Can the Indian outdoor signage industry come back?

Not so fast! says the outdoor signage and the research

Rib-tickling signs by the Border Roads Organization

The most outstanding outdoor innovation in the Delhi NCR in the past two years seems to be installing cameras on the roads to take photos of speeding vehicles. The images of the lawbreakers are sent along with challans on What’s App and eMail eliciting digital payments of the fines. These are steep – often Rs. 1500 or Rs. 2000.

The net result has been a fantastic improvement in driving behavior and traffic movement in the Delhi NCR. We drivers have spotted all the cameras and religiously slow down even more than needed as the cameras come on the horizon. Fewer cars are tempted to speed and overtake, although the die-hards still cannot understand the concept of orderly traffic being safer and faster for every vehicle on the road. They do not know that they are only racing to the next red light or contributing to the chaos that perplexes and complexes all of us – ultimately slowing the traffic throughput and negatively affecting the productivity of our various day-to-day tasks.

The pandemic brought a flurry of webinars, including retailers, brand experts, advertising, and signage experts. They talked about the hyperlocal value of signage. As if a sign in our neighborhood would point us to a local product or service. Even our cellphones don’t do that yet, at least in our country. (In Japan, you merely point your cell phone at a building – the restaurants within come on your screen together with their cuisine and menu and the available seats. I would call this active signage, but it has not come to India yet.)

maquettes Yatharth Hostpital Photo IPP
Larger than life maquettes ‘Salute to Doctors’ by Yatharth Hospital on DND Expressway in August and September 2021 Photo Indian Printer and Publisher

A revival of outdoor signage

However, I have seen a revival of outdoor signage on the DND that connects Delhi to Noida. First, it was only in the direction going to Delhi – perhaps in homage to the heavy traffic in that direction in the morning, and now it has, in September 2021, come up on the other side too. We have also had about a dozen 3D larger than life statuettes of health workers and doctors set up by Yatharth Hospital that reminds us to be grateful for their services in saving most of us from the pandemic. This is good branding even though it had to be covered up with plastic sheets for a few days of heavy rain after being first installed, and one suspects it could have been produced by one of the large 3D machines now available.

Road signage industry is doing well even in the pandemic

It has not all been terrible for signage producers and printers during the pandemic. Some of the larger retail chains, such as Reliance, have continued building and opening stores during the pandemic. We have heard that as many 300 new stores have opened requiring new outdoor and indoor signage. Other areas that have done well are the road signage industry, a new development requiring large weather-proof permanent signage as highway and road building has revived for the past year. However, an important distributor and manufacturer of wide-format signage devices reports hardly any sales in the past six

The state of fashion or the refashioning of retail

A story in Signage4Growth discusses some of the branding and signage issues and the way ahead for fashion retailers. It says that Mckinsey’s ‘The State of Fashion 2021’ report expects sleeker, more focused offerings and less focussed on retail stories to emerge from the destruction by the 2020 pandemic, using automated and omnichannel services. This is also being somehow linked to sustainability or at least the perception of sustainability amongst consumers.

The report points to the downsizing of stores globally, with 20,000 to 25,000 stores expected to close in the United States in 2020, double the number in 2019. “Zara said that it plans to cut 1,200 stores over two years and invest Euro billion in store-based digital.”

The McKenzie report suggests that the physical channel of the future will combine the best of human and automated services— “the beginning of a truly ‘bionic’ customer experience.”

The new bionic experience will include rethinking store formats and leveraging data and analytics to predict footfall, manage assortments, and build personalized offerings. Flagship stores may be branded as ‘discovery zones’ – to create ‘emotional connections with customers. The report is a fancy way of saying that retail spaces will have to be recalibrated and ROI’s recalculated. It is neither a revelation nor a cause for optimism in societies and cities that are already over-invested in store-fronts of every kind – not just
fashion or retail.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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