The rise of the rickshaw
Published in Mar-Apr 2013
Transit advertising is not a new phenomenon. Particularly in developed markets where every ad impression is valued in a cluttered communication landscape, transit advertising is an opportune method of out of home (OOH) advertising. In recent years, various factors have led to the growth of a new form of OOH advertising, one that uses an otherwise modest medium; the rickshaw.
Growth of a modest advertising medium
According to a study on the automobile industry conducted by the Government of Pakistan, in 2010 there were about 100,000 registered rickshaws on the roads of Pakistan’s cities. Although their shape varies slightly, some features, including a plain rear, are almost universally common; 15-20 square feet of plain rear at eye level, which have recently gained recognition as an inexpensive OOH medium. This benefit in an increasingly regulated and expensive billboard world was fuelled by its affordability.
Rickshaw drivers are currently charging an ad rate of about Rs 200-300 a month. As a result, by placing advertisements on about 10 rickshaws at a cost of only Rs 2,000-3,000 a month, small businesses and low-budget marketers have found an inexpensive canvas to showcase their products and services.
Today, rickshaws are advertising diverse products, services and events. There are ads for retail outlets, political parties, religious events, herbal medicines, tutoring services, generators, office equipment, immigration services, real estate and even web hosting. Lately brands such as Ufone and Zong have found their way onto rickshaws, although big brand interest is limited as they remain concerned with image.
Thinking inside the rickshaw
The full potential of rickshaw advertising has still not been explored and a lot more can be done both on the outside and the potential of the interior remains largely ignored, when in fact it houses something very valuable there – the customer. What other medium can offer the opportunity of continual interaction with customers across various society segments for a time period ranging between 15 minutes to an hour and sometimes even more?
Commuting in a rickshaw, with not much to do, customers have the time to read a leaflet, fill out a small market research survey or send a text message (voice interactivity is not recommended given the noisy environment). Such activities may seem implausible at the moment given the absence of doors (hence basic safety), however retrofitting can be undertaken to resolve this problem. These activities need to be voluntary and should not be perceived as pushing. Training should be imparted to the driver regarding engaging customers. In fact, the driver is an important character in this enterprise and has to be on board; any communication must be acceptable to him.
Doing this requires energy and investment but we are looking at several minutes of engagement with millions of customers in thousands of rickshaws.
First among these is image, particularly for high-end brands. As a low income mode of transport, rickshaws are perceived as a low-quality advertising medium. However for nationally advertised, mass-targeted brands, rickshaws are an opportune medium, which can be further improved by investing in their overall look. Another issue is effective tracking. Keeping track of whether or not a particular driver is fulfilling his contractual commitments is not an easy task and brings with it additional resource requirements and cost implications. In some cases the contractual commitments may not be limited to displaying ads but may also involve the upkeep of the three-wheeler both inside and outside. Efficient management of this medium is a learning curve which will improve with time and experience.
Let’s do the math… about 100 branded rickshaws plying a metropolitan city is comparable to the total cost of one or two category A billboards. It is an investment in uncharted territory but is worth every paisa in an increasingly cluttered communication landscape.
Muhammad Talha Salam is a faculty member at FAST School of Management Lahore. firstname.lastname@example.org
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