Will OOH industry see a revival during Durga Puja?

Most experts say the OOH spend has gone down by more than 50 per cent

KOLKATA: Even with Dashami a week away, the city of Kolkata lacks lustre. The usual crowd of revellers who throng the streets, flitting from one pujo marquee to another, is significantly smaller. There are fewer lights, fewer billboards, and fewer hoardings. Although, the number of pandals has not reduced but the anticipated footfall is expected to go down especially with the latest Calcutta high court order. All of them are strictly adhering to the West Bengal government’s guidelines to check community transmission of Covid2019.

During Puja, these pandals turn into a hub of outdoor and on-ground activities. Brands try to leverage every corner of the pandals to create a visual impact and making their presence felt starting from the overhead gates to pillars, stage, stalls, and other parts of the pandals. Several brands release new campaigns, initiatives and products during this time and leverage the massive footfall at the pandals for sampling of its products.

Clearly, business isn’t booming for out-of-home (OOH) industry in the market as it traditionally does during the festive season.

Vibgyor managing director Ankur Kalra says brands are spending very cautiously for out-of-home activities, even during Durga Puja. Although they have started spending some amount on TV and digital but on-ground reality is different this year. According to him, all of the brands have deferred their marketing spends to 2021. He has noticed a 75 per cent reduction from all the reputed brands in on-ground activities especially.

Ad spends on on-ground activities are moving to virtual modes. Since there are fears of crowd gatherings despite restrictions, one bad incident could lead to a PR disaster, adds Kalra. In overall OOH, if the brands were spending Rs 100, the spending has gone down to less than Rs 40 this year.

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R W Promotions owner Venkatesh Srinivasan echoes Kalra’s bent of mind, saying as brands want to maintain safety standards, they have several questions in mind such as: which are the containment zones, which parts of the city are safe for activations. However, he is more sanguine of a revival. His view is that spends on outdoor are slowly coming back and should go up more during Durga Puja since the government is also supporting celebrations with safety standards.

He goes on to add that outdoor activations are key, despite digital campaigns. In his view, many people are still not comfortable seeing a product in digital ads and buying it later.

Moreover, coming off the downturn of the last seven months, the market is considerably more enthusiastic right now with the onset of festive season. FMCGs and automobiles are currently the top spenders in outdoor campaigns, followed by consumer durables and mobile manufacturers. Other than that, beauty brands are spending but very less. Overall, marketing spends could take a 50-60 per cent dip in terms of outdoor and 70-80 per cent in on-ground activation.

Another executive who is extremely gung-ho about the revival of the outdoors is Laqshya media group CEO Atul Shrivastava. Says he: "The spirit of Calcuttans during Durga Puja is indomitable. The festive spirit started late, but with the government’s go-ahead for puja pandals, everyone has become quite enthused. Keeping in mind the precautionary measures, people are out on the roads and market areas are seeing a healthy flow of customers. As per data generated through Sharp, Laqshya’s in-house measurement tool, traffic in Kolkata is currently 89-92 per cent of normal times. So, we see that situations are coming back to normal, aided by the festive season."

According to him, most brands have come up with communications catering to the sentiments of Notun Pujo. He adds that no brand wants to miss the opportunity to advertise during Durga Pujo in Kolkata. Even in the current situation, many brands in the jewellery, textiles, retail, garments, footwear, automobile sectors are spending their pent-up OOH budgets. FMCG brands are also advertising, especially for sanitising products.  In addition to that, OTT platforms and entertainment channels have stepped into OOH media to promote new shows and programs. Although clients are not spending 100 per cent as compared to last year, current spends stand at 60-65 per cent.

While Shrivastava speaks about entertainment brands, the biggest Bengali OTT platform Hoichoi has undertaken an outdoor campaign this year too. The brand’s campaign for Durga Puja speaks of situations which everyone is facing daily due to the ongoing pandemic and how Hoichoi can make them feel better with its vast offering of personalized entertainment, Hoichoi co-founder Vishnu Mohta shares.

The entire campaign has been replicated on the out-of-home format also. The streaming platform has erected temporary banners all over the city during pujo days. A mix of 600 banners and 100 big facades have been used for this promotional activity.

However, just three days ahead of the festival, the Calcutta High Court passed a verdict declaring Durga Puja pandals to be no-entry zones for visitors. Only organisers will be allowed inside the pandals, limiting the number to 25 for big pandals and 15 for the smaller ones. The order can negatively impact the brands that were supposed to finalise outdoor spends this week.

For larger pujo committees which rely largely on corporate sponsorships, this slump in ad spend is a worrisome turn of events. Ekdalia Evergreen, which is among the top draws every year, has seen nearly a 50 per cent drop in sponsors, club secretary Gautam Mukherjee says. Usually, 60 per cent of the expenditure is covered by sponsorships every year but the number has gone down to 10 per cent this year.

Another mid-budget puja committee, Telengabagan, has witnessed the same trend. Amrit Shaw, a puja committee member, says that the usual sponsors have also backed out leading to more than 50 per cent decline in sponsorships. Among the few brands which have come on-bard, he names Coca Cola, ITC, Kwality Walls.

While there is derring-do spirit amongst some players, others seem worried. Hopefully, goddess Durga, will come to their and West Bengal's rescue and smile benevolently on her worshipping followers. And there will be no looking back thereafter. 

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