Thursday, July 20, 2006


To make the world’s most effective media plan does not require number crunching, but some compelling strategies

A blank first page of the newspaper – well, this would definitely make you sit up and wonder what in god’s name happened to the news. “No news” was what the first page of the newspaper, The Afternoon Despatch & Courier, said one fine day to Mumbai. It took readers a few seconds to realise that this was the doing of Nestle – to announce the arrival of their chocolates. They had bought the whole front page of the paper. I am sure any one who saw the paper that day would not have missed the launch. That’s media planning for you in all its glory. More than the creative aspect of the advertisement, it was the placing of the advertisement which created such a tremendous impact (and as usual, such a lot of controversy!).

Where should we put the advertisement – in which newspaper or magazine, how big or small should it be, should it be in colour or black-n-white, and which page? Should it be shown on TV? Should it be of 30 seconds, or 15 seconds, or longer, or shorter? These are some of the numerous questions that need to be answered while developing a media plan.


When you are as big as Nestle, you don’t have too many constraints as far as the budget is concerned. You can afford to splurge on advertising and can have unlimited plans and ideas for creating an impact by just buying up the media. However, the fact is, budget is a constraint for most advertisers. It is also a fact that some of the greatest success stories were written on a shoe string budget.

In a small city called Spokane was a small company called Western Insecticide. It was a pest control company with hardly any customers. It had a miniscule advertising budget and could not afford to advertise much. Worse, real estate sales people in Spokane were creating debilitating trouble for the company as to sell property fast, they were spreading the word that Spokane had no termites (and consequently, that no one required the services of any pest control product). Though Western Insecticides realised the critically urgent problem, they didn’t have sufficient funds to counter this “no termites” propaganda.

But a local advertising agency, Corker-Sullivan, came up with an ingeniously imaginative ad, which not only increased the sales of Western Insecticide, but also ensured that people who had nothing to do with termites or buying houses went out of their way to see the advertisement. The ad agency rented a 48 foot wide piece of board on which they painted the logo of Western Insecticide and besides the logo, wrote “There are no termites in Spokane.” A week after the board went up, they cut out a huge piece from the side of the board, making it seem as though a giant termite had taken out a bite. Every few days, additional bites were taken until nothing was left but the logo of the company. Local authorities reported that the daily traffic count at the brand’s site increased from 28,000 to 32,000 and the company reported an increase in business by a whopping 65%. What’s the learning? Clearly, one doesn’t require big money, but only big ideas. In this instance, both the idea and the choice of media were perfect.

When David Ogilvy made the advertisement for Hathaway shirts, the budget was very small, but it did not stop the advertisement from becoming one of the greatest ads. Of course, the copy was brilliant, but the media plan was also good. He decided to put all his money into one media – ‘The New Yorker’ magazine. He knew this was one magazine which would reach his target audience. Since the advertisements would appear very frequently, they would definitely be noticed by his potential customers. It happened as he planned and the shirts and the brand name soon became popular. A part of the success was also due to the intelligent media planning of Ogilvy.


All successful media plans have followed the golden rule, “The more repetitions, the better retention.” It’s finally a play of these two things – frequency and continuity. If one can achieve these two, success is assured.

People forget. That’s a fact. Your advertisement may be brilliant, but you don’t expect me to remember it forever! Hence, the media plan should ensure that people see the advertisement again and again. People’s memories are short. It has been researched that people forget 60% of what they learn within half a day. If you have to succeed, you need to remind them again and again through various ways. You have to repeat without becoming boring or overbearing. You can use various different kind of media to reach out and touch your audience, to tell them, “Hey look, it’s me... again!” It has to have the right degree of subtlety so that it doesn’t irritate the audience.

As media planners, we must remember, we never really buy media, but we buy a piece of the audience’s attention. This must be done very scrupulously. No customer buys the newspaper or watches TV to see advertisements, but to read the news or watch his or her programme. Your advertisement should not obstruct the customer in doing that.

