Outdoor advertising badly hit in Kolkata

KOLKATA: A few days ago, when spoke to a cross-section of advertisers, media planners and broadcasters to find out if the current economic scenario had negatively impacted ad budgets, the response was a bit of a mixed bag.

However, when this correspondent undertook a recce of primary hoarding spaces in and around the City of Joy, a different picture emerged.

"The near-empty billboards (many of them just white spaces with telephone numbers) spoke of outdoor advertising suffering on the back of subdued economic sentiments. Usually, with the onset of the festive season, Kolkata’s advertising business eagerly awaits newer opportunities. Not so this year. As compared to last year, we can see that clients have reduced their ad spends by more than 40 per cent as market sentiments are low," observes Ashif Kumar Biswas, treasurer and grievance committee convener, West Bengal Outdoor Advertising Association, and director, Arun Sign Service.

Even hoarding spaces at sought-after locations like Park Street, Park Circus, Gariahat and Girish Park have no takers. So much so, the Rs 300-Rs 350 crore Kolkata outdoor advertising market is likely to nosedive nearly 20-25 per cent in the current fiscal, says Biswas.

Big to small brands have considerably slashed their marketing and advertising budgets to hold back funds with a view to investing in relatively direct factors that affect business.

Sampark Advertising & Media marketing head Kalyan Brata Ghosh downplays the fall in outdoor advertising somewhat. “25 per cent billboards are vacant as of now. But with different packages offered by players, vacancy rates are expected to decrease going forward.”

So why has outdoor advertising taken such a beating in Kolkata? Well, there are a number of explanations.

According to Brand Wagon Media creative director Prantar Chaudhuri, “that most brands are channelling their ad spends into areas like ambient and digital are the primary reason.”

Biswas pins the problem on oversupply of billboards, “There are far too many billboards and the increase of supply has only added to the problem. Kolkata has more than 5,000 billboards, including in areas such as Joka, Diamond Harbour, Airport Gaira and Dunlop.”

Arun Signs has around 15-20 per cent direct hold on such billboards, he is quick to point out.

Not just the number but also the size of billboards matters. In the Kolkata municipal area, the maximum size of a billboard is 60 by 20 feet. But the most popular dimension is 20 by 10 inches for which, clients are asked to shell out nearly Rs 50,000-Rs 60,000 per month (long-term campaign).

Then again, the price differs from location to location, says Biswas.

An outdoor media agency (name withheld on request) reveals that for a 20 by 10 ft billboard, it has to pay a corporation tax of up to Rs 3.60 lakh per year, even if the billboard stays blank throughout.

Also, the sorry state of outdoor advertising is as much to do with who spends on it and when, not to mention how certain media agencies appear to rule the roost.

According to Chaudhuri, while retail, mobile service, mobile hardware, liquor and surrogate are the big spenders, July to October is the period when spending is the highest while January to March are lean months. He expects the market to be okay by Durga Puja though.

As far as the biggies in this business go, of the over 300-400 outdoor media agencies in Kolkata, the likes of Selvel, Arun Sign, Karukrit, Enkon, and Incoda Media Services call the shots. Brand-wise, some real estate projects, Bengali serials and FMCG products from the house of ITC and HUL have an upper hand, “Johnson and Johnson, Emami and Shalimar coconut oil among others do occupy a sizable space,” says an expert.

With a saturated telecom market and big telecom players getting business without really having to spend in the outdoor medium, the practice of telecom operators targeting customers with billboards in every nook and corner of the city has also somewhat stopped.

Yet another reason is corporate and brands planning annual ad spends for TV and newspaper at the beginning of the year itself. Since they get a lucrative package from these media, outdoor is not really a big draw. Ghosh cites the example of Sampark Adverting & Media, which garnered a business of Rs 16 crore in the last fiscal and expects no growth but the same amount of business in the current fiscal.

A media analyst sums up the situation as: “I see less work coming from all clients in general as compared to previous years. The economic crisis has affected greatly the entire media spend, be it on TV, outdoor, radio or any other form of mass media.”

With outdoor ads maintaining a really low profile in the city, what is the state outdoor advertising association currently busy with, we ask. “The outdoor advertising vertical is mostly unorganised. We are making rules on credit policies that we can give our clients. And also ensuring that the two lakh-odd people working in this industry get their dues and don’t face any professional hazards,” Biswas shoots back.

Well, we do wish him luck in his current assignment...

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