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Billboard advertising shrinks but remains part of Yangon landscape

Just half a decade ago, Yangon was dotted with billboards as companies jostled for the best locations to draw the attention of the consumers to the products they were introducing to the market.

But just like other traditional advertising media, such as the newspapers and magazines, among others, the outdoor advertising industry is now fighting for its life as many firms have switched to social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, to reach out to consumers.

Industry leaders, however, believe that billboard advertising will remain in the years to come, but for niche products and markets.

U Sit Min Han, deputy head of the Yangon City Development Committee’s Administration Department, recalled that before 2012, the municipal government rented vacant land around the city to businessmen or advertising agencies so they could construct their own billboards.

He remembered that at that time the companies or advertising agencies just paid a lump sum for one year for the land and there was no restriction on the size of the billboards.

U Sit Min Han said the whole billboard advertising industry went out of control, with many of the outdoor advertising structures turning into eyesores.

In 2012, the Yangon City Development Committee began cracking down on unsightly billboards across the city, dismantling up to 1500 structures. After the operations there were only 700 billboards left standing.

Then, the YCDC introduced some order into the industry, erecting 500 billboards of its own measuring 45 feet by 15 feet, with the city financing the construction of the structures. The YCDC invited companies and advertising agencies once a year to bid on the billboard space, said U Sit Min Han.

“We announced via newspapers when to submit applications. The applicants had to pay K2 million to bid,” he said, adding that it was usually brokers who submitted the applications and then resold the space to companies who wanted to advertise.

The upheaval caused by the emergence of the internet took a heavy toll on billboard advertising.

In 2015 only about 350 of the billboards were rented out. The number dropped to 280 in 2016. By 2017, the number of billboards taken up slid to 180. Last year, the number was further cut to 90.

U Pyaet Phyo Thein, director of the Myanmar Outdoor-Indoor Advertising Co, also observed that usually billboards along busy roads, such as Pyay Road and Gabaraye Pagoda Road, the U Wisara Roundabout, the U Htaung Bo Roundabout and Hantharwaddy Roundabout are the most in demand.

But more recently, some blank billboards can be found even in these areas.

Aside from the disruption brought about by the internet, another reason why companies appear to be veering away from billboards are the expensive design fees for ads displayed on them, as well as its exposure to the weather.

But despite this grim picture, U Pyaet Phyo Thein remains confident that the industry could bounce back, especially once the economy begins to pick up.

He said unknown brands and new products entering Myanmar have to rely on billboards to raise awareness among consumers and companies still have to consider billboards for introducing new products.

“Billboard advertising does not work 100 percent for all the products, but it is the most efficient method for new products,” he said.

He observed that companies usually shift to social media advertising once products are already known to consumers.

U Pyaet Phyo Thein said the YCDC now provides companies more flexibility for renting billboards to advertise their products by offering either on one-month or six-months leases on the billboards.

He added the companies can apply at the YCDC office, which rent out the billboards on first-come-first-served basis.

U Aung Myint, operation chief for outdoor advertising company 2.0 Co Ltd also says billboards are best suited to introducing new brands to consumers.

“We are a service business. Not everyone rides taxi but they may want to test if they see billboard ads. Not every ad can be 100pc effective,” said U Aung Myint.

Billboards rented out by the YCDC are just vinyl surfaces. LED billboards are only allowed on privately owned land or buildings. The fees for LED billboards are K25,000 per-square-foot per year.

“If we advertise new products on boards for 10 days in a month, many people look at them. But they will soon get bored after that,” said U Aung Myint. “People use social media and smartphones these days and advertisers go there to sustain the awareness and interest in products.”

SOURCE: MYANMAR TIMES

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