One such brilliant buy has been done by Britannia for its 50-50 biscuits’ brand. It has bought the best space in a cricket match telecast on TV. Think of Britannia 50-50 and you would immediately associate the brand with the third umpire in cricket. By buying those precious few seconds when the third umpire decides whether the batsman is out or not, Britannia has won a place in everyone’s heart. The brand name & the moment in the game are both associated with the concept of chance. This was an excellent way of involving viewers. What an enduring way to create brand value! CREATIVITY COUNTS

It’s all about creating the right impact. A little bit of creativity in media buying can do wonders. When Polo was launched, they punched holes in a newspaper (The Pioneer). After all, it was the mint with the hole.

An element of surprise also helps, sometimes. Look what happened to the December 13, 1996, issue of Deccan Chronicle. The headline screamed, “Hyderabad becomes India’s fifth metro!” Every reader of the newspaper must have thought, “What’s that...?” only to realise that it was a brilliantly concealed four page advertisement of the launch of Tata Cellular in Hyderabad.

On the same day, the Hyderabad edition of Eenadu sold all its advertising space to Tata Cellular right from the ear panels to the last page. So on that day, every advertisement that the reader saw was of Tata Cellular. Another brilliant display of creative media buying. That day Tata Cellular did not have to worry about beating the clutter – there was no clutter! (at least in the newspaper Eenadu).

The latest trend in media buying is a combination of TV and web. The one advertisement which really proved the effectiveness of this kind of planning was that of Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. The advertisement was shown during the Super Bowl. With so many advertisements clamouring for the attention of the viewer, they knew that a normal 30 second spot could cut no ice. The Super Bowl ad showed a Mitsubishi Gallant racing a Toyota Camry to the end of a bridge in a braking comparison test. At the bottom of the TV screen flashed a line, which read, “Accident Avoidance Test.” The two sedans were shown racing behind two trailers. Men in the trailers were throwing bowling balls, grills etc. at the two cars, which obviously were trying hard to avoid the missiles. And which car would eventually avoid the expected fiery collision and finally go on to win?

This was left unanswered. For this, the audience had to log on to ‘’. A mind numbing 31 million hits were received on the website, of which 11 million hits happened six hours after the ad’s debut. Unmistakably, treading the unbeaten path, is the key to drawing attention of the potential customers. For example, when the Axe perfume was launched in India, it decided to do something different. A half page flap was shaped in the form of sexy lips in Sunday Times. One could lift the flap to view the “AXE effect!”

You have to reach out to your audience in different ways. You have to almost catch them unawares. When Sony Entertainment Television was about to start its musical game show, “Kuch Kehti Hai Yeh Dhun,” instead of giving advertisements, it thought of a different strategy. A contest called “Name the Tune” was started via SMS. They received over 35,000 entries via SMS alone. Though a simple enough concept, the fact is that you have to work out the most effective combination of marketing vehicles for your brand.


In this market of cut-throat competition, not only is the advertiser looking for the right media, but the various forms of media are trying to make themselves attractive by reinventing & modifying themselves; they are even encroaching each other’s turf to grab a larger share of the ad spend. For example, newspapers these days with their colour supplements are using their good looks to swipe away advertising revenues from magazines. Even the TV medium is doing the same to newspapers.

News that was earlier the stronghold of newspapers is now available on TV. Entertainment, which traditionally was the stronghold of TV, is now provided by newspapers and their glossy supplements. Radio had suffered a silent burial with the advent of the TV. But the launch of FM channels has suddenly made it hip once more to listen to radio. Radio Mirchi, Radio City, Red FM are just a few of the uniquely popular channels leading this amazing re-evolution.


Mediums are aplenty. What the media planner needs to decide is, which medium suits which product or brand. Placing the right message at the right time in the right media is the key to success.

Creating a good message is just half the battle won; what’s equally important is deciding where to put the message. Should it be the newspaper or the magazine or TV or outdoors or any other experimental medium?

‘Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhie Bahu Thi’ might have kept you hooked for years – but the fact is that it has also kept advertisers hooked. These serials rule the prime time and command a hefty price too. Balaji Telefilms, the production house handling some of the most expensive programmes ever made, knew what would sell. They had understood the sentiments of viewers. This led to the very famous love-hate relationship of a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law being exploited to the hilt. And the reason is because Indian women just can’t enough of this; and hence “Kyunki Saas...” and its clones have become such IMAGE MATTERS

The image, and not the cost of the advertising medium, sometimes influences the advertisers in deciding which media to choose. Various media classes are advertising about themselves to reposition their own image. It’s not a waste, but an excellent long term strategy. The image would attract the right kind of programmes and hence the right kind of advertisements. And the fact is that the promos don’t just entertain, but also inform and create the desired brand identity.

