We have not just touched pre-Covid levels in OOH, we are beating it: Ajay Mehta

In conversation with exchange4media, Ajay Mehta, Founder and MD, Interactive Television, and MD of Kinetic India, spoke about how 2022 was panning out for the OOH industry

by Sonam Saini
Published - July 27, 2022
8 minutes To Read
We have not just touched pre-Covid levels in OOH, we are beating it: Ajay Mehta

The Out Of Home industry - one of the most impacted mediums during the pandemic - has finally seen some good recovery. According to Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2022, OOH is expected to grow by 36% in 2022, taking the total Outdoor Advertising market to close to Rs 3,000 crore. 

The industry is making a good recovery from the pandemic in 2022. In fact, some of the major companies are doing business better than pre-Covid levels, says Ajay Mehta, Founder and MD, Interactive Television (iTV) and MD, Kinetic India. 

How is the OOH industry faring in 2022, and has the industry returned to pre-Covid levels?  

In October last year, the recovery really took off. The last quarter of 2021 was highly successful, not just for us but for the industry as a whole. Of course, as the market leader, we expanded more quickly than the rest of the sector but from October through June the recovery moved along much more quickly than many in the sector anticipated, thanks to a number of factors. 

To start, all modes of movement have returned. Since leisure travel has rebounded, traffic has returned to all transit locations, including airports, train stations, and other locations. Mobility itself is thus one of the causes. The second is that there have been a number of recent developments that are now relevant to the sector but weren't previously acknowledged. Residential, for instance, did not have a lot of supply, which is no longer the case. Because of the lockdowns people were spending more time in their communities or within their residences or close by. So a lot of residential Out Of Home assets have been created. Third, digital OOH is gaining pace. It's always been relevant in ambient media, and especially towards transit media, like airports. All of this is a result of increased demand with older usual suspects coming back to the medium along with numerous new-age start-ups embracing OOH. So yes, the recovery is definitely quite robust.  

In terms of business, how did Kinetic fare over the last two years? 

We have not just touched up the pre-Covid business, but we are beating it. One of the key reasons is that we have worked with more than 50 new clients in the last one and a half years. Some of our bigger clients are back into OOH and now slowly coming back to the pre-Covid levels. So, when you combine that with these new clients it is leading to healthy growth.   

We also invested a lot in data and want to take the subjectivity out of this medium. We also have multiple tools – India on the Move (IOM), a reach calculator called Target and this post-evaluation matrix where we don’t just tell clients how many people were around their site but what was the profile of those people, what are their interests, behaviours, or what kind of brands they like? 

This whole initiative is to make the medium more data-oriented, data-driven, and technology-enabled and this is really getting traction from clients. They always want to know what the ROI is and whether they are spending in the right environment. And today, we have data interjections, right from the time we receive a brief to a post-campaign analysis i.e. in every stage of the campaign. We are using a lot of data, which I think is gaining a lot of traction, especially with categories where ROI is key and the objective is not just brand-building but achieving hard business targets. 

In order to better evaluate audience-visit patterns, Kinetic India introduced a proprietary solution - IOM in 2020. How did IOM help the company? 

The solution was launched in the middle of Covid. At that point, the purpose was to track whether mobility was coming back and if it was then was there any trend to it? Is it happening in certain touch points? Is it happening only in and around residences? It helped us to convince clients when we saw an upturn in mobility. We were also able to track it on an almost real-time basis to give them confidence that they should look at the medium. 

It also helped us in our investment strategy and while negotiating with our media partners. Today, of course, both these things still apply but what is more relevant is that we can actually tell you on the basis of a street or neighbourhood or arterial road where the traffic is, and it becomes an important data feed for our entire planning process. We also do our investment strategy based on this data. 

Are there any new brands or categories going big on OOH? 

One category, which has suddenly increased its spending dramatically is FMCG. We have a whole lot of FMCG brands coming on board and spending a lot of money. OTT is back strongly and not just the big boys but some of the smaller regional vernacular OTT are back as well. BFSI in the last quarter was quite strong as well on OOH. Furthermore, with the auto industry’s chip shortage getting addressed, the category is also coming back slowly. And then new-age companies, be it ecommerce or other forms of companies, are heavily investing in OOH. 

What are your expansion plans for Kinetic? 

There are a lot of Indian clients who want to reach out to the Indian diaspora or even global audiences. Today, we've done campaigns across the US, the UK, and the Middle East, and this is completely new. We see a lot of opportunity in Indian clients who want to make a global mark, and it's not just about global OOH, it is also about the opportunity it gives you to amplify the use of your digital assets. So, there's going to be a tremendous amount of link between Out Of Home and digital. Further, as I mentioned earlier, there are certainly new touchpoints, which have become very relevant. I think residential is one of them and it becomes extremely relevant. People are spending more time in and around the complexes where they live and I think that becomes very key and we want to focus on that. We are also doing a lot of work in retail, which is another big opportunity. Finally, we see airports coming back very strongly. 

In terms of our growth, we are clear that OOH planning is a mix of science and art. The art was always there in this medium, the science needs to be added and that's really where we are working. We are doubling down on our investments there and that is a differentiator.

How is DOOH developing in India? 

Firstly, just putting screens is not my definition of digital. While that is relevant but we have to bring data, relevance and contextuality into play, and that truly becomes digital OOH. Today we can do a lot with 3D. The efforts I've seen were quite basic, but I think going forward those are going to improve and we need a digital OOH ecosystem to do that. We also think programmatic digital OOH will grow substantially over a period of time.   

Is a lack of independent third-party measurement hampering the growth of OOH? 

Any measurement is good for the industry and especially when you're talking of large clients who invest substantial amounts of money in the medium. We have created our own post-campaign analysis using multiple third-party partners. As I mentioned, that is a big focus area for us and we think every client who is investing in this medium needs to know what they're getting out of it, otherwise, it's not a business. We need to be able to measure ROI for any investment. We are very clear that we are moving our journey of making this more data-oriented on a post-evaluation basis.  

It would be good if there was an industry-level initiative. But there are multiple factors which have to be considered. Firstly, from a media ownership perspective, it's an extremely fragmented space. It's not like the other mediums that have consolidated and created their own challenges of bringing multiple people and thought processes onto the same platform. Historically, it is not something which agencies have invested in and there could be some inertia over there. But like I said, for us, it's extremely relevant. 

What is going to be Kinetic’s focus area in 2022? 

We are going to give more offerings to newer clients, and we are also on a new client acquisition route. Our differentiation is data. We are exploring new touchpoints. We want it to become more relevant through post-campaign analysis and want to take the lead in innovations because that can also create a lot of impact and recall, and those are enough motivations for a lot of clients to spend. So, we are going down our journey of being data-driven technology enabled with a mixture of kickass creative and innovation-led strategies.