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Ambient Advertising- How

long will it survive

Authored by: Team Celeritas

Chinmay Sohoni
Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi

Vini Soni
Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi
am·bi·ent (ām'bē-ənt) adj.
Surrounding; encircling: ambient sound; ambient air.
ad·ver·tis·ing (ād'vər-tī'zĭng) noun.
The activity of attracting public attention to a product or business, by paid announcements in the
print, broadcast, or electronic media.

Most of the definitions of Ambient Advertising define it as a form of advertising that is covered in
“outdoor non-regular media”. It’s an advert that is not delivered through conventional medium of
television, radio, print etc. An Ambient Advertisement would use a sidewalk for example, rather than
using a billboard. Quite simply put, an advertisement that is a part of the surroundings, a part of the
ambience is well, ambient advertisement. But for effectiveness ambient advertising goes one step
further as to the fact that not only is it part of the ambience, it needs to blend in with the media as
well. And there lies the tricky part, the advert needs to be noticed and be a part of the background,
and that’s where the Ambient Advertising has to unleash its creative power. Ambient Advertising is

 Covered by non-regular media, in most regular but unexpected places/objects

 It is Innovative; captures the eyeballs, stirs the imagination

 Blends with the environment, yet gets the attention
 Relies on word-of-mouth publicity

Traditional advertising becoming a BIG bore?

In recent years (recent in Indian context, about a decade old in western reference), there have been
many debates regarding the effectiveness of the regular media in delivering advertisements. The
consumer has become immune to the advertisements in newspapers and magazines. The novelty of
cable television has worn off and so has the glitzy advertisements. The over-exposure has brought in
a new change in the consumer, which dictates which advertisement to be seen and which instantly
skipped. The over-exposure has killed the effectiveness of the advertising, and that’s the harsh truth.

So how bad really is this “over-exposure” to advertising? Consider this, on an average a regular
current affairs weekly has about 18-20 full page advertisements in a 70 odd page magazine, not
counting the pullouts, cover pages, part-page adverts, “special features” et al. That’s nearly 30% of
the magazine space! This number jumps, understandably, to over 40% for a lifestyle/fashion
magazine. Television advertisement figures tell a similar story. In 2007, the total ad duration was
4006 lakh seconds (The Marketing Whitebook 2009-10), up 31% from 2006 figures. The
advertisement clutter reached new highs and still going up.

To gauge consumer immunity towards regular advertising, we conducted an online survey regarding
their attitude regarding advertising. The numbers that came in were hardly surprising. 20% of the
respondents always switched channels during the ad breaks, 38% switched 8 times out of 10 and
30% changed the channel 5-6 times out of 10. What does this translate to? A whopping 88% of the
television viewers preferred not to see the advertisements over seeing it! And what’s more, nearly
60% of the audience nearly always flipped the channel. All hail the power of TV remote!

Of those who did see the advertisements (whenever they did), the two main reasons were cited as
creativity quotient of the advertisements and update about a new product launch, both factors
quoted by 62% of our respondents. 25% of the respondents saw an advert because they were
planning to buy the product in future, while only 15% saw it of a product they are currently using.
The celebrity factor seems to have taken a hit as only 13% respondents cited the reason as their
favourite celebrity endorser and no one really wants to see a celebrity, where their presence is a
mere excuse to fill in for a really terrible, non-creative, boring advertisement! Consumers can no
longer be induced to buy a product just because a celebrity tells them to do so! (On a funny note
11% respondents saw an ad on the TV just because they were just too lazy to switch the channel!)

The two main conclusions that we were able to draw from our survey is that consumers don’t really
want to see advertisements on TV and if they do, they want an advertisement that’s really clever and
creative. The zoo-zoo ad campaign of Vodafone is a great example, which grabbed attention purely
on the basis of creativity and a completely out-of-box idea.

Ambient Advertising: What’s good about it

The biggest and most hard hitting advantage of Ambient Advertising over the regular advertising
media is COST. Marketers spend money by the truckloads for advertisements and promotions and as we
can conclude from our survey, most of these go unseen and unheard.

