It was the author Enrique Peñalosa who said an advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars; rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.
And while South Africa might be far from such an achievement, the massive drive to improve and upgrade public transport systems has created a media opportunity unlike any other.
Called ‘transit media’, it is best described as any form of out of home (OOH) advertising that displays advertisements in or on the outside of vehicles – in other, words branded moving vehicles. Growing in popularity with agencies across the country it has arguably come to include static advertising at transport interchanges and nodes such as airports, bus stops, train stations and taxi ranks.
“Prior to the World Cup transit media was seen largely as a mid- to lower-LSM tool in the media planners’ arsenal,” says Simon Wall, managing director of Tractor Outdoor, a Cape Town-based advertising solutions company. “It was used when you needed to target the lower LSM 4 to 7. The upgrades of the bus services, Rea Vaya and MyCiti, and the introduction of the Gautrain, however, turned this entire view on its head as the profile of users of public transport has changed.”
According to Wall, while there are a variety of lower LSM opportunities within this media format, the change in the audience profile has resulted in more ‘upmarket’ brands making use of transit opportunities to impress their target market.
Jacques du Preez, managing director of Provantage, says the driving force behind the use of transit media in South Africa today is the increase in infrastructure spending.
“There are nine different bus rapid transit projects on the go in the country at present, while the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) is spending billions on upgrading its infrastructure. We have seen the introduction of the Gautrain and, across the country, airports have been revamped. All of these are natural incubators for transit media,” he says.
And that is without taking South Africa’s huge taxi industry or the growing cab and tuk-tuk businesses into consideration.
“Some 22 million people use public transport in South Africa every day,” says Du Preez. “They are a captive audience. When you are on a bus, taxi or train, you can’t just get up and switch off the television like you would do at home, as you are captive in the environment. You can’t just tune out. It is an extremely efficient means of communicating to an audience.”
There is no doubt that it is cost effective, says Angelo Tandy, managing director of SP Media (SPM). “It is distinctive and oversized, while the rolling billboards offer advertisers creative flexibility that allows you to differentiate yourself from your competitor. Transit media penetrates the market at eye level and has a lasting impact.”
And while there are still only a limited number of players in the space, the use of transit media in advertising is on the increase.
According to the latest All Media and Products Survey (Amps), approximately 87.1% of the population was exposed to bus advertising in 2012. This was an increase of 2.5% over the 2011 period.
“Cape Town shows a higher-than-normal viewership, with approximately 89.6% of the population having viewed bus advertising,” says Wall. “With the city having fairly limited out of home media opportunities, transit media allows advertisers to gain far greater reach and frequency while buses travel in and out of the key business nodes.”
Wall says the extremely mobile nature of transit advertising allows for multiple “first time impacts”, which are by far the most important moments in an OOH campaign.
“A vehicle driving through busy traffic in and out of major points of convergence such as bus or taxi depots is able to initiate this engagement with new users many, many times. This increases the recall and inspires a far more intrinsic call to action than a simple billboard ad.”
It is also far more effective than television as it has less wastage, says Du Preez. “Something comes on that you don’t like [and] you get up and make tea. In an airport, bus or train terminal you can’t do that. There is absolute exclusivity in the space.”
At the same time, he says, it is important to remember that the audience being reached forms the backbone of South Africa’s workforce. “The efficacy of the medium is very hard to compete with, as your effective reach in terms of less wastage is very high.”
Tandy believes using transit media in combination with other media further improves the retention of a campaign’s advertising message. “Television and print advertising have a lower return on investment, yet receive a far greater share of the rand in the average media mix,” he says.
Wall agrees, saying that transit media is the glue that ties a campaign together. “If used correctly with a variety of other formats it can tell a wonderful story and tie them all together, which enables an advertiser to literally hold their potential clients hand all the way through from the initial print/radio/online ad right through to the point of purchase.”
The experts predict that transit media in South Africa, and Africa in general, is only going to get bigger and better.
“Media owners are becoming far more accountable to their clients with the introduction of tracking devices and other accounting tools, so the more comfortable advertisers get with spending money on transit, the more money can be spent in upgrading the technologies and fleets and the prospect begins to fulfil itself,” says Wall.
Another trend, he says, is that with the increase in technology and the rise of pervasive mobile phones, many media owners are linking their transit platforms with mobile technology. “Inspiring a call to action while commuters are on the way home is a great way to engage with busy consumers.”
Technology really means that the sky is the limit with transit media, says Du Preez. “From television networks being established at airports, to digital platforms being erected at taxi ranks and bus stops, to televisions in taxis and buses, it is an exciting environment, which allows one to push the creative boundaries. There is major opportunity for brands to build exciting campaigns, but at the same time there is a fine line to walk,” he says.
“One must be mindful of the frequency that the medium delivers as it is built like very few other media types. Most people using public transport commute twice a day for five days a week. You expose them to the same monotonous message day in and day out and you will drive them crazy,” he says.
It is a media format that displays the constant ability to find a crowd, says Tandy. “It mingles with the consumer, follows the flow of shippers and their spending power – speaking, showing and selling along the way.”
This story was first published in the January 2014 issue of The Media magazine.