Ambient media no fad

  • Business
  • Saturday, 08 Mar 2003



BIG Events Sdn Bhd, which sells advertising space for Putraline (formerly Putra-LRT), has done a lot to popularise advertising and promotions at the stations and on the trains.  

At the stations, commuters might have seen benches wrapped like Kit Kat chocolate bars. Or they might have received a free hair wash as part of a Dove campaign.  

Aboard the trains, they could have encountered life-size pictures of people holding mobile phones, realistic enough that they could have been mistaken at first glance for real commuters. 

Major marketers such as Nestle, Unilever, Maxis, Perodua, and Sony have all come on-board.  

And despite the medium being relatively new, advertisers show no lack of creativity in communicating their brand messages. 

Unilever wanted to convey the softness of its shampoo, so it limited the use of rigid advertising materials. The ads it posted on the pillars were printed on cloth. And it hanged a satin cloth from the concourse area’s ceiling which cascaded down the escalator – shampoo-like – into a giant Dove shampoo bottle downstairs. 

Nestle’s Maggi Hot Cup campaign centred around the message that it had spent so much making the noodle good that it was left with no money for advertising. Thus it placed ads on the back of the advertising light-boxes at Putraline’s Universiti station with the copy saying: “We thank the advertiser who paid for the advertising space”.  

Maggi’s cheap-looking, graffiti-like ads also appeared on the train ceiling, station pillars and on a wall around a real security camera (a drawn arrow pointed at the camera, accompanied by this message: “Don’t be caught eating anything else!”). 

Perodua, meanwhile, even turned the whole KLCC station into its showroom. Not only was the station decorated with ads and buntings, the carmaker actually brought its latest models to be displayed there. 

Yes, Big Events has been quite successful in luring advertisers in its two short years of operations. Its revenue reflected this, rising from RM400,000 in the first year to RM1 million last year. 

But its business head, Kenneth Teo, has yet “miles to go” (to quote Robert Frost) before he can rest. 

He has to continuously introduce new formats to keep advertisers interested. And secondly, Big Events’ parent company, Big Tree Outdoor Sdn Bhd, holds the rights to sell outdoor advertising space along miles and miles of Malaysian highways – areas Big Events has barely tapped thus far.  

Big Tree Outdoor managing director Suridah Jalaluddin says Teo’s challenge now is to expand to the expressways. “Big Tree has advertising concessions from Plus Expressways, Elite, Metramac, Linkedua, Prolintas and Penang Bridge, and we’ve got to think of how to bring ambient media into the expressways,” she tells BizWeek

Big Tree Outdoor is one of the country’s biggest outdoor advertising players, with about 3,000 advertising panels nationwide. Since the majority are highway billboards already, where does its subsidiary Big Events fit in? And what exactly is “ambient media”? 

A bit of background is in order. Big Tree Outdoor, which began operations in 1995, launched its ambient media arm Big Events two years ago, in a 51:49 joint venture with event management company-cum-TV airtime marketer Sports & Events Network (SEN). 

Ambient media refers to non-traditional advertising formats that make optimal use of the surroundings. To give examples, Big Events’ arsenal includes station sponsorship and train interior sponsorship, meaning advertisers can essentially book the entire station or train, and then bombard commuters with their advertising messages as well as on-ground promotional activities. 

Maxis was the first to do train interior sponsorship, covering four trains. “The beauty of it for Maxis,” says Teo, “was that it was a captive audience. The commuters’ average train ride is about 20 minutes so it captures attention for 20 minutes. The advertiser can tell its product story to an audience who has no other distraction but to look around.” 

“As for Putraline, they like it because creative advertising makes the commuters’ ride more exciting, more stimulating,” he adds. 

Big Events, formed in April 2001, began by managing the 2001 Street Soccer Challenge tournament hosted by Plus in cooperation with Elite and Linkedua. It netted several sponsors who advertised and promoted their products at the toll plazas and rest and service areas. 

At about the same time, Big Events also secured Nike as a client. The athletic wear company pushed its brand by having floor/wall graphics and pillar wrappings at the Putraline KLCC station, and by hiring dancers and models to perform there.  

Big Events has since added new formats to lure advertisers. The most innovative, arguably, is Malaysia’s first in-tunnel motion picture advertising – 375 frames placed along the side of the underground tunnel between Masjid Jamek and Dang Wangi LRT stations which, when the viewer rides past, flash to deliver a 15-second Canon commercial. 

Many companies want to be the first in trying the latest advertising channels, in a bid to impress consumers that they are innovators and market leaders. 

“There are advertisers who say, ‘I’ll only do it if I’m the first’, and if someone else does it first, they’re not interested anymore,” Suridah notes. 

Would these advertisers, who didn’t get to be first, blacklist Big Events in the future? “That’s why it’s up to us to always think of different ideas, and go back to them and propose. We have to take up the challenge of keeping them interested,” she answers. 

Adds Teo: “From our list of clients now, we know who are the ones who will always be looking for something different, so usually when we have developed something new, these are the few clients whom we’d talk to first. It’s that working relationship we have with them. They understand that sometimes when you pioneer something, not everything’s going to be perfect.” 

According to Teo, anyone can talk about ideas, but to execute the ideas and make it successful and relevant to the demographic target and type of audience is very important.  

As an example of successful audience targeting, he cites the Sony Walkman campaign whereby sculptures of Sony’s icon, a yellow musical note with human characteristics, were placed on benches in four LRT stations. “Sony was targeting the youths. The young people actually took pictures with the cute icon, and that says it all.” 

Big Events won a certificate of excellence for Best Use of Street Furniture at last year’s Media Outdoor Advertising Awards in Hong Kong for the Kit Kat bench project. Now, Teo says, it hopes to reward its clients for the most creative campaigns by creating its very own outdoor advertising awards event. 

So far the bulk of Big Events’ revenue has come from its LRT-related formats, which attract advertisers because the audience can be measured to justify the amount invested into advertising. 

However, the company will explore new formats, some of which it wants to keep confidential for the time being. 

For the expressways, it is thinking of tabletop advertising and product sampling activities at the rest and service areas. 

Another venture will be in the form of electronic advertising boards at Suria KLCC. Teo says Big Events plans to have eight plasma screens there, with both visual and audio capabilities, from July onwards. It has begun to market the product. 

Is ambient media a fad? Suridah doesn’t think so. “Kenneth (Teo) has got to have a lot of energy to take it to the next level, to identify new things. Therefore, it won’t be a fad. It’s about constant change.” 

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