With China being the fastest urbanising region globally, we travelled there on a exploratory mission to see what we could learn in terms of transit media.
Once there, we realised that, although in many ways South Africa is far behind, in certain aspects we are ahead. There are a number of similarities between our countries, especially with respect to transport infrastructure development.
We can learn what to expect when Africa is impacted by mass urbanisation, which is predicted to peak by the year 2030. Part of this mass urbanisation in China is the construction of a state-of-the-art intermodal transportation network, which naturally leads to huge growth in transit media opportunities.
In all of the cities we visited – Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong – we found a combination of large-scale public transport systems that service millions of commuters daily. Beijing, the capital of China, has a population of over 18 million, most of whom make use of a sophisticated road, rail and public transport network. The subway caters for about eight million journeys a day. Buses and trams do more than 14 million trips a day and most people commute for an average of 48 minutes a day (which is on a par with the average commuting time in South Africa).
In order to accommodate its citizens, China is currently investing billions of dollars in all their major cities in an attempt to provide an effective intermodal public transport system, while simultaneously trying to combat huge pollution issues linked to urban congestion and massive numbers of motor vehicles.
Exposure to these transport modes and the related out of home (OOH) media types gave us a very clear and exciting sense of what is possible and what to expect in Africa in the future.
From a media perspective, we found very upmarket and modern transit media formats in most of the public transport networks. We spent time with ChinaVision, a company that operates over 230 000 screens in 57 cities inside the major bus and passenger rail networks. The company boasts a monthly audience of over 400 million viewers – an astounding number when compared with South African audiences.
We found that transit media in China is on a massive growth curve and is extremely cost effective compared to traditional media types. Given the captive nature and massive size of this transit audience, the market is set to grow even more aggressively over the next few years. The enormous investment in transit infrastructure has led to the incubation of state-of-the-art OOH and transit media opportunities that rival most western markets.
Also of note is the combined usage of digital transit media, upmarket static media and vibrant, interesting activation campaigns. Many of the transit media platforms already in existence in China are ideally suited for local application. In this respect, we are already in the process of initiating new innovations and projects.
Where we believe we are slightly ahead of certain types of Chinese transit media is that we place more focus on adding value and enhancing the commuter experience and we believe that the quality of, for example, our digital networks is of a higher standard than those seen in some of China’s biggest cities. We also have better controls over network efficiency and are closer to the consumer as we have better information in terms of consumer take-out, recall and experience.
What we learnt from the Chinese is that it is possible to co-operate better with transit and parastatal organisations on planning and developing new OOH media types and opportunities.
We realised that for the environment to look good, media needs to be part of
city planning and construction processes. In China, media elements are integrated seamlessly and form part of the infrastructure from the very beginning with screens, billboards and sound forming part of the building specifications and aesthetic appeal. They haven’t been added on as an afterthought. Media owners are part of the process from the start. Collaborating and integrating media at the onset is certainly something South African media owners and landlords can improve upon.
In China the branding and advertising community understands the benefits and power of transit media. In South Africa this is not yet the case and we have a lot of work to do. We need advertisers and media buyers to understand the effectiveness and efficiency of modern transit media types. With more people moving to urban centres, people are commuting for longer hours, giving OOH players a great opportunity to capture this economically active audience before they reach their destinations or even the point of sale.
Transit spaces and commuter hubs are utilised extremely effectively in China, with consumers being exposed to brands in ways that are innovative and exciting through the use of a combination of touchpoints. Retailers are also commuter-focused and are present in all commuter nodes with commuter friendly formats and trading hours, something that is a massive opportunity in Africa.
Commuting also needs to become much more cost-effective and efficient in this country – it needs to get us out of our motorcars and on to the public transport network. This said, we are currently witnessing the implementation, expansion and upliftment of various transport modes – with the Bus Rapid Transit system in Gauteng, Integrated Rapid Transport in Cape Town, the Gautrain and Passenger Rail Agency.
Technologically, China is ahead of the curve by showing confidence in innovating and implementing new technology on a massive scale. The whole country runs on digital and the technology that many companies have available to them is better and cheaper than what we have access to on home ground.
China is going green. The country has a big pollution problem so it is imperative for them to find green solutions if they are to thrive. At OOH exhibitions we noticed a significant amount of green technology that incorporated wind and solar power into the design; for example, solar-powered street furniture such as commuter shelters and street lamps.
China is moving towards bigger, better and more efficient transport networks that will result in a wider spread of transit media opportunities.
Its media platforms blend in seamlessly with transport modes and the environment. Also, China’s media and content is geared towards improving the consumer’s experience. An example of this is the inclusion of a volume control button for each screen on each seat of a bus or train.
Back home, we are very fortunate to have an array of brand new infrastructural developments in South Africa that are natural incubators for OOH media. We need to focus on incorporating and developing world-class integrated OOH media solutions in these environments. We also need to market them appropriately and ensure that we develop and provide advertisers with credible efficacy research. It is an exciting time to be in the OOH space and especially the transit media sector.
Jacques du Preez is managing director of Provantage.
This story was first published in the January 2014 issue of The Media magazine.