The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The lonely screen at the new mall

On an early afternoon on a Sunday I was standing alone on the ground floor lobby of South City Mall. The rest of the gang had disappeared into different shops. Feeling equally lonely was the huge LCD screen hung two floors up. No, the screen was not dark. It was lit by myriad colours. It changed its image every few seconds. The forlorn look was caused entirely by neglect. Apart from me, no one else was looking at the screen.

The vast lobby was well populated. Near the main entrance was a row of people waiting for others. They had their backs to the screen. There were some on the sofas on the side. They were mostly tired shoppers or young frolickers. They were too busy with themselves.

There were people going up or down on escalators. Those coming down were facing the wrong side so their neglect was understandable. And at least half of the people moving up were first timers — too nervous to look anywhere other than ahead. The rest were veterans decisively heading towards their chosen shops. They too had no time for the LCD screen.

Was it then a case of faulty positioning? I remembered another afternoon not too long back. The screen was showing the live telecast of a Knight Riders match. The lobby had turned into a theatre. Thousands were cheering every run Sourav was scoring. So there was nothing wrong with the screen. With the right content it was able to attract as many eyeballs as you would want to. Then why was it being ignored today?

The screen was showing advertisements. Most of the advertisers were shops in the mall. That made sense. The customers have come in. I need to herd them to my outlet. For some, today is for browsing — the purchase will happen on some other day. I still need to draw them to my shop so that on that “other day”, she comes to my shop. There may be yet others who have come in to buy something that I do not sell. I also want them to visit my shop so that when they feel the urge to buy things that I stock, they will come to me.

The shop owner needs to talk to the shopper. The advertising has been placed. Why is no one listening? Obviously, what is being said is not interesting enough. One could assume that experienced shoppers would not find it worth watching. But in the lobby people were not even bothering to look at the screen. What was at fault was not the physical medium. It was the ambience.

Not too long back if you had a medium that had the potential of reaching the target audience, then the message you put on it, more often than not, got through. Today it is not guaranteed. The competition for audience attention is so severe that mere presence does not count, relevance is a must. In these early days of South City Mall, when most of the footfalls are exploratory and therefore a bit tentative, a black and white message painted on each of the moving steps of the escalator may actually reach shoppers far more easily. Because the escalator is novel and would be holding a lot of attention and relevance amongst consumers.

There is a popular term in media planning called Opportunity To See or OTS. For all practical purpose that used to be the measure of media efficacy as most such opportunities were converted into reality. Today translating an opportunity to see into actual sighting needs serious effort. Expecting an ad placed on the giant screen of a shopping mall to draw eyeballs on its own is asking it to do too much. The ad possibly needs a Sourav century as an envelope. A Jaane Tu number would possibly do the job even better.

Media was once believed to be a blank space for advertisers to fill. Media today is very much a filled in space. Though on their own, semicolons and commas hold very little interest, advertising needs to squeeze in the right punctuation.

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