In the first four months of this financial year, Indian Railways' (IR) earnings from commercial publicity have declined by 14 per cent over the corresponding period last year.
In 2007-08, IR had earned Rs 155.9 crore (Rs 1.559 billion) from commercial publicity. This rose moderately in 2008-09 to Rs 173 crore (Rs 1.73 billion).
This year, in the April-July period, only Rs 45 crore (Rs 450 million) has come in. The year's target is Rs 360 crore (Rs 3.60 billion) and most officials say they will not meet the target.
Says Sam Balsara, chairman, Madison Communications: "There are advertising opportunities everywhere but all of them do not necessarily afford accountable exposure." IR, with a route length of 63,273 km, transports 18 million passengers daily. However, the very mix of passengers makes it difficult for advertisers to address a specific target audience.
Adds Anand Halve, brand consultant, Chlorophyll: "The suitability of the Railways as a medium for advertising cannot be taken as universal. It does not form a part of urban consciousness. Bigger brands think of it as 'janata medium' and are disinclined to advertise high-end products through the railways."
With the Railways widening their range offers for the industry recently, Basab Dutta Chowdhury, CEO, Platinum Media, feels demand for advertising space will pick up. "Railways' policy to allow branding of special trains have received good response as it provides a captive environment to advertisers."
In addition to providing space for ads on stations, Indian Railways offers vinyl wrapping on trains, ads on tickets and reservation charts etc.
"Metro and tube rail across the globe are popular media. With appropriate marketing, railways can increase their earnings," says Pavan Chandra, MD, Zenith Optimedia. Balsara agrees: "The advertising market has not been growing at a healthy rate. As of now, traditional media would be utilised. When conditions improve, the railways may see a surge in demand, provided they market their offers well."