Blurring Lines

Below the line advertising is catching on in Oman even though it’s yet to claim the pride of place in the ad world here, reports Arya Rudra

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Think bank, and BankMuscat is the first name that springs to mind. The reason's not just that it's one of the biggest banks in the country.
It's in your face - you see it everywhere, on billboards, as direct mailers, sponsoring events. The visibility is so much that no one had even noticed that the bank had trimmed its print ad budget significantly in 2007.
Oil companies also spend less on mass media advertisements compared to that spent on direct marketing.
Most hypermarkets, except Lulu, have almost zero presence in mass media ads. Al Fair, Carrefour, Supa Save and Sultan Center rely almost entirely on fliers, pamphlets, and other special offers delivered to prospective customers' doorsteps.
By all appearances, below-the-line (BTL) advertising, which accounts for a lion's share of companies' ad budgets internationally, has caught on here as well. Marketing campaigns are increasingly moving away from using mass media branding with generic and broad messages towards utilising more direct response marketing methods.

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Abdulwahid al Farsi, external affairs manager, Shell Oman Marketing, says their campaigns for the relaunch of their Helix brand of lubricants under the theme of 'Refresh, revive and rejuvenate' and 'Better mileage at no extra cost' as good examples of BTL's power being unleashed. The strategy of engaging target groups in direct interaction, rather than in hard-selling the brand and getting them to interact with the brand in exciting and fun games, paid rich dividends for Shell Oman. The brand proposition is brought alive and has long-term recall value, he adds.
Srikanth Viswanathan, account director, DDB Oman, says most below the line communication strategies are formulated with the objective of short-term returns. The reasons could vary from customer acquisition or retention to generating interest in new or slow-moving products. It may also be used to popularise an incentive to induce trial or purchase.
K S Chakrabarty, operations manager, Pizza Muscat, agrees. Special sops and freebies are doled out to shoppers like 'money-off' coupons, bonus packs (XX% free), buy one, get one free campaigns, free samples, demonstrations, competitions and contests, special discounts, volume discounts, etc. These are all intended to generate sudden, short-term increases in business and are often used to launch a new product or a change in price." Such promotional schemes need to be meticulously planned, controlled and monitored in order to have the right impact. Chakrabarty says their promotional fliers about special offers have always resul-ted in increased sales volumes showing beyond doubt that those had the desired effect with prospective customers.
Another example of a successful BTL campaign is the recent travelling road show by BankMuscat to popularise its savings account for children, al-Mazyona. The road show visited schools across the country and involved the children, parents and teachers and it has been a thumping success. "That's not all. We also established a privilege card for children (al Mazyona Supercard) that will serve as a long-term tool to sustain the relationship between the child and the brand, and also give us the scope to continually inject newness into the product. This is yet another sprout of the BTL communication strategy," says Viswanathan, who handles the BankMuscat account.
Lulu Hypermarket, one of the biggest players in the retail space in Oman with a pan-Arab presence, has always used BTL very effectively throughout their stores in communicating various promotions and offers, says V Nandakumar, group corporate communications manager, Emke Group. "The Lulu success story hinges greatly on the leaflets and fliers that have carved out a niche for our diverse products in the minds of our customers. BTL techniques ensure a recall of the brand, which in turn helps in making purchase decisions."
Getting the right mix
So, is this the beginning of the end for mass media advertising? Not really, says Suresh Nair, manager operations, at Asha Advertising and Marketing Agency. It is imperative to identify the appropriate media mix for both above-the-line (for branding and identity) and below-the-line (for customer acquisition, retention and loyalty development) methods. Service providers who successfully intertwine these multiple channels stand out to meet those needs more effectively than providers mired in a soiled, single-channel approach. That is exactly what players like BankMuscat and Shell Oman are doing.