And it’s not just the promos, but even the logos, the punch lines etc, which help in building this brand identity. Zoom did this very effectively by building a glamourous image around itself. Take even the case of MTV (Music Television) or Channel V. It’s said that a lot of people watch these channels, more because of their promos than anything else. Through their promos, these music channels have created an anti-establishment attitude. Promos help you to connect with the desired target audience. So, today Zee has a different image, Star a different one, Aaj Tak yet another kind of appeal. It helps if the media planner can understand this and then decide which product or brand should be advertised on which channel.

Research has proved that when near identical ads were shown to people who were told that they had been pulled out of different magazines, the believability of the ads varied. Readers have different attitudes towards different media vehicle; and advertisements comparatively also get rated in the same fashion. Ads in magazines like Reader’s Digest and People were considered more believable than others. It’s so, because people are in different states of mind while reading different magazines. Analytically, the mood of the viewer affects the ability to absorb the contents.

As early as in 1962, the Alfred Politz research organisation demonstrated that an advertisement in “Mc Calls” (then a popular magazine) would generate a higher “quality” image and brand preference ratings than identical ads placed in general readership magazines. For example, The New Yorker is a magazine which has an exclusiveness and aloofness about it – something well suited for high status products.

At the same time, niche magazines have a different image. They behave like specialists. So, Autoworld is considered to be an expert in the field of automobiles by its readers. Any article about automobiles is more believable if published here, than in any general magazine. The same holds true for the advertisements (of auto vehicles, ancillaries, or other related products & services) that appear in it. At another level, Femina, Cosmopoliton, Elle, Vogue are all glamour magazines, but each has a different image. Ergo, the media planner needs to choose carefully. And amusingly, sometimes, it’s your competitor who decides your media plan!

If the competition is using one media extensively, it probably helps if you avoid that media and choose another one. But of course, critics might argue that that also depends upon quantitative analysis of the customer segments being targeted and the reach thereon. But the fact is, one cannot make a choice based on just TRPs (of TV programmes) or circulation figures (of newspapers or magazines). The choice is also not about the lowest rates being offered.

The job of the media planner is tough, as ‘planning’ itself requires careful planning. Media plans should be well integrated with the creative build up of the advertisement. It can be so much fun and so challenging to be able to stand out in the clutter. And this is nothing but creativity at its peak, for a brilliant advertisement may get lost if not placed properly.

Truly, gone are the days when creative work and media planning were done separately. Today, both need to consult each other to come out with an effective strategy – however time consuming this might be. So pump up the flow of fresh ideas, to help keep the brand alive and noticeable, for today, media planning is not just about number crunching.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Larger than Life

Can’t shut ‘em off with a TV remote, can’t flip ‘em away like a mag, can’t change their channel like in a radio...Billboards are the most radical medium for advertisements today

While Madonna cooed, “Don’t cry for me Argentina,” as she played the role of Evita Peron, many on the Indian roads banged their cars into each other as they gazed wide-eyed at the hoardings of Evita soap and gasped, “Who’s that girl?”

So while Madonna’s song notched up to number 2 on the Billboards, a different success story was up on the billboards in India. As Lisa Ray looked down at passers-by from the huge billboards advertising Godrej’s Evita soap, commuters couldn’t take their eyes off her and soon, everyone wanted to know all about her and the soap, making both of them popular overnight.

Clearly, billboards can create a lot of impact if handled properly. They have proved their effectiveness time and again. Be it in UK, where The Economist has been using them for over 14 years, or be it India where Amul has been using them for decades to promote their products.


If the movie “Cars” has once again got the cash registers rolling for Disney-Pixar animation studios, then those are cars that have once again sparked off a huge interest in billboards and the outdoors as a medium of advertising. Billboards are fast becoming a medium irresistible to advertisers and media planners. Definitely, those are the super highways and high speed cars that are responsible for the comeback of good old fashioned outdoor advertising. More and more people are on the roads, making the ‘viewership’ of this medium larger and larger day by day. All this while, billboards and hoardings had been playing second fiddle to the king of media – Television. Now all of a sudden, there is a twist in the tale and outdoors has become a powerful tool to reach out to customers.

