Will advertising hit the road?

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    Dubai: Public transport links in metropolises across the globe go hand in hand with advertising for shows, events, products and services. From buses to cabs, to underground stations, rushing crowds are bombarded with information of what to buy between the stops.

    Dubai Metro
    Dubai Metro

    So as public transport in Dubai expands, an obvious question is whether this new platform for advertising will follow suit. Responses from companies in the region vary enormously.

    The Dubai Metro, scheduled to open its first line in September, last month announced the first companies to snap up the naming rights to stations. Well-known brands such as etisalat snapped up the opportunities. Etisalat paid Dh135 million for the Al Qusais station’s name for a decade, and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) expect to raise Dh3 billion this way from 23 stations and two lines.The RTA’s director of marketing and corporate communications, Peyman Parham, explained how the city’s alternatives to the private car are expanding.

    “In the last six months we have added 700 buses and we are adding another 700 buses over the next six months,” said Parham. “We have a six per cent ridership for public transport in Dubai today,” he continued. “Which is obviously a very small amount compared to other countries but obviously they have an extremely developed infrastructure. We have set a target of 30 per cent of the population using public transport by 2020. We are hoping to hit that target sooner,” said Parham. “When 30 per cent of the population is using it then the advertising becomes much more effective.”

    Some companies, however, feel the price tag attached to advertising on public transport in the city is simply too big. British retailer Marks and Spencer used to advertise on Dubai’s taxis but has abandoned the practice as prices spiralled.

    “We had a contract until August 2008 and then the tender ran out. The new contract was three times the price,” said Natasha Tulsi, Marks and Spencer’s marketing manager for the Gulf.

    RAK Bank agree that advertising on taxis was better value for money in the past.

    “We were the first ones to use taxis,” said Banali L. Malhotra, head of marketing at RAK Bank. “They gave us a good deal.”

    She, however, feels the Metro’s price for advertising rules it out as an effective platform for them.

    “The Metro has right now completely out-priced itself,” said Malhotra, adding that if prices relax then it could be a good option.

    Others agree that the initial pricing is bloated, and should it level out then the Metro will attract more companies for advertising, creating a ‘wait and see’ response from some.

    “New mediums for advertising tend to be a little overpriced,” said Ahmad Rady, marketing manager for Coca-Cola in the Middle East.

    However, he believes the real test for them will be if the footfall is great enough to entice some of Coke’s marketing budget. “If there is traffic and it has a good reach then we will use it,” he said. “It really depends on the numbers.”

    The numbers game creates a debate over how popular the metro will be, and thereby how worthwhile it will be for companies to advertise there. Piyush Mathur Nielsen’s regional managing director, admits the current scale of public transport is likely to put off marketing gurus.

    “There has been very little public transport compared with other countries,” said Mathur. “The exposure can be limited.”

    Parham however, has no concerns over footfall on the Metro system.

    “On the Red Line we are looking at 23,000 in each direction every hour,” he said. “So you are looking at a huge number of hits on any brand that advertises. It’s a great place to come in contact with your consumers and potential customers.”

    From Singapore to Tokyo, New York and London, public transport has proven its pedigree when it comes to advertising products and services, which may not be the case yet in Dubai.

    “Based on what I have seen in other countries I expect it [Dubai’s public transport links] to be big,” said Rady. “Let’s wait and see what the price will be.”

    By Jane Ferguson, Business Features Writer
    Published: March 17, 2009, 23:09 www.gulfnews.com