Ambient Advertising

Most of the definitions of Ambient Advertising define it as a form of advertising that is covered in “outdoor non-regular media”. It’s an advert that is not delivered through conventional medium of television, radio, print etc. An Ambient Advertisement would use a sidewalk for example, rather than using a billboard. Quite simply put, an advertisement that is a part of the surroundings, a part of the ambience is well, ambient advertisement.

But for effectiveness ambient advertising goes one step further as to the fact that not only is it part of the ambience, it needs to blend in with the media as well. And there lies the tricky part, the advert needs to be noticed and be a part of the background, and that’s where the Ambient Advertising has to unleash its creative power. Ambient Advertising is Covered by non-regular media, in most regular but unexpected places/objects. It is Innovative; captures the eyeballs, stirs the imagination. Blends with the environment, yet gets the attention. Relies on word-of-mouth publicity. Traditional advertising becoming a BIG bore.

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In recent years (recent in Indian context, about a decade old in western reference), there have been many debates regarding the effectiveness of the regular media in delivering advertisements. The consumer has become immune to the advertisements in newspapers and magazines. The novelty of cable television has worn off and so has the glitzy advertisements. The over-exposure has brought in a new change in the consumer, which dictates which advertisement to be seen and which instantly skipped.

The over-exposure has killed the effectiveness of the advertising, and that’s the harsh truth. So how bad really is this “over-exposure” to advertising? Consider this, on an average a regular current affairs weekly has about 18-20 full page advertisements in a 70 odd page magazine, not counting the pullouts, cover pages, part-page adverts, “special features” et al. That’s nearly 30% of the magazine space! This number jumps, understandably, to over 40% for a lifestyle/fashion magazine. Television advertisement figures tell a similar story.

In 2007, the total ad duration was 4006 lakh seconds (The Marketing Whitebook 2009-10), up 31% from 2006 figures. The advertisement clutter reached new highs and still going up. To gauge consumer immunity towards regular advertising, we conducted an online survey regarding their attitude regarding advertising. The numbers that came in were hardly surprising. 20% of the respondents always switched channels during the ad breaks, 38% switched 8 times out of 10 and 30% changed the channel 5-6 times out of 10. What does this translate to?

A whopping 88% of the television viewers preferred not to see the advertisements over seeing it! And what’s more, nearly 60% of the audience nearly always flipped the channel. All hail the power of TV remote! Of those who did see the advertisements (whenever they did), the two main reasons were cited as creativity quotient of the advertisements and update about a new product launch, both factors quoted by 62% of our respondents. 25% of the respondents saw an advert because they were planning to buy the product in future, while only 15% saw it of a product they are currently using.

The celebrity factor seems to have taken a hit as only 13% respondents cited the reason as their favourite celebrity endorser and no one really wants to see a celebrity, where their presence is a mere excuse to fill in for a really terrible, non-creative, boring advertisement! Consumers can no longer be induced to buy a product just because a celebrity tells them to do so! (On a funny note 11% respondents saw an ad on the TV just because they were just too lazy to switch the channel!

The two main conclusions that we were able to draw from our survey is that consumers don’t really want to see advertisements on TV and if they do, they want an advertisement that’s really clever and creative. The zoo-zoo ad campaign of Vodafone is a great example, which grabbed attention purely on the basis of creativity and a completely out-of-box idea. Ambient Advertising: What’s good about it The biggest and most hard hitting advantage of Ambient Advertising over the regular advertising media is COST.

Marketers spend money by the truckloads for advertisements and promotions and as we can conclude from our survey, most of these go unseen and unheard. Consider this, 2007 figures for total advertisement and promotion spending on television in India stand at Rs 80 billion (The Marketing Whitebook 2009-10). This figure is expected to reach Rs 200 billion by 2012 (that’s three years away), really an eye opener of sorts. And more advertisements mean one thing, ad clutter. The figures for print media (newspapers and magazines) stand at Rs 94 billion in 2007 expecting to grow to Rs 208 billion by year 2012.

