This week, I had the opportunity to travel from Mumbai to Pune for work, enjoying a breathtaking drive along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The monsoon season had transformed the Western Ghats into a visually captivating and scenic delight with lush landscapes and cascading waterfalls. However, the picturesque view was frequently interrupted by giant billboards peddling apartments, farmhouses, opticians, cars, and more.
Similar experiences on road trips from Delhi to Narendra Nagar and Mussoorie, and in Mumbai along the Western Express Highway and Bandra Reclamation area, reminded me of the plethora of billboards. Giant LED billboards demanded my attention, with many urging me to watch television shows on various networks. Even in my home turf of Navi Mumbai, pristine locations like Palm Beach Road have seen the rise of LED pole kiosks and other large hoardings. This scenario is common in many urban clusters and highways.
Over the years, outdoor media has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from hand-painted hoardings to cutting-edge dynamic LED displays. Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising, which includes billboards, digital displays, ads on local trains, metros, buses, cinemas, airports, and more, remains a powerful and effective marketing medium for several compelling reasons. It serves as a reminder medium to customers and reinforces the brand’s effectiveness in a direct or subliminal manner. In today’s era of media fragmentation, with a plethora of advertising mediums available, OOH remains the most effective option to reach people regardless of how they consume media. This holds true for advertisers who have a limited sphere of influence like real estate projects, brands with local appeal and similar. It holds a unique power to captivate individuals during over 60 pc of their time spent outside their homes, making them stop and take notice. No other kind of advertising is as widespread and creatively adaptable. The versatility of OOH advertising allows brands to craft remarkable and innovative campaigns that engulf the target audience with compelling messages, leaving an overwhelming and enduring impact.
The introduction of digital billboards has revolutionised the outdoor advertising landscape, eliminating the need for manual labour to change vinyls, a process that previously took days. Now, with a simple click of a button, content on digital billboards can be instantly updated, providing unmatched agility and efficiency to advertisers. Additionally, digital billboards offer enhanced flexibility to site owners, who can allocate the same space to up to six customers, each getting a 10-second slide dedicated to their advertisement. This rotation ensures that each advertiser’s message is seen at least once every minute, maximising exposure and impact. Embracing programmatic advertising will further amplify the advantages of digital billboards, as real-time bidding (RTB) empowers advertisers with advanced capabilities, allowing them to access live geolocation data and fine-tune campaigns in response to real-time insights. This level of responsiveness and agility will ensure that advertising efforts are highly targeted and optimised for maximum effectiveness. This trend is already prevalent in some markets across the world, and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream in India.
For all the good that outdoor advertising media does to advertisers, they are not without criticism. One major concern is their impact on the aesthetics and visual harmony of urban spaces. Critics argue that the proliferation of billboards and digital screens can lead to visual clutter and diminish the overall beauty of cities and landscapes. The worst I have seen is a billboard placed on a boat anchored off Marine Drive. The rapid proliferation of outdoor hoardings, especially in densely populated urban areas, can contribute to visual pollution. The abundance of advertising messages vying for attention can overwhelm pedestrians and commuters, making the urban environment feel chaotic and cluttered. This detracts from the overall aesthetics of the city and challenges the idea of creating visually appealing public spaces. Digital LED screens, while dynamic and attention-grabbing, can also be highly distracting for motorists and pedestrians. Bright and constantly changing content can divert drivers’ attention from the road, leading to potential safety hazards.
Balancing the aesthetics of a city with revenue generation is an ongoing challenge for municipal corporations when it comes to outdoor advertising spaces. While these spaces serve as serious revenue earners, the temptation to prioritise financial gains must be delicately weighed against preserving the visual harmony and appeal of the cityscape.
As my journey along the expressway came to an end and we entered Pune city, I couldn’t help but feel disgusted about the excessive number of billboards in various shapes, sizes, and formats – a lot of them being illegal. This necessitates urgent regulations to preserve the visual charm of our cities and highways. Current cluttered environments make it difficult for messages to stand out, diminishing the overall aesthetic appeal. Thoughtful regulations can create a more engaging advertising experience by strategically placing fewer billboards, capturing the target audience’s attention effectively. This will be a true win-win for all – the advertisers and consumers.
(The author is a senior professional in the corporate sector and writes on varied topics that catch his fancy. The views expressed here are his own. X: @sandeepbangia)