Shell Oman employs what they call 'through the line advertising'. "Our advertising strategy involves both above-the-line and below-the-line communications for the same campaign, in which one form of advertising points the target to another form of advertising thereby crossing the line," says al Farsi. He cited the example of the GCC traffic week Shell Oman has been organising along with Royal Oman Police for many years now. "For this campaign we might release mass media advertisements giving people tips on safe driving and following safety regulations when at our service stations. The mass media is then supported by BTL activities at the service stations whereby people are given leaflets with safety messages and a coupon that gives them a chance to win a car."
For its al-Mayzona children's account, BankMuscat used mass media to effectively capture the essence of the brand promise and to introduce the concept of a 'pre-fun-ded account' as a short-term incentive for instant activations. Simultaneously, the bank and DDB implemented an effective BTL campaign by extending the message to parents at the branch level through personal interaction with the bank's tellers.

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Viswanathan explains how BTL allows marketing guys to target the communication, based on insights into that particular segment of the market. In simple terms, if one could refer to traditional forms of advertising as horizontal, BTL can be referred to as communication tools that explore the depths of each segment of the target market. And when the target is defined, it makes it possible to measure results. That is why BTL demands a bigger share of the media mix in communication strategies of this age.
"While traditional advertising can used to announce the arrival of a new car and attract the attention of potential customers, BTL is effective when it comes to activities such as test drives, where a customer can experience the product, or to speak to specific segments like existing car owners of the same brand who are ready for an upgrade, or to decision makers in organisations who might be interested in buying a fleet of car for their employees."
BTL vs ATL
Though mass media allows advertisers to communicate with its audience amass, the strength of BTL communication is its ability to get up, close and personal with the customer at a level where the brand can be experienced. Nair says while traditional advertising works primarily as a monologue, BTL makes it a dialogue. Honing a strong brand image is not enough to sell a product. Those who favour image believe that a strong brand image can create a preference in the absence of other differences. "Marlboro and the cowboy image is a classic example." He, however, points out that there is another school of thought which is of the view that the images are converging and losing their power to command high brand premiums. "The key is the need to develop a distinctive offering, not simply a distinctive image. One of the main challenges for the adman is to devise new ways of capturing attention and positioning a brand in the consumer's mind and then assisting him to make the decision to choose a company's product/service over the others."

Retailers should avoid the temptation of rushing into below-the-line programmes without proper homework or they risk ending up with egg on their faces, cautions Sourit Sen, director, Batecho. "Timing is everything; retailers need to get this spot on. For instance, the duration of the promotion needs to be worked out."

According to Viswanathan, a well-executed BTL campaign can produce better value against traditional forms of advertising, but not necessarily recall value. "One always remembers messages that appeal to the heart, and not necessarily to the wallet. Below-the-line advertising allows engaging the customer at a more personal level and campaigns that are executed with a compulsive response mechanism are bound to have recall value."

In Oman, PR is one of the most powerful and widely used BTL mediums with Internet marketing yet to come of age. With big retail giants making a foray into the country, it provides the right ambience for the retail dialogue space; a lot of brands from electronic durables, FMCG have embraced BTL advertising. "This has been made possible because of the strong brand image already existing for these products internationally as well as in the local market," says Nair.
In spite of its popularity and value-for-money factor, admen say BTL is yet to earn the respect that it deserves in Oman. Perhaps al Farsi has the last word when he says BTL is still searching for its identity in Oman, despite its proven effectiveness. As more well-recognised multinational brands enter the market doing away the necessity of brand building exercises through mass media, they may be telling a different story next year.
Advantages of BTL as a recall medium

  • Targetting individual consumers based on their express needs and preferences.
  • Issue of a call to action, inspiring specific customer activity or tailored messages about a brand or product

Targetting individual consumers based on their express needs and preferences.

Driving individual responses

  • Highly measurable, allowing marketers insight into their return on investment and those tactics that are not working.
  • Establish one-to-one relationships between consumers and marketers with a touch and feel experience .

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Blurring Lines
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