Each time I open up a newspaper in Himachal, even if it’s a local edition, I see hardly any ads from advertisers in Himachal. I even doubt if the meagre advertising is targeted at the Himachali reader. I’m not talking about the tender or government notices or classifieds or matrimonials. The only big names that I see are of television and bike companies (if they can be called big for Himachal) targeting the Himachali audience. But the local retailer is just missing from the scenario.
But is the retailer ready? Yes, he is, if the ads on the local cable television are any indication. But before I analyse how FM channels will fuel advertising in Himachal, let me go through a brief introduction of advertising.
Advertising can be categorised into two water-tight compartments – above the line (ATL) and below the line (BTL). While it was ATL that was considered to be having a more impact and able to reach out to the masses, more so because of the medium – radio, television and print involved and the monies invested. BTL was considered to be a poor cousin. But lately, many a marketers have signalled the dead-end for the 30-second slot, sighting examples of MNCs like Samsung, Hyundai, which have allocated their budget weighing more on BTL.
BTL, today is no more limited to billboards, inserts or door-to-door marketing. It’s got innovative with road-shows, guerilla marketing (where the consumer won’t even know that he’s got marketed), and interactive by involving the customer. It’s considered to be more effective as there is no wastage and the target consumer is approached directly and can be done on a very low budget. However, here we are not debating ATL vs BTL. But to put it across that the 30-second slot is yet to be exploited and is just the beginning.
We thought that TV, radio and print had reached their saturation point. Do you think that Dainik Bhaskar, which launched its Jalandhar and Amritsar editions last year had come there for charity? (It’s already claiming the highest readership of over 3.18 lakh in the two cities.) Do you think that Punjab Kesari launched its Hisar edition for charity? And do you believe that The Tribune by launching a full-fledged edition in Himachal is there for social service? And how about the various radio stations – Radio Mantra (Jagran), Big FM (Adlabs), BAG dotting the northern India? Putting up stations is certainly not a part of their corporate social responsibility. TV in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh is still be exploited.
As for Himachal, besides the MW channels, amongst the FM, the existent ones are again owned by Prasar Bharati: AIR Dharamshala (103.4 MHz), AIR Hamirpur (101.8 MHz), AIR Kasauli (107.2 MHz), AIR Kullu (102.5 Mhz) and AIR Shimla (100.9 Mhz). Three more are in the offing: Adlabs Films’ Big FM (hopefully: 92.7 MHz), BAG Infotainment and Radio Today Broadcasting.
And while AIR may content itself with public service messages, these private companies mean business. And are here to tap the unexploited ad revenue. This revenue is not going to come from corporates but from small retailers. Till now retailers had to be content by either inserts or classifieds which went unnoticed. The other medium was certainly the local cable where one put up scrollers or long documentaries of their visual merchandising. While I have doubts, if Mahindra and Sonalika tractors would be advertising, it will be the local kiryana shop that will get its 20-second fame.
I often wonder why Hindustan Times or The Times of India don’t have a supplement on the lines of HT City and Delhi Times? The answers from the editorial sections of these papers in Shimla was: lack of content. And if they cannot see content, I’d say there are only two reasons for it. Either they are lazy and happy with their salaries and don’t want to explore possibilities or they are just too ignorant. If not entirely a Page 3 supplement, they can have a supplement on the lines of Express Newsline, which covers local news and have one page (like the Talk page) for Page 3. Shimla has a lot of Page 3 material. With one or the other function going on at Kali Bari Hall, Gaiety Theatre, Hotel Holiday Home, Golf Course, Shimla Club, one or the other film shooting going on, some adventure sports, fashion shows and contests are always on – there’s lot of material for the page. Yet all have turned a blind eye to this. While these events themselves can be big advertisers – I’m sure, if a local retailer can advertise on a local cable channel, he can advertise in these supplements as well. And if still they believe that nothing is happening in Shimla, what are these dozens of event management companies doing in Shimla that have cropped up in the past two years?
The papers may have their reasons not to bring out a supplement as it may shoot up their printing costs, but these FM channels will certainly leverage on this. They may even tie-up as sponsors of these events. While no study has been done as of now on the ad spend in Himachal and particularly Shimla, I’m sure these FM channels must have done their ground work well and mapped their advertisers. They can range from local events to retailers like Dewan Chand Atma Ram (The Mall), Gayatri Furnishers (Sanjauli), Tomyqa, Goel (Furnitures, Real Estates, Jewellers) mobile service providers, educational institutions offering vocational courses, IT products (PC companies and local retailers and vendors). These are just examples and their ilk would certainly like to reach out to the buyer. The disposable income of Himachal people had been underrated till now. The problem was not of lack of disposable income but of the advertiser and the provider not being able to reach them. The market was long ready, just that it was untapped. But with these FM stations coming in, I’m sure they are coming in with lots of money for investment, and I’m sure they want to recover that money as well, and I’m sure they’ll have a strong marketing team in place, which will ask the local retailer to cough up that money.
Meanwhile, the only concern would be the quality of this local advertising, which even in evolved markets like Delhi – isn’t great. Or even not average. Most of the advertising is done on the radio stations itself. The stations are concerned with only money, so they’ll do anything for that. “You just book the spot, we’ll make the ad for you.” Get your mimic artist to copy Amitabh’s voice or Sachin Tendulkar’s or Nana Patekar, and there you are with an ad. It’s dull and lacklustre and loud. So where was the message? The focus was entirely on the voice and the name of the shop or store? The message just got lost in the excitement of making the ad. (In Shimla, we can have Vicky Chauhan, Priety Zinta and even Anuj’s voice.) The local ads on cable televisions are not ads. They are documentaries with the fat proprietor delivering a lecture and interested in getting the camera hooked on to every nook and corner of his shop. And it goes without saying that these ads were made by a local photographer/cameraman, who shot videos in marriages.
However this is a passing phase and as the audience gets uninterested, the need for professional admen and agencies will arise. But the problem is that the local kiryanawala lala can either pay for the ad spot or the agency to create the ad. But as the Bhartis and Reliance, and Subhikhsha enter Punjab, Haryana and Himachal, the local lalas would have to evolve to stay in business. And it’s just the beginning of the 30-second slot and Himachal is just about to wake up to the advertisers’ call. And this clarion call will be given by the FM radio stations.