“Speak up: It’s in your DNA!”

Hoardings in Mumbai urged people to speak their mind up and also made them curious. People wondered and waited, “What was it all about?” It was the run-up to the launch of the Zee-Bhaskar newspaper named DNA (Daily News and Analysis), which used outdoor advertising almost exclusively for spreading its launch message across Mumbai. People started talking about it. So much so that the Times Group was tempted to copy the ad-campaign to promote their newspaper Maharashtra Times. While the original DNA hoardings showed faces of people with their mouths pasted over by grey tape and below that ran the tagline: “Speak up: It’s in your DNA,” the Maharashtra Times, in its newspaper pages, showed people peeling grey tapes off their mouth, and the tagline went like this: “Speak up, its in your DNA – Maharashtra Times.” Of course, the ads proved a little expensive for Times, as Zee immediately slapped a Rs.100 crore lawsuit. However, our point is proved – billboards work. Billboards are an excellent way to reach a large audience. No wonder Reliance Infocomm, Hutch, Tata Indicom are all fighting it out in the “open,” using outdoors to attract consumers.

When the New Zealand Listener Magazine wanted to attract young readers, it designed an innovative billboard campaign. Using the website, young readers were encouraged to sort out, arrange and place various news, events and issues under four heads, that is, topical, interesting, tedious or dated. Every week, the magazine showcased the results on billboards. The magazine realised how billboards were a vital medium to make this strategy work. Without doubt, innovation is the key to success, when it comes to outdoor advertising; and Unilever has done it again – this time out in the open – on the streets of New York City! It has made a “Dirty Clothes Bus” that has caught the attention of all. What’s this bus for? It’s an advertisement for a detergent. The caption on the bus reads, “How much can one small bottle clean?” and the bus itself is covered with dirty clothes. For the first time, someone got the desired stares with clothes on, than off!

London has a favorite jumping point for would-be suicide planners. Just opposite this point, a wise guy put up a hording which read, “Before you jump, give us a call.” It was actually an advertisement for a job site! Simply too good, or should I say simple and good? Yes, outdoors is a medium where you have to KISS your way into the hearts of consumers. Keep it short and simple, and it will rock! The outdoors is where all the action lies today. According to a survey done in US, 78% of advertisers thought that today, traditional television commercials had become less effective. In summary, everyone prefers taking their goods outdoors.

An artist, frustrated by the current American President’s administration, made a small painting, which apparently looked like George Bush’s face. But on close inspection, it was actually made of monkey heads in marshes. When the art gallery refused to display it, some anonymous donors picked it up and projected it on a giant billboard in Manhattan. They knew 400,000 car owners daily would see the painting projection and form their opinions about the futile war Bush is fighting in Iraq. The billboard was such a hit that bidding for the painting by the little known artist has already touched $4,000!

Billboards offer endless creative possibilities. No wonder, Coca-Cola is taking on Pepsi full throttle in the outdoors. It’s going all out to promote its new beverage Coca-Cola BlaK with its new slogan – “The Coke side of life”; and hoardings will be its primary medium. Not long before, Pepsi too went outdoors to woo people with a kick and a kiss. While Priyanka Chopra offered the kick of coffee, Kareena Kapoor promised the kiss of cola, as Pepsi launched its Pepsi Cafe Chino flavour. Buses were painted and dressed up and had these two beautiful girls promising a kick and a kiss to youngsters. They did arouse a lot of interest; however, it was more kick than kiss for Pepsi as the product’s taste did not go down well with consumers!

Even the traditional London cab has today turned into a very popular vehicle for outdoor promotion. It has become a medium for reaching mass audiences. New product launches, brand building exercises et al are all being done through taxis! Be it Coca-Cola, or Gillette, or Haagen Dazs, all have used taxis to “drive home” the message to customers.


Technology has been largely responsible for the rebirth of this medium. Billboards are no more those wooden boards that took so long to paint and were so quick to fade. Today, you can download music, play games, watch videos, design your own sneakers, and even purchase them – all directly from the billboard.