Indian advertising is spending big money and how! Ambient Advertising one the other hand delivers the goods at fraction of these budgets and this most certainly makes it a pet tool of guerilla marketers. The force of the advertisement is carried by the content, delivery, idea, medium and not the big budgets and big names. Creativity is another area where Ambient Advertising beats its traditional counterparts. This is more out of the fact that creativity is an integral part of Ambient Advertising. To get the attention of the people it has to be creative, funny original.

No celebrities here to come to the rescue. Because of this creative quotient, ambient Advertising has an added advantage. Makes a marketer’s life tougher, but comes with its own rewards. And as can be concluded from our survey, consumers want creative advertisement, something Ambient advertising promises on and delivers. Our survey also contained questions about responses towards ambient advertising. The findings are very positive to say the least, with nearly 75% responders giving it a good or better rating.

A tool, for Guerrilla Marketing Invented as an unconventional system of promotions that relies on time, energy and imagination rather than a big marketing budget, Guerrilla Marketing campaigns soon became a unique, engaging and thought-provoking concept to generate buzz, and consequently turn viral. Ambient advertising can be called as a chassis of Guerrilla form of marketing. We usually use the word “ambient”, which means it’s out there in the world, not in a frame, to better explain the context of Guerrilla marketing in a slightly lower tone.

Guerrilla marketing is questionable on the fronts of vandalism and annoyance to the people by the extremely loud acts perceived nowadays whereas ambient advertising using space creatively and not annoyingly can be a better approach. This can be better explained by the examples Guerrilla form of marketing is ambush marketing, like Nike sponsors the Olympics and Adidas (or vice versa) does adverts near the site saying we’re Olympians too whereas Ambient advertising would be more like ads on the shop floors and supermarket trolleys. Ambient marketing allows a business to create brand recognition without necessarily pushing their products.

One excellent example is the Dancing Grass Vans of London. Owned by renegade smoothie makers (and brilliant marketers) Innocent, the vans are covered in real, growing grass and can often be seen around the city making deliveries and drawing stares. Because they serve a real purpose (delivering smoothies) the vans don’t look like advertisements. But do you forget the name of a company with grass-covered vans? Never. Leading up to the release of the Simpson’s Movie, 7-11 transformed some of their stores to look just like fictional (but legendary) Kwik-E-Marts, complete with weird Springfield-type products.

This ambient marketing campaign was ridiculously effective. A medium for Social messages Often termed as Captive audience advertising where innovative, creative formats are placed among the areas where target group lives and works. It can be the best way to attract people on the socially active front. The biggest problem with social marketing is the difficulty in getting the message across, getting attention long enough to make people understand. The second obstacle is the again, as in guerilla marketing, the cost factor.

Social marketing undertaken by NGOs, don’t really have the big bucks as corporate houses do. In comes ambient advertising to the rescue and save the day! This can be very well seen in the following examples. This can be very well quoted from the examples by teaser boards pointing Grass is Dumb , a message to invoke thoughts of saving water among the normal joggers in that park. The message says your lawn isn’t going to complain if you water it for 2 minutes less, so use what you really need. Ambient advertising can be always be used to provoke a socially responsible need. It can be best escribed by an act followed.

After a typical winter, Chicago roadways are full of potholes. Filling potholes is a costly affair. Enter KFC. The fast food giant has offered to fix the potholes in exchange for being allowed to stencil over the repairs in white paint proclaiming, “Refreshed by KFC. ” Same was the issue resolved by a couple of Moving Boards roaming the Sydney CBD on Wednesday at lunch? Armed only with a handful of flyers and great big smile the task was to raise awareness of “GOLD WEEK” and help the Sydney Children’s Hospital in their biggest fundraising event of the year.

