The Delhi Metro – some trends, and some opportunities for marketers

“The next station is Chandni Chowk. This station is brought to you by Shanti Prasad Hirachand Jewellers.”

You could be hearing this a few years from now, on your way to Connaught Place from Kashmere Gate, improbable though it may seem. By the time Phase II of the Delhi Metro project is completed, there will be 120 stations, stretching more than 140 km across Delhi and NCR. At each of these stations, and indeed near them, will lie opportunities for marketers.

The crowds are already there –

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These are old photos. At nodal stations like those at Rajiv Chowk and Kashmere Gate, the crowds are similar to those at local train stations in Bombay. My sister, on her way back from work a couple of weeks ago, got stuck at Rajiv Chowk, as train after train arrived full from Central Secretariat. The Delhi Metro currently transports 4.6 lakh commuters every day. Once Phase II is completed by 2010, this could go up to 10 lakh and above. On the platforms, since commuters at some stations have to wait for three or four trains before they can push their way in, advertisers have around 15-20 minutes to communicate with them.

It’s not as if the DMRC is oblivious to alternative revenue streams: At all metro stations there are advertising panels, product display spaces and commercial establishments. At some point in time last year, I read about the Metro becoming a spot for young couples to spend time together, but the police at the stations began picking on them. Cafe Coffee Day probably spotted an opportunity there and opened a cafe inside the Rajiv Chowk station.

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Rajiv Chowk also houses a book and magazine shop from the India Today group. The station at Tis Hazari has a large Maruti showroom owned by Rana Motors (where we got our WagonR from), as well as a Spenser Hyper Market. Speaking of supermarkets, the station at Netaji Subhash Place has a Big Bazaar, apart from several other commercial establishments in and around it. The Kashmere Gate station has McDonald’s and Domino’s outlets. Outside the much smaller station at Rajouri Garden, the City Square Mall is brimming with activity, particularly on weekends.

Surprisingly enough I haven’t come across many product display spaces at Metro Stations, and some remain empty, while others are still being constructed. At the Chawri Bazar and Barakhamba Road stations, the OOH display panels remain empty.

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Maruti, though, turned the Rajiv Chowk station into a display space by placing a flaming red Swift there for all to see.

When Phase III is completed 160 trains will be operational, and inside every one of these trains will lie opportunities for marketers. Panels seem to be the most common form of advertising, though I don’t think they get noticed much. There is substantial government advertising in the panels inside the trains – advocating the use of condoms and preaching the banishment of untouchability, among other social vices like smoking, Bollywood music and drugs.

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However, one does find commercial brands like the Creative Zen MP3 player, Bikanerwala, and Digjam Suitings, as well as several financial services, on the panels. On Saturday, on my way to the Prithvi Theatre festival, I boarded a train that had ads from Go Air on the panels throughout the train.

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Outside the train, in the station, there are brightly lit panels such as those of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Bank of Baroda – target those waiting for the train at the platform.

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At several nodal stations, one also comes across beverage stalls. The Coca Cola beverage stall at the Civil Lines station, however, shut down due to lack of business five-six months ago. There are still a couple of bottles behind the glass panes.

Back inside the train, the BIG FM experiment of advertising on handle straps has found takers and has been emulated – I recently noticed ads for Hariyali Chai on the straps of one train while traveling towards Vishwavidyalaya.

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The DMRC estimates that these straps alone can earn them additional revenue of Rs.30 lakh a year. Advertising to passengers on the Delhi Metro, however, goes beyond the train and the stations: I’m told that Hindustan Times has been distributing free newspapers outside the Vishwavidyalaya metro station. Also, while travelling on the elevated lines I have often noticed hoardings and painted ads buildings beside the tracks, much like one sees ads painted on buildings beside regular railway tracks. Do people notice them?

