Taking your message to the street

With Christmas just around the corner, major brand owners such as Sky, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Vodafone, the Hollywood movie studios and many other brand owners are taking their messages to the street in the form of out of home (OOH) advertising.

Whether as a political medium, an art form or for commercial brand communication, posters and billboards have become a prominent feature of the UK urban landscape for the past 150 years.

And all this has happened despite the growth of newsprint in the late 19th and early 20th Century; the arrival of commercial TV and radio in the 1950s and the growth of on-line advertising in the last decade.

In the UK, the previous patch-work quilt of small media owners offering a bewildering array of options has been streamlined in terms of media ownership, making media buying across a number of OOH sites that much easier.

The turning point came relatively recently in 2007, when CBS Outdoor began the installation of the first large-scale digital poster advertising network in the UK on the London Underground and was followed in quick succession by JC Decaux’s launch of an airport-based digital network and the roll-out of digital roadside panels by Clear Channel and JC Decaux.

Alongside this rationalisation has been a major investment in signage, poster site and ambient media inventories that’s revolutionised the industry.

New formats continue to be launched and there’s now an increasing array of options in terms of poster sites in shopping malls and public amenities, such as airports and metro systems.

“Outdoor and social media go hand in hand. Outdoor is the conversation catalyst and social is the amplifier,” explains Simon Harrington, marketing director at CBS Outdoor in the UK.

One of the most successful OOH campaigns in recent times is Look for Longer by CBS Outdoor.

Launched in October this year, the campaign comprised of 50 poster sites at 33 tube stations across the London underground network featuring a selection of cryptic visual clues designed to challenge commuters’ powers of lateral thinking as well as test their knowledge of the underground network.

The posters guided passengers through to a website where they could discuss clues and interact with other players on Twitter as well as have a chance to win prizes; although the latter was very much a secondary element of the immersion experience.

“We wanted to create a campaign that would generate curiosity, intrigue and interaction. The concentration of a highly responsive, hyper connected audience with the three minute dwell time on platforms and Virgin wi-fi connectivity increased the return on investment from purchased media. Say something interesting and this socially active audience will spread your message far and wide,” adds Simon Harrington.

By the time the competition element of the campaign closed last month, nearly 300,000 unique visitors from over 170 countries had participated and the campaign had reached a global audience of over seven million people.

In the UK, there are about 20,000 digital poster screens in traditional OOH environments and a further 50,000 screens in other places, designed in a myriad of shapes and sizes and installed at around 20,000 locations.

Research by the Outdoor Media Centre (OMC) that represents the interests of media owners and buyers shows that signs, posters and ambient media can add incremental reach to other marketing activities by creating deeper penetration, frequency, presence, proximity and continuity to a media campaign.

Outside of the UK, the OOH is exploding. Research by Posterscope shows that over the past five years OOH advertising spend in Asia-Pacific has grown at twice the rate of other media and new technologies and formats has helped to drive the growth of signs, posters and ambient media.

For example, within this region, OOH advertising accounts for approximately 6.8 per cent of the total communication spend of major brands.

Between 2005 and 2010, OOH advertising grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 15 per cent, nearly twice the rate of all other media in the Asia-Pacific region combined, even taking account of the fast growth in digital media.

Different Asian markets are at different levels of development. Some, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, are highly developed markets whereas Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are developing markets.

This interest in OOH led VisitBritain to launch a new print and OOH advertising campaign across 21 countries featuring 007 and a play on the slogan ‘Bond is GREAT Britain’ as well as using cinema advertising in Australia, Brazil, Germany and the US in the wake of interest of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Tim Bleakley, CEO at Ocean Outdoor believes the integration of digital technology with OOH advertising marks a strategic shift in status and capability of poster advertising.

“Because OOH is now in the digital space, it offers advertisers an ever-changing, ever-evolving and ever-moving opportunity in the way that our static billboards aren’t designed to. You might change the lighting on a static billboard, you might change it to scrolling, but fundamentally it’s a billboard. There’s always going to be a place for traditional billboards that can broadcast for brands and I think actually the solidity of the traditional side of the medium is even more important in this world where everything’s moving all the time. But I think the addition of digital is enabling OOH advertising to do more dynamic targeting using new technology. It allows it to compete on an equal footing with what, in effect, are the two mainstream mediums of today; TV and online,” he concludes.

Ardi Kolah is the author of High Impact Marketing that Gets Results (£19.99), published by Kogan Page in January 2013. Order your copy by clicking on the book image.