The overwhelming responses generated proved advertising used for good not evil. Ambient Advertising, the future in it So what’s Ambient Advertising’s future? Is it going to grow from strength to strength or get shelved somewhere in the archives of advertising history? Many experts believe ambient advertising is working as a sort of self-destructive mechanism, that is to say as more and more of the unique, unconventional media become commonplace and mainstream, faster is the loss of WOW factor of these advertisements and thus leading to an eventual death.

That to some extent is true, as seen in the case of buses and taxis being used for advertising, a unique idea maybe a decade ago, now a totally mainstream advertising medium. But is really the case with other ambient media? How is it ever possible that egg carton or bathroom stall or painted sidewalks ever going to become mainstream! And if a medium does become regular and commonplace, the idea, the content and the delivery of the advertisements is still going to keep ambient advertising alive. True, there are many limitations to ambient advertising and this form of advertising can never take place of mainstream form.

Some of these limitations are ? Effective in urban centers of populace. Ambient advertising mostly uses static media and it logically follows that people around it should be in motion. And hence it makes sense to have these adverts in larger cities especially in areas of large human gatherings like busy streets and shopping malls.  Thus putting up such adverts in rural areas with low population densities means waste of money and hence making ambient advertising non-effective in rural areas. That is a bad news, especially in a country like India where most of the population is rural or semi-urban.

Another main limitation of ambient advertising is potential reach (in number of people) in a single go. Put an advertisement on national television and you can reach the entire country, paint a sidewalk in a busy city street and you reach maybe about 4000-5000 people a day. Numbers speak for themselves. ? A nuisance factor might creep in into the consumers’ minds due to the over-exposure to these advertisements, a phenomenon seen in regular advertising media. Seeing these limitations, can we conclude Ambient Advertising is no good? Not really.

True, Ambient Advertising can’t be used to replace the traditional advertising media, but what it can do and do really powerfully, is to augment the mainstream advertising. It can be used to create a buzz in the populace about a product or service. It can get people to talk, get them to see, get them to notice. It can be very well used as pre-promotional medium to create a buzz for a product that’s about to be launched. Teaser campaigns creating a spark of anticipation in the minds of the populace. All this at an unbeatable cost advantage.

All that needs to be done is to open the minds and let the creativity speak for itself. Digital technology has already become an integral part of lives and it increasingly permeates newer avenues and Ambient Advertising can use it as a perfect ally. A future where ambient advertising uses new technology for wider and farther reaches to tap into greater areas and bigger populace. People want creative advertising (which can also be gathered from our survey) and creativity is a staple for Ambient advertising, so as long as people get what they want, they will keep coming.

Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase oft heard. And human psyche is such that what we see over and over, is what we start to desire, latently or otherwise. Ambient Advertising nails this fact right into the bull’s eye. Hammering is a potent tool in conditioning consumers and better way do it than making consumer see the same thing over and over again. Does a person using the restroom in a mall have anything other than reading the advert posted right in front of him? On the other hand, effective advertising always attempts to reach out to the human subconscious and Ambient Advertising excels at doing this as well.

These adverts can be subtle yet be sending out very powerful message at the same time, especially in case of social marketing. All this however needs to carefully scripted so as to not let any nuisance factor come into play in the consumers’ minds. The Final Conclusion To conclude it all, after all the fact finding and researching points to us that, even though many experts would disagree, Ambient Advertising has quite some time to go before it can be relegated to trash bins of time.

This especially is true in emerging markets like India, where it a relatively a new phenomenon and has a great potential. Large cities of India, China are great canvas boards for the advertisers of these fields to draw into. As more and more of the biggies like Nike, Coca-Cola, Vodafone, Kellogg’s and the like spend bigger bucks into this form of advertising, there is one conclusion to draw out, that Ambient Advertising is here to stay.


  1. The Marketing Whitebook 2009-10
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  4. http://smib. vuw. ac. nz:8081/www/ANZMAC2000/CDsite/papers/l/Luxton1. PDF
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Ambient Advertising. (2018, Feb 23). Retrieved from