Consider this, 2007 figures for total advertisement and promotion spending on television in India
stand at Rs 80 billion (The Marketing Whitebook 2009-10). This figure is expected to reach Rs 200
billion by 2012 (that’s three years away), really an eye opener of sorts. And more advertisements
mean one thing, ad clutter. The figures for print media (newspapers and magazines) stand at Rs 94
billion in 2007 expecting to grow to Rs 208 billion by year 2012. Indian advertising is spending big
money and how! Ambient Advertising one the other hand delivers the goods at fraction of these
budgets and this most certainly makes it a pet tool of guerilla marketers. The force of the
advertisement is carried by the content, delivery, idea, medium and not the big budgets and big

Creativity is another area where Ambient Advertising beats its traditional counterparts. This is more
out of the fact that creativity is an integral part of Ambient Advertising. To get the attention of the
people it has to be creative, funny original. No celebrities here to come to the rescue. Because of
this creative quotient, ambient Advertising has an added advantage. Makes a marketer’s life
tougher, but comes with its own rewards. And as can be concluded from our survey, consumers
want creative advertisement, something Ambient advertising promises on and delivers.

Our survey also contained questions about responses towards ambient advertising. The findings are
very positive to say the least, with nearly 75% responders giving it a good or better rating! Full
A tool, for Guerrilla Marketing

Invented as an unconventional system of promotions that relies on time, energy and imagination
rather than a big marketing budget, Guerrilla Marketing campaigns soon became a unique, engaging and
thought-provoking concept to generate buzz, and consequently turn viral.

Ambient advertising can be called as a chassis of Guerrilla form of marketing. We usually use the
word “ambient”, which means it's out there in the world, not in a frame, to better explain the
context of Guerrilla marketing in a slightly lower tone. Guerrilla marketing is questionable on the
fronts of vandalism and annoyance to the people by the extremely loud acts perceived nowadays
whereas ambient advertising using space creatively and not annoyingly can be a better approach. This
can be better explained by the examples

Guerrilla form of marketing is ambush marketing, like Nike sponsors the Olympics and Adidas (or vice
versa) does adverts near the site saying we're Olympians too whereas Ambient advertising would
be more like ads on the shop floors and supermarket trolleys.

Ambient marketing allows a business to create brand recognition without necessarily pushing their
products. One excellent example is the Dancing Grass Vans of London. Owned by renegade smoothie
makers (and brilliant marketers) Innocent, the vans are covered in real, growing grass and can often
be seen around the city making deliveries and drawing stares. Because they serve a real purpose
(delivering smoothies) the vans don’t look like advertisements. But do you forget the name of a
company with grass-covered vans? Never. Leading up to the release of the Simpson’s Movie, 7-11
transformed some of their stores to look just like fictional (but legendary) Kwik-E-Marts, complete
with weird Springfield-type products. This ambient marketing campaign was ridiculously effective.

A medium for Social messages

Often termed as Captive audience advertising where innovative, creative formats are placed among the
areas where target group lives and works. It can be the best way to attract people on the socially active
front. The biggest problem with social marketing is the difficulty in getting the message across,
getting attention long enough to make people understand. The second obstacle is the again, as in
guerilla marketing, the cost factor. Social marketing undertaken by NGOs, don’t really have the big
bucks as corporate houses do. In comes ambient advertising to the rescue and save the day! This can be
very well seen in the following examples.

This can be very well quoted from the examples by teaser boards pointing Grass is Dumb , a message to
invoke thoughts of saving water among the normal joggers in that park. The message says your lawn
isn’t going to complain if you water it for 2 minutes less, so use what you really need.
Ambient advertising can be always be used to provoke a socially responsible need. It can be best
described by an act followed. After a typical winter, Chicago roadways are full of potholes. Filling
potholes is a costly affair. Enter KFC. The fast food giant has offered to fix the potholes in exchange
for being allowed to stencil over the repairs in white paint proclaiming, "Refreshed by KFC."
Same was the issue resolved by a couple of Moving Boards roaming the Sydney CBD on Wednesday at
lunch? Armed only with a handful of flyers and great big smile the task was to raise awareness of “GOLD
WEEK” and help the Sydney Children’s Hospital in their biggest fundraising event of the year. The
overwhelming responses generated proved advertising used for good not evil.

