Traditional advertising or out of home (OOH) advertising has been one of the biggest sources of income for advertising agencies for decades, but Covid-19 seems to have changed the way advertisers spend their money. As advertisers stopped paying for new campaigns, adtech startups are faced with tough questions to come up with alternate solutions and newer ways to engage with brand audiences and consumers.
For Adverto, which works with digital outdoor hoardings, the Covid-19 pandemic came as a big jolt. Founded by Anurag Soni, the Jabalpur-based startup leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to offer advertising agencies and screen owners or publishers a simplified way to measure the performance of outdoor ads and create customised outdoor digital campaigns. The company was one of Inc42’s ’30 Startups To Watch’ in April 2020.
“Before Covid-19, we were working on an interesting feature called the ‘age and gender’ based DOOH advertising,” Soni told Inc42.
The feature would eliminate the slide-based models of advertising on digital signage, where different audience segments were targetted through slides. Instead, Adverto used a combination of a digital screen and a smart camera to show customised ads based on the viewer’s age and gender.
For instance, if a child passes in front of the digital signage, the smart camera identifies the subject and automatically shows the right brand or specific creative for a brand. “These were the things in our bucket list, but then Covid-19 happened,” Soni said.
Founded in 2018, Jabalpur-based Adverto currently consists of seven members, including Soni, Ashish Sharma, Sourabh Soni, Shrashabh Sahu, Sanjeev Singh, Meera Kumari and Akash Vyas. Covid-19 disrupted its business multifold. Adverto had plans to expand into Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in Maharashtra and Delhi, where it was looking to add 100 plus digital screens. In addition to this, it was planning to integrate AR/VR features to provide an immersive ad campaign experience. It also told Inc42, that they were in the middle of raising funds, but that also came to a dead-end because of the pandemic.
Besides Adverto, other adtech players in the Indian DOOH landscape include AdFarm, Lemma Technologies, Xtreme Media among others, who are also working on similar solutions across India.
Prior to starting Adverto, Soni had cofounded a fashiontech startup called YourWeddingKnot.com in 2016, a online rental marketplace for renting expensive clothes for special occasions. “This is still running in auto-pilot mode, but the business has been all-time low,” he added. Interestingly, the company was started around the same time as Flyrobe, which seems to have gained a lot of traction in the market and funding.
Adverto’s New Avatar For The Covid-19 Era
“Covid-19 did not stop us from further innovating,” said Soni.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the company launched a hygiene enforcement kiosk. “If we connect the dots, as we were already working on our ‘age and gender-based ads targeting’ solution, we partially pivoted our plans to align with the Covid-19 times,” he added.
Adverto’s kiosk comes with a digital screen, contactless sanitisation system, temperature measurement device, face mask detection alert system, social distancing reminder, facial recognition-based attendance system and others. Currently, the solution has been implemented in Jabalpur incubation centre and the company is also working closely with Jabalpur Smart City to deploy more of these devices. The company also said that there has been a lot of interest from government authorities, auto manufactures, chemical plants and tech companies to install this kiosk in the coming days.
“Since we cannot stop this Covid-19 outbreak, we thought that we can at least help businesses practice good hygiene practices, maintain social distancing and raising awareness. This decision to develop the kiosk was not seen as a business opportunity of any sort — but was actually a partial pivot — as we wanted to do something about it to help businesses and people in the times of Covid-19,” said Soni.
The kiosk will also be integrated into Adverto’s platform, where it will continue to run ad campaigns along with the attendance system and contactless sanitisation. At present, the company has partnered with Jubilant FoodWorks Limited, the parent company of Dominos Pizza India, where it provides content solutions at their production facility to push ads such as security footages, safety measures etc. Besides this, it has also partnered with companies like CASE, Smartcity Jabalpur, Ashok Leyland among others, where they are currently leveraging Adverto’s technology.
Pre-Covid-19, the situation with OOH advertising in India was more or less same as there was no accountability or accurate metrics available to validate marketing spend. Soni said digital OOH (DOOH) advertising is still in a nascent stage in India, but claimed it will become the preferred choice for advertisers once Covid-19 crisis ends as shopping malls, theatres and shopping stores will be back in business.
“What Facebook and Google are for online digital advertising, we are for offline digital advertising. In other words, customers can come to Adverto, enter location, choose digital signages of their choice at the comfort of their home (provided with daily footfall data), select time duration, post their ads, and track the status of the ad in real-time among others” Soni added.
Also, Adverto said that once the Covid-19 is over, its digital kiosk will later be integrated into Adverto’s platform, where it will continue to run ad campaigns along with the attendance registration system and contactless sanitization. ‘The focus of being in the advertising space will always remain our main focus,” he clarified.
Soni added that to minimise the cost, the company builds its own devices, which controls the digital billboard remotely. “We always focus on clients, screen owners and cloud analytics aspects, where we help them slice and dice the returns and give them the access to schedule and manage ads themselves. Most importantly, when a customer views any advertisement through our platform, we make sure it leaves a positive impression on the brand, thereby gaining high returns and increased brand recall,” said Soni, highlighting the differentiating factor.
It has partnered with Jubilant FoodWorks Limited, the parent company of Dominos Pizza India, where it provides content solutions at their production facility to push ads such as security footages, safety measures etc. Besides this, it has also partnered with companies like CASE, Smartcity Jabalpur, Ashok Leyland among others, where they are currently leveraging Adverto’s technology.
“We are no experts when it comes to Covid-19. But, as innovators, we are currently experimenting with four to five new ideas, everything in line with DOOH advertising, contactless models and social distancing concepts across industries. There will be more announcements coming in the near future, and we are really excited to be part of this amazing journey ahead of us,” said the cofounder.