Brands ‘loo’-ring them in


While movie halls showing ads during interval are sometimes a source of amusement, and sometimes of irritation, marketers have latched on to another part of the theatre to target movie goers for personal conversations – the loo!

Yes, you heard it right. The washroom is the biggest crowdpuller (after the movie, of course) in any multiplex. And therefore it was only a matter of time before brands realised its potential.

“Gone are the days of single-screen cinemas with small unhygienic washrooms. With the advent of multi-screens cineplexes, movie halls are no longer only about cinema viewing but about giving a complete experience to customers. Washroom advertising is also catching up in these cinemas, thereby helping niche brands to reach out to the right audience at the right time. The essence is how you provide innovative options to your brand rather than just giving them plain-vanilla branding,” felt Shirish Srivastava, Head, Marketing & Sales, Big Cinemas.

Washroom advertising can be explained as a very specific kind of ambience advertising. Banners or posters are placed in washrooms, sometimes free product samples are given, while in some cases, innovative communication is arranged. While it entered India quite some time back, the trend has grown only recently. From TV shows to cars, from shampoos to feminine hygiene products – a variety of brands have latched on to the washroom space. Some have even successfully signed partnerships for annual contracts, while some have launched themselves solely on the basis of this medium.

“Why is washroom advertising picking up? Several reasons come to mind, but it would primarily have to do with the ever-burgeoning social habits of the urban and semi-urban crowd. More people are going out for entertainment, socialising, networking, etc., than ever before, so it’s logical that more people are visiting the plush washrooms. Secondly, in a completely mind-numbing battery of media vying for the audiences’ attention everywhere, the washroom is probably the last frontier where a brand can sort of corner the consumer in relative privacy. So it follows suit that it (the brand) would make a beeline for that stall/mirror/wall,” explained Subhashish Sarkar, Senior Vice-President, Mudra Max – OOH.

Sarkar’s points can be backed with data which shows the growth of washroom visits. International studies show that approximately 30 per cent of regular restaurant and cafe visitors will visit the washroom, while 60 per cent in fine dine and 70-80 per cent in bars and cinemas make a quick stop here. Clubbers visit the washrooms about 2.9 times during an average evening at a nightclub. Also, on an average, a woman spends 105 seconds and a man, 55 seconds in the washroom, so there is plenty of time and undivided attention to take in information.

So, is it this thought that makes brands queue up to get a spot? And why wouldn’t they just advertise somewhere everyone can see?

This is partly because through washroom ads it is possible to make very target specific campaigns. A female lingerie brand can be advertised in the women’s washroom while a musk deo can be displayed in the men’s. Big Cinemas, for example, has recently tied up with Piramal Healthcare’s i-Sure to educate women about contraception, ovulation and pregnancy. The men’s washrooms however have deos and underwear brands marketing themselves.

According to Srivastava, “the maturity in the advertising space and evolution of media avenues and consumer touch- points go hand in hand with the overall evolution of the market. The sheer number of product categories that are vying for the consumer’s attention today has very organically lent itself to these forms of advertising destinations. Having said that, from a brand offering perspective, we at Big Cinemas have a customised solution to every brand’s needs, keeping in mind its brand promise and core TG.”

He further explains, “Big Cinemas comes in on board as an interactive media platform. We are involved in the entire process, right from understanding the core brand need/brief, extrapolating the facilities that we can offer as an advertising medium, and then see to it that the execution is seamless. Our success lies in the success of the brands and hence we are involved in the entire deal.”

So, gender specific targeting is possible if a brand decides to go for a washroom ad. Some brands may not need that gender distinction and can be advertised inside both men’s and women’s washrooms. On the other hand, some brands cannot be advertised in either.

Vishakha Singh

Vishakha Singh, Executive Director at Aurora Communications, said, “Extreme personal usage brands, sexual or related products, lingerie or medicinal items can be advertised in washrooms only. This kind of advertising can only be successful for brands which need one-on-one messaging.”

Singh elaborates that the challenge is not just for washroom advertising but all kinds of ambient marketing. She feels that ambient marketing can go wrong anywhere. “Something too weird would put people off just as much as a wrong placement of an ad would. The challenge is for media planners to recognise what works and what doesn’t, and how should one communicate it to their audience,” she says. Planners, according to her, must remember that in this case the medium is the message, and any wrong ad can leave a bad taste in the mouth.

According to Sarkar, India has always had a certain understandable taboo attached with advertising/exposing edibles around sanitation. So this category chooses to stay away by and large. Barring that, other forms of FMCG, consumer durables, health and fitness, personal care and, with some imagination, insurance, are good fits for this ambient method. “A combination of newer, narrow-cast technologies, limited audience and lower distractions, creatively executed washroom ads have the potential to be massively recalled or ‘buzzed’ over and above other mass media. The washroom mirror lends itself to plenty of humorous situations, as evinced through a number of international gags and ads. As do the unlikely spots at the urinals themselves. One just needs to trawl the web to witness some very interesting usages of the environment.”