Ambient Advertising, the future in it

So what’s Ambient Advertising’s future? Is it going to grow from strength to strength or get shelved
somewhere in the archives of advertising history? Many experts believe ambient advertising is
working as a sort of self-destructive mechanism, that is to say as more and more of the unique,
unconventional media become commonplace and mainstream, faster is the loss of WOW factor of
these advertisements and thus leading to an eventual death. That to some extent is true, as seen in
the case of buses and taxis being used for advertising, a unique idea maybe a decade ago, now a
totally mainstream advertising medium. But is really the case with other ambient media? How is it
ever possible that egg carton or bathroom stall or painted sidewalks ever going to become
mainstream! And if a medium does become regular and commonplace, the idea, the content and the
delivery of the advertisements is still going to keep ambient advertising alive.

True, there are many limitations to ambient advertising and this form of advertising can never take
place of mainstream form. Some of these limitations are
 Effective in urban centers of populace. Ambient advertising mostly uses static media and it
logically follows that people around it should be in motion. And hence it makes sense to
have these adverts in larger cities especially in areas of large human gatherings like busy
streets and shopping malls.
 Thus putting up such adverts in rural areas with low population densities means waste of
money and hence making ambient advertising non-effective in rural areas. That is a bad
news, especially in a country like India where most of the population is rural or semi-urban.
 Another main limitation of ambient advertising is potential reach (in number of people) in a
single go. Put an advertisement on national television and you can reach the entire country,
paint a sidewalk in a busy city street and you reach maybe about 4000-5000 people a day.
Numbers speak for themselves.
 A nuisance factor might creep in into the consumers’ minds due to the over-exposure to
these advertisements, a phenomenon seen in regular advertising media.

Seeing these limitations, can we conclude Ambient Advertising is no good? Not really. True, Ambient
Advertising can’t be used to replace the traditional advertising media, but what it can do and do
really powerfully, is to augment the mainstream advertising.

It can be used to create a buzz in the populace about a product or service. It can get people to talk, get
them to see, get them to notice. It can be very well used as pre-promotional medium to create a buzz
for a product that’s about to be launched. Teaser campaigns creating a spark of anticipation in the
minds of the populace. All this at an unbeatable cost advantage. All that needs to be done is to open
the minds and let the creativity speak for itself.

Digital technology has already become an integral part of lives and it increasingly permeates newer
avenues and Ambient Advertising can use it as a perfect ally. A future where ambient advertising
uses new technology for wider and farther reaches to tap into greater areas and bigger populace.
People want creative advertising (which can also be gathered from our survey) and creativity is a
staple for Ambient advertising, so as long as people get what they want, they will keep coming.

Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase oft heard. And human psyche is such that what we see over and
over, is what we start to desire, latently or otherwise. Ambient Advertising nails this fact right into
the bull’s eye. Hammering is a potent tool in conditioning consumers and better way do it than
making consumer see the same thing over and over again. Does a person using the restroom in a
mall have anything other than reading the advert posted right in front of him? On the other hand,
effective advertising always attempts to reach out to the human subconscious and Ambient
Advertising excels at doing this as well. These adverts can be subtle yet be sending out very powerful
message at the same time, especially in case of social marketing. All this however needs to carefully
scripted so as to not let any nuisance factor come into play in the consumers’ minds.

The Final Conclusion

To conclude it all, after all the fact finding and researching points to us that, even though many
experts would disagree, Ambient Advertising has quite some time to go before it can be relegated to
trash bins of time. This especially is true in emerging markets like India, where it a relatively a new
phenomenon and has a great potential. Large cities of India, China are great canvas boards for the
advertisers of these fields to draw into. As more and more of the biggies like Nike, Coca-Cola,
Vodafone, Kellogg’s and the like spend bigger bucks into this form of advertising, there is one
conclusion to draw out, that Ambient Advertising is here to stay. Advertisers, no doubt, have a
challenging task, but creative potential of human mind is infinite and so are the avenues for Ambient
Annexure I

The survey which we conducted on advertisement effectiveness was hosted on documents tool of
Google. The link at which this survey can be found is:

We thank Google for providing such powerful online tools, free of cost!

Annexure II

Some of our findings from the survey are as follows:

1. Reasons for advertisements being followed

Reason Percentage positive response

Creativity check
Update on new product launch
Planning to buy the product being advertised
Favourite celebrity being shown
Plain Lazy
Current user of the product being advertised
2. Responses to Ambient Advertising quality



Annexure III

1. The Marketing Whitebook 2009-10