THE 1970s song Love is in the Air sweeps across the meeting room as Posterscope Malaysia managing director Bala Pomaleh plays a video showcasing an outdoor marketing campaign done by his agency for Telekom Malaysia Bhd's (TM) iTalk long-distance call card.
The 2009 campaign targeted the growing Indonesian construction worker segment in the Klang Valley, who spent four times more on phone calls than the average Malaysian.
An Indonesian song might have seemed more fitting, but then again, it was all about romancing the target consumers in their elements and to make the foreign workers, who were cut off from their families, feel loved. The ads were posted at their makeshift housing facilities, and branded vehicles were used to transport food and music to them. Promoters versed in Bahasa Indonesia went from one kongsi to the other to explain about the iTalk card, and the purchase came with free Indonesian music CD and concert tickets. It led to a 36% increase in revenue over a three-month period for TM.
Bala, whose media agency specialises in out-of-home (OOH) media, is showing StarBizWeek how the right outdoor media strategy would have a strong impact even without a “sexy” copy. The campaign won Posterscope Malaysia a bronze at the Aegis Global Awards last year (Posterscope is part of Aegis' worldwide network) and a gold at the Asia-Pacific level.
Posterscope Malaysia, which began operations at the end of 2006, is a leading player in the OOH market. It doesn't own OOH assets such as billboards, but it plans the OOH campaigns for marketers. Its clients have included Tesco, AirAsia and Astro, to name a few.
Bala is excited about the OOH market's prospects.
He cites a Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) report on Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2010-2014, which projects Malaysia's OOH market as growing at a strong pace of 14.5% on a compound annual growth basis from 2010 to 2014.
“That would make Malaysia the second fastest growing OOH market globally (after China),” he tells StarBizWeek.
PwC estimated that OOH spending in Malaysia to grow from US$33mil in 2010 to US$55mil by 2014.
“This is achievable because OOH is one of the cheapest media, costing an average of about RM2 to reach a thousand people,” Bala notes, adding, however, that rates for the prime sites have risen by as much as 40% over the last year.
“We expect the market to grow by 15% to 20% easily this year. The Klang Valley, Penang, JB are expected to see rate increases for premium sites because demand hasn't fallen. Some of the sites that were procured at low rates in 2008-09 will see a big jump in rates,” he forecasts.
Posterscope Malaysia is riding high on the growth in OOH spending. Its billings jumped from RM10mil in 2007 to RM60mil last year. This year it has forecast a 30% growth.
Bala claims that OOH media have the capability to cover 95% of adults age 15 years and above. “It's difficult to reach 95% unless you use many touch points, but a billboard campaign's reach of 60% to 70% is not unrealistic,” he adds.
Why the need for a media agency that specialises on OOH? “The requirements to plan outdoor are very different from traditional media. You got to spend a lot more time on the road, and the analysis that you do is different,” explains Bala.
He says many clients tend to overly skew their OOH budgets to, say, the Klang Valley whereas from a business growth perspective, their real objective may be Johor Baru or Penang. “So we try to do all those analyses as much as possible, and build the case before we say they need to focus their budget on certain areas. So it's a lot more of a strategic slant than pure Here's a nice pretty site. Take it,” he says.
Outdoor media's viewership is not tracked by market research firms in Malaysia, which is why Posterscope has a site rating crew that looks at various factors, such as road traffic data, to determine the quality of the sites.
“We don't just score our sites but the whole category, so we know what is the competitive impact is the competitor buying better than our client? Is their campaign more impactful based on the scoring format? That gives us some level of science to it. It's probably not as advanced as it could be, but compared to maybe two years ago, we're significantly more accountable and scientific,” Bala says.
Asked whether there is a conflict of interest when Posterscope both grades and recommends sites, Bala says: “I would love to have a service like that where a third party goes out and does tracking and monitors all the sites. That'll cut down our operational cost, because it's very labour-intensive and we can spend our time doing other things, but the service doesn't exist in Malaysia. We have no choice.
“I don't think our gradings are bias in any way because we have no interest to favour one party over the other. In most cases, when the gradings are done, it's followed up by actual site visits, in some cases with the clients, to make sure that they're getting what we say they're getting. We've not had any issue on quality of grading or biasness.”
Another tool at Posterscope's disposal is for gauging whether a particular creative would work before it goes out.
“Hundreds of creative adaptations for outdoor don't really work. This tool gauges whether the colour contrast works and whether the font is big enough to read, among others,” says Bala.
Bala says that billboards will continue to drive OOH spending this year, but he expects some of the static boards to become digital or part digital.
He notes that another trend is shorter contracts. “In the past, say 15 years ago, people bought sites in contracts of five years. Then it started getting shorter to three years and one year. But in the more developed markets overseas, you buy for one or two weeks, but instead of using three sites, you buy hundreds of sites to have coverage everywhere,” he says.
Across all formats, including point-of-sale and ambient, 50% of all buys in Malaysia are today on a less than a year basis, he estimates. Five years ago, almost everything was on an annual buy.
Bala also sees an increase in point-of-sale (POS) focus resulting from shopper habit changes after the economic downturn.
“More people are shopping in hypermarkets because they are a cheaper alternative and increasingly they're offering fresher goods and more locations. In the last year or so, there has been more interest from non-FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods) in POS. Five or 10 years ago, when you mention POS or retail advertisers, you would always think of the Nestles, P&Gs, and Unilevers, but now you have banks, telcos and cars going in,” he says.
Bala reveals that Posterscope Malaysia will invest in a nationwide OOH consumer survey by the middle of this year, its first such survey.
“This is more to learn how to engage them better. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is important, quite applicable to digital media. Let's say you're waiting for a train at the LRT station. Once I understand if your mood is better or if you're thinking of shopping, maybe I can serve you a different kind of ad. Understanding what people are thinking will probably be a large focus of the survey.”
Bala wishes that advertisers would insist on accountability from whomever they buy any out-of-home formats.
“That part of it has been lacking. In the past it was because there were no numbers available, there were no studies and research so it was acceptable to buy on gut feel or whatever. Now that it is available, advertisers should insist on accountability and better learnings and strategies from their suppliers.”
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