Sarkar also points out that this type of advertising allows a few more liberties than conventional OOH, such as Audio-Video inputs. Technology sourcing is crucial and one needs to explore and expose the client to trends abroad, to sensitise them to the possibilities and impact.

For example, Leo Burnett London’s washroom ad made waves around the advertising world, and outside of it. As a campaign for warning against drunk driving, they arranged for a mannequin head to crash into a fake mirror every time a man would come into the pub’s washroom. The campaign was called the #PubLooShocker and involved actors who played the role of unsuspecting victims. Realistic sound effects along with the visual horror were enough to awaken a drunk person out of his slumber to hail a cab for his ride home!

Then there is the Kleenex Soap Dispenser ‘Got Flu’ campaign. Ad agency Trampolim Comunicação, Brazil, designed a sticker shaped like a sick man’s face for washroom soap dispensers. It was stuck in such a way that the liquid soap would come out of the man’s nose – giving you a slightly sickening idea of what’s in your hand! The idea was to present Kleenex tissues as a good help for nasal congestion. Though people squirmed and giggled, they remembered the face and the brand.

Shocking the customer seems to be working well for brands as seen from the examples above. Another brand, Georgia Max Coffee, asked Tugboat Tokyo to make an ad that would showcase the extra energy the drink promises to provide. So Tugboat wrapped toilet stalls in major resorts to look like scary ski-jumps. To enjoy the ‘kick’ of the adventure ride, all you have to do is place your feet on the painted skis on the floor.

Homour also seems to be a favourite. Unlikely fit as it seems, telecom brand Koodo placed posters on urinals and stalls. For urinals they chose the lines “A steady stream of talk and text” while for stalls they used “Unlimited text for squat”, after which they explained their low charges and various special offers. The ad made people smile when they connected the dots and made the brand a more ‘fun’ brand to be associated with.

Again, Eisenbahn Strong Golden Ale’s launch ad by Brazilian agency CCZ Comunicação involved a sticker stuck on men’s urinals. The sticker, which gave the effect that the urinal had cracked due to extreme force, read: “Eisenbahn Strong Golden Ale. When we say strong beer, we mean it.”

Noreen van Holstein

If such impactful (funny or otherwise) ads can be made across the world, then why is India lagging behind? According to ADtheLOO’s Noreen van Holstein, “Washrooms are still being perceived as dirty in India. It is changing slowly but it hasn’t evolved completely. So experimenting becomes a bit difficult. In reality, mindsets have to change for something like washroom advertising to prosper. Brands have to decide if they want to be there as a brand at all. And once that is decided, you must understand how you want to reach out to your audience. Do you want to be funny or do you want to be serious?”

ADtheLOO, from the same group who makes Cards4u, makes advertisements specifically for washrooms. According to the agency, because of the one-to-one moment of impact and long dwell in the washrooms, there is up to 100 per cent recall, and 78 per cent prompted awareness amongst the target audience. That doesn’t mean they don’t do their research and sampling. For example, for an announcement of a music festival, ADtheLOO put up posters inside pub washrooms. They surveyed people in the pub and asked if they had seen anything in the washroom and what was it about. The agency’s main clients other than say the deo and hair care brands have been music festivals and roadshow announcements.

Mostly however, they have tried to stick to the surprise and humour factor for their ads. Take, for example, the ad released around the launch of the movie Don2. The simple red posters in washroom stalls read “Don kabhi koi saboot nahi chodta. Please Flush” (Don never leaves any trace behind. Please Flush). Or the one for Marico’s hair-care products. They put stickers asking people if they were “leaving anything behind”. The text however was written in a manner which gave the impression that it is fallen hair which had collected at a spot.

Impact is the buzzword for washroom advertising. But what about retention? Aurora Communication’s Singh feels that if the attention is grabbed in the right manner, it leads to such ads going viral. These ads have great retention while the others also have some recall value to their credit.

Sarkar also believes that they would lead to better recall. He sums it up saying, “The human mind recalls strong emotions over the other mundane reactions daily. Humour or shock can have strong recall. Talking about it adds mileage to a good exposure.”

Therefore, as far as brands are concerned, there is no corner that should be left unclaimed – even in washrooms. Just make it fun, it works.


The above story appeared on Best Media Info. Its about how washroom advertising is picking up fast with the coming of multiplexes. It is all about being innovative, quirky, even humorous, and using the right brands for gender-specific targeting.


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