly.


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 live; they can watch it on their smartphones or watch the repeat the following day.

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 300% 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.  

Article excerpted from ‘From support medium to starring role’, published in the November-December 2017 edition of Aurora.

Ahsan Sheikh is CEO, Kinetic Pakistan.

First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.