PHAR and the Manila Metro System in the press


An entire “marketing system,” not just advertising platforms, awaits brands willing to invest on sales pitches within the premises of Metro Manila’s oldest elevated train, the Light Rail Transit-1 (LRT-1).

A study by Kantar TNS commissioned by Phar Partnerships, the Light Rail Manila Corp.’s (LRMC) exclusive ancillary revenue partner, revealed that across 50 categories, many local brands were top of mind for LRT-1 riders—a situation unique to the Philippine market, says Prem Bhatia, Phar’s managing director for Asia.

“In most Southeast Asian countries, you have a few big companies dominating the market. Here, you have all these local brands,” Bhatia says. “So this is an amazing testimony to local brands, that these guys have built a market share with consumers, especially those under the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) category.”

The study, conducted from the last quarter of 2015 until the first quarter of 2016, surveyed almost 3,000 LRT-1 riders. Random interviews were done for the study’s first phase inside the different stations, covering topics such as demographics, psychographics, travel patterns, media consumption, device ownership, product usage, service patronage and Wi-Fi access. About 900 riders who were interviewed in the first phase participated in the second one, during which field interviewers contacted them over the phone to ask them more information on ad awareness.

“Whenever we enter a new market, our first job is to size the opportunity. We want to know how many people, who they are, how long they spend [traveling in the LRT-1], what they consume,” says Bhatia.

What Phar discovered, aside from the strong penetration of local brands, says Bhatia, is that LRT-1 riders can be classified into four groups: “Juan and Juana,” or the working group, which comprise 62 percent of riders; “Pedro and Petra,” the students, who make up 16 percent; “Peter and Pam,” those who are not working nor studying (i.e., stay-at-home parents who use the LRT-1 to transport their children to and from school), who comprise 20 percent; and the remaining 2 percent, “John and Jane,” composed of working students.

“The LRT-1 itself is 10 percent of the workforce [in the National Capital Region],” Bhatia says.

The study finds that most of these people come from classes C and D, or the middle and lower classes, and spend an average 90 minutes a day inside the LRT-1. Slightly more men, at 51 percent, use the train.

With regard to age, it is the younger crowd that patronizes the LRT-1 the most.

“The LRT-1 is so heavily skewed toward 18 to 29-year-olds, it has double the NCR average (which is only at 30 percent),” says Bhatia.

This means brands have the chance to build a relationship with these young people, who are mostly college students and new to the job market, he says.

“I was presenting to the bosses of one of the big banks, who said, ‘Tell me where the opportunity is.’ I told them, 10 percent have credit cards. That’s the room to grow, the 90 percent who are starting out in life, who are making brand choices for the first time ever,” says Bhatia. “If you already have a bank, it’s tough to switch you to another. So the right time to catch you is when you’re making your first decision.”

Given that most riders come from the young working class, it comes as no surprise that internet and mobile connectivity of LRT-1 users is also quite high. According to the study, 97 percent of the sample have access to a mobile device, while 84 percent have access to the internet. When it comes to traditional media, TV still rules among LRT-1 commuters.

“Before we did the research, WiFi was not on our list of priorities [for LRT-1]. But when we saw the consumption on mobile, we talked to Smart, Globe, and said, these are the stats, let’s just build it out. And they both said, ‘Let’s go,’” he says.

It is with these data, which Phar plans to update on an annual basis, that the media and marketing firm hopes to “formulate more targeted sales strategies to optimize the advertising real estate within the premises of LRT1’s cars and station—from Balintawak to Baclaran.”

“We’ve talked to around 25 top advertising companies, and they all say the same thing: that up until now, they’ve had no access to this kind of information on LRT-1 riders. So, for me, if I know that the average person is spending 90 minutes a day on the LRT, then we’re not just talking about an advertising medium.

We’re talking about an ecosystem, [with] digital screens, Wi-Fi, retail,” Bhatia says.