In fact, how much of all the advertising mentioned above do people take note of? Given the rush that people are in, the crowds on the platform and inside the train, as well as a trend of banner blindness, the advertising has to be disruptive in nature. Some thoughts and suggestions:

  1. For the crowds waiting for a train, particularly during peak hours, the banner ads should be entertaining – perhaps an LCD display or a TV – the kind out find outside the airport is a better idea. In the future, this could be linked to an adserver, and serve up specific ads for metro passengers at stations like Kashmere Gate, Rajiv Chowk and future nodal stations. I think the static ads are useless.
    Update (11th Dec 2006): Looks like someone agrees with me on this – the Indian Express reports that Incoda, which owns the rights for screening programmes on televisions inside Metro stations will begin screening 200 English documentary films on TV screens in the station. The duration of films will be five to 10 minutes. I expect there to be ads in-between films, or on the screen itself, though that isn’t mentioned in the report.
  2. No one takes note of panel ads inside the train, unless you’re interested in the kind of advertising on the metro, like I am. LCD/LED displays would again work better inside the train.
  3. In the morning, the train to Vishwavidyalaya carries a largely student population to the Delhi University, so there is opportunity there for targeting that segment with pamphlets, which could be handed out inside the train. At the same time, the trains towards Rajiv Chowk, Rajouri Garden and Netaji Subhash Place carry working professionals, and promotions could be planned to target them (though the trains are completely packed).
  4. Both stations and trains could be ideal for Bluecasting (Bluetooth advertising) particularly for sales promotions.
  5. The escalators are a little slow on their way up and usually packed at nodal stations (unlike the one in the image below – Chawri Bazar, 7am…too early). People usually are looking upwards – why not have a banner advertisement there?
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  6. Perhaps the most disruptive alternative is the sound system – one might ignore TV screens and LCD/LED displays, but announcements are hard to ignore in metro trains, however monotonous they may sound. I can imagine someone making an unscheduled stop at Kashmere Gate to grab a quick bite at McDonald’s at lunch time, just because of the announcement. In the evening, an announcement could remind those returning from work to watch a particular TV show once they reach home.
  7. The Metro smartcard could also be co-branded, and banks could tie-up for offering debit card services using the smartcards. Smartcards could also be used for special offers in collaboration with the DMRC. Or maybe use the metro for distribution:

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All of these, of course, are possibilities; the viability depends entirely on the DMRC and marketers. Personally, I’d not buy into or like any of these advertisements, but they might help make the Metro profitable sooner.

Oh, and two major sources of entertainment on the metro – Mobile games and FM radio on mobile handsets.

Note: Most of the content in this post was used to compose an article on branded spaces on the Delhi Metro for First Option. The last photo is without branding 😛 – an image of a metro station I found on Flickr:

This is on the Shahadra-Rithala line, where quite a few stations have tiled art. I’ll take some more pics of those.

Incidentally, I’m planning to buy a digital camera…budget is around Rs.15k. Any suggestions?

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9 Comments

  1. lol. I have a book on Poems on the underground. Haven’t read it, though (a pet peeve).

    Was on the metro again today, but stretched for time. Couldn’t stop to take photographs of artwork at all the stations, but did get a few. Will update.

  2. Well you are lucky it is a new metro and the rules still allow you to take photos inside stations and trains. When you visit London, I would strongly recommend NOT doing that unless you wish to be roughed up by the ever-increasing numbers of uniformed police at our tube stations.

  3. Adi…not really wasted 🙂 Still making use of it. Anyway, these are just ideas. About the camera – quick! I have to buy tomorrow. Have realised that I go for a lot of photograph-able events, and all I have is this bloody 1.2mpx phone

  4. All Sony cameras need Sony-branded accessories. Being able to use universal and generic storage devices is preferable. I would steer clear of Sony..

    I recommend Canon – I have used Ixus V3 and more recently, Powershot SD630 (same difference – diff branding in Europe and the US). I find SD630 is sufficient sophistication for long-distance, nature and after-dark photos for the kind I would use on my blog or on my doctoral thesis.

    Let me know what you actually buy.

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