In New York City’s Times Square, Walt Disney World has a billboard advertising its theme park. You can send a text message to the number displayed, and within seconds, you receive an SMS supporting your query, and even asking whether you would want to receive further promotional messages. In fact, one of the longest billboards in the world – 100 feet wide – belongs to Coca Cola. It’s placed in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Being amongst the largest is not its only claim to fame. The billboard astoundingly changes with the weather too. So if it’s rainy, the billboard displays rain drops; if it’s windy, it displays ripples; but more than this, if you wave at the billboard, most astoundingly, it waves back! Another product, Absolut Vodka, has rock star Lenny Kravitz on its Manhattan billboard, inviting passers by to turn on the Bluetooth connectivity on their mobiles to download a free four minute MP3 track, while they wait for the street light to turn green!


Supporting the shift, big advertisers and popular brand names are today putting their faith and money on billboards. The Independent used only posters for promoting its newspaper, and sales increased dramatically by 9%. British fashion label FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom) built its brand only with the help of billboards. When Smirnoff wanted to improve its sales in New Zealand, it used the word “OFF” in different innovative ways and plastered it on hoardings all over New Zealand. It used simple one-liners like, ‘Pressure OFF’, ‘Dance your ass OFF’, ‘The half day OFF’. The term “OFF” was from the Smirn”off” bottle, placed in such a way that only the “off” part was visible. So for any kind of an ‘off’, it had to be Smirnoff. Dramatically, the sales of the vodka increased by 35%.

When India wanted to attract tourists, it took its hoardings of “Incredible India” straight into Times Square, New York. They wanted to showcase India as the ideal destination for Yoga, Ayurveda etc., but wanted those tourists who were willing to pay. For this, they had to make India look irresistible. The most effective and fastest way was through billboards.


The rules of the game have changed. It’s a whole new world out there, full of innovations and limitless possibilities. Billboards are far from boring. They can be so much fun today and so creative. The medium itself is so unique. Unlike television ads, one cannot zap billboards into oblivion with one’s remote; unlike in a magazine, one cannot turn pages and miss the ad; unlike radio, one cannot turn a billboard off! If you are on the road, you are bound to notice it. Whether it creates an impact or not depends on its creativity. The billboard is a huge canvass, which gives the company a chance to make a brand look larger than life. The billboard gives that power in your hands. The best part is, all this comes at a fraction of cost. Billboards cost three times less than newspapers, half as much as radio, and seven times less than television. Outdoors, without doubt, is one of the most powerful marketing tools.


While you are busy rooting for your favourite team during the FIFA World Cup, don’t forget the billboards lined up alongside the stadium. They are a great way to promote brands and products. After all, all of them did shell out $45 million to $50 million to be present inside the football grounds. Interestingly, the city of Frankfurt is turning itself into a huge billboard for FIFA. The road from the Munich airport to the World Cup stadium has a huge cut-out of the German national football team goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. The city is using billboards to project itself as a hospitable, sport-loving, cosmopolitan city. Be it Leipzig or Munich or Hamburg, all of them together are posting their passions on billboards, welcoming the players, the tourists and the game. Those are the billboards that have turned Germany into a large playground and taken the football fever to dizzying heights. Billboards have been building up the tempo much before the advent of the Cup. Nike was seen rooting for the underdog USA with the help of a giant billboard on 7th Avenue in New York City. First, a hoarding went up which read, “The World No Longer Wants To Play Us.” Then the 70 foot billboard was changed to “BEWARE,” showing the American footballers ready to take on the match. The message was designed to give soccer fans a rallying cry. Even Coca-Cola had dedicated two of its billboards inside the stadium to its fans. Fans of the teams playing a particular match were allowed to create art works – on the billboards – that would convey a sense of national pride and enthusiasm. What was earlier reserved for the sponsor’s name and logo, had now been changed into a work of art by Coca-Cola for the 2006 World Cup. The dazzling billboards, the vibrant colors, the numerous messages emblazoned on numerous billboards – these posters changed the whole environment of the country.

Indisputably, and undeniably, when you want to make it large, you’ve got to take your message to the big stage – the outdoors. If you want to create an impact, beat competitors, you’ve got to make it larger than life!
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