Advertising in India – it’s all in the detail

I recently spent two weeks in India, travelling through the beautiful states of Goa and Kerala by taxi, train and boat.

Apart from the jaw-dropping countryside and life-changing food, the thing that really struck me was the level of effort that is dedicated to roadside advertising.

While more traditional billboards exist in the bigger towns and cities, the prevalent form of advertising in rural areas is repeated hand-painted brand logos on the walls lining the roads.


Photo credit: Sophie Kay

Every single one is exactly the same, even when you travel 15 hours across the country.

There must be an army of sign-painters across India, all trained in the art of hand-painted cursive script and specific logos. It’s mind-boggling.


Photo credit:

In the UK at the moment there is a feeling that brands need to be connecting to people on a very personal level and this often includes physical items that could be ‘retro’ or handmade to spark conversations. While we’re striving for that personal feel here, on the other side of the world they’ve been doing it for generations.

Hanif Kureshi, who works for Wieden+Kennedy in New Delhi, has begun a project to preserve the hand-painted sign fonts of his childhood. He’s recognised that this is a valuable part of India’s culture and is determined not to let the fonts disappear by digitising them.

Musings on train advertising

Every single person on this train is looking at one screen or another. iPhone, iPad, Galaxy, HTC, Lumia, they’re all the same. Including me.

But if they’re all looking down, who’s looking up?

That’s where the advertising is and that’s where companies are paying sometimes large sums to be. It makes me think, is there still a point to it?

Back in the day where you’d either read a book or the newspaper on the train, advertising had its place. You could stare at it to avoid making eye contact with your neighbour or to avoid making awkward conversation with that bloke that lives a few doors down from you.

It gave advertisers a chance to utilise slightly longer copy and some attention-grabbing imagery. They had a captive audience for at least 3 to 4 minutes, far longer than most impressions in a newspapers or on a website.

For today’s time-poor and over stimulated audience, I would argue that until train advertising updates itself to move with the advances in technology, it is going to remain largely irrelevant.

However, as soon as you start to look at the stats, a different story emerges. With a 0.86% response rate on mobile banner ads compared to a 79% response rate from tube advertising, you start to think that actually, this environment is the perfect place to engage a relevant audience.

Just take the CBS Outdoor Look For Longer campaign as an example. With over 5,000 people correctly guessing all 100 stations within the new image already, it seems that a new breed of tube advertising has arrived.

Although a 79% response rate seems impossibly high, something is clearly clicking with the audience who are sometimes forced to look at the advertising as they’ve lost all of their lives on Candy Crush Saga. 

Am I just looking at all of this with the cycnical eyes of an advertising professional…..? What do you think?