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Tue, 21 October 2014 02:53:04
Sri Lanka advertising industry eyes the web
10 Mar, 2008 07:00:02
By Vathsala Yatagamage
Mar 10, 2008 (LBO) - Advertising agencies are struggling to convince clients to use the web as internet penetration increases in Sri Lanka, but poor awareness among clients and users alike, hinder these efforts, officials said.
As the demand for web advertising in the world increases the local ad agencies says there is a need to shift their focus on to the web, if the island is to keep pace with global developments.

"If Sri Lanka doesn't move in to web advertising now then we would be left out and far behind as a country," says Thayalan Bartlett, chief executive of J Walter Thompson (JWT) in Sri Lanka.

"I wouldn't say we are backward but the clients have not recognized this as a media opportunity."

'Interactive advertising; has been one of the key highlights in developed markets, where the client has the opportunity to interact with the manufacturer.

Web advertising has been one of the key components in making this a reality, driven by consumer who either will click on a banner or ignore. This pushes agencies to focus on making it more user-friendly to attract its target audience.

"It's the interactivity and the ability put your self online and people love that, being able to interact directly,” says Luke Crethar, an international judge for this year’s Chillies advertising awards.

"You can do lot more on the web, it's a lot easier to advertise, its now moving beyond that and becoming lot more interactive and its more usable now."

He says people are eager to ask questions, which is easy on the web. But it is not possible easy through conventional advertising like the television, radio and press.

With over 50 recognized advertising agencies in the island, only few are engaged in web advertising.

But with increasingly crowded media, agencies are looking to be one step ahead of the other as the consumers are also much more educated and much aware of the happenings in the island.

"You can't intrude in to people’s life anymore. They can easily shut you out and the only way you can do is by engaging them in a way that interests them,” says Michael Holsinger, chief executive of LOWE LDB.

Although agencies have integrated web into their large scale campaigns, most clients are hesitant to use web alone.

"If we try to confine our thinking to just being local and trying to cater to some in Girandurukotte, then it won’t work,” says Bartlett, who two years ago pushed his agency to work on more web-based campaigns.

One such effort that got them international awards was the trade mark web site for SriLankan Airlines called 'Small Island Big Trip'.

With a targeted audience and a special purpose the web site generated traffic everyday making it a great success.

"The audience is all foreigners; they need some thing to come to Sri Lanka even with all the problems going on, because that's what you need to show,” says Naveen Mihindukulasuriya, one of the designers of the website at JWT.

He said that he used lot of photographs in the site, as a way to build up the local image among those who enter the site.

Web designing uses fewer resources compared to conventional commercials, making it one of the cheapest modes of advertising.

Advertisements are easier to make on the web as it’s more focused and most of the time the designers are well aware of the client’s needs and the audience they are catering to.

'The site has to be interactive and making people spend more time with the site is more important," says Mihindukulasuriya.

Although web advertising is slowly picking up in the island, most of the clients still feel advertising through conventional techniques are still cost effective and it gains a wider audience as well.

"We have found that cost of reaching to a person in different spheres of media is much cheaper when it is press, TV and radio," says Holsinger.

One common argument by clients is that web advertising is not practical in a country which has very little internet users.

However Sri Lanka now has 200,000 internet and email accounts according to the latest data from telecommunications regulator. This is already a potential market of twice or three times the readership of a Sri Lankan English weekly.

No surveys have been done to accurately gauge how many people actually use a corporate account.

In addition people who use computers and use them to surf the web, are either already employed or has sufficient means to own a computer, making them extremely attractive targets for advertisers.

Though one in three people use the mobile, most rural households are yet to see a personal computer.

But Mihindukulasuriya feels otherwise about the infrastructure in the island.

"To start off with, the infrastructure is set now with ADSL and broadband lines coming in and the speeds are getting better."

While establishing web advertising in the island the agencies need to look in to developing items that can compete in the international market.

Online news services in the island for example say they already have a substantial foreign audience, especially among expatriate Sri Lankans, opening up an entirely new market.

This gives more opportunities for local brands and advertisers.

"If you look outward and what kind of business opportunities are out there, then the web can play a very big role," says Bartlett.
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