True, out-of-home advertising has yet to reach the futuristic level seen in the movie Minority Report, where Gap ads speak to customers on a personal level (“Hello, Mr. Yokomoto—welcome back to the Gap. How did those assorted tank tops work out for you?”). But this marketing medium is sure getting there. Take, for example, Bank of America’s interactive billboard in Times Square that has performed such tricks as allowing passersby to participate in a poll via their smartphones (the billboard would regularly update poll results throughout the day). Or— coming soon, pending patent approval—a billboard that automatically adjusts its copy based on changing highway traffic patterns, and paper-thin sheets of plastic that generate HD quality video, yet are flexible enough to wrap around subway station columns.
Such innovations are only part of the enduring appeal of out-of-home advertising. At a time when the cultural conversation is dominated by the latest mobile device and social media crazes, there’s a reason why marketers keep coming back to this tried and true method: It works.
“More than ever, out-of-home aligns with 21st century consumers,” says Stephen Freitas, CMO of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. “People are always on the go and they want content in short bursts. Billboards are the original tweets: You get a quick image or piece of knowledge and you move on.”
As the economy struggled to improve in 2010, the OOH sector rebounded strongly along with the overall ad market. OOH ad spending increased 4.1 percent to $6.1 billion last year, per OAAA, with the highest increases coming from financial institutions (up 30.3 percent), government agencies (19.5), and media/ advertising companies (15.9). OOH accounted for 9.6 percent of total ad spending, putting it roughly on par with Internet display ads (9.9 percent) and television media (10.3 percent), according to figures from Kantar Media.
Today’s tough economic environment demands proof of ad efficiency and effectiveness. Indeed, the outdoor medium is delivering on both fronts. Recent research shows that OOH advertising, which boasts historically low CPMs, also has a higher global ROI relative to some other forms of media.
Last month, OAAA released a report citing an analysis of 600 case studies conducted by British media research firm BrandScience over the past three years. In it, researchers determined that each dollar spent on OOH advertising returned an average $2.80 in sales—significantly better than TV or print advertising—with the highest figures found in the telecom, media, retail, and travel ad categories.
FROM HIGH TECH TO NO TECH To explain why more marketers are turning to OOH advertising, one could borrow an old Visa tagline: It’s everywhere you want to be. “It’s an exciting time to be in the industry. With digitization, there’s a screen popping up everywhere,” says Norm Chait, director of out-of-home investment and activation at MediaVest. “OOH can be a highly customizable solution for a package goods company, automotive brands, an airline, or almost any type of advertiser.”
Meanwhile, companies like EYE and Store Board Media are proving you don’t have to go high tech to be successful in the OOH arena. EYE specializes in a variety of OOH mediums, including floor mounted ad installations standing in more than 300 shopping malls in the U.S. While some of these ads have incorporated newer technologies (one display animated the eyes of a film star), many feature fairly traditional creative.
“We’ve measured response to elements within ads and found that people tend to respond to faces,” says Michelle Schiano, vice president of marketing at EYE, New York, which has worked on mall ads for brands including Sorbent, Bloomingdale’s and L’Oréal. Schiano says that while digital capabilities have drawn greater interest in the out-of-home medium from her clients, often what works in malls are simple designs that catch visitors’ attention from varying distances. “You don’t want to repurpose your magazine ad or TV commercial for [mall ads],” she advises.
Storeboard Media provides the perfect example of purely analog success: Since 2006, the company has been placing ads on the entryway security panels of major retail chains. The company touts a track record that includes an average 20 percent product sales lift over the four-week period in which its ads appear.
While the security system may be high tech, the ads themselves are “no tech,” says Rick Sirvaitis, president of StoreBoard, New York, which has placed ads in some 14,000 U.S. stores for brands including Coca-Cola, Crest, Halls, and Garnier. “If you pass your peripheral vision test on your driver’s license, you can’t miss these ads. They have a much greater assurance of being viewed by 100 percent of customers than anywhere else in the store.”
MOBILE AND THE FUTURE OF OOH Though out-of-home goes way back as a form of advertising, like consumer behavior, this form of media is evolving. “We think of it as lifestyle and environment media,” says David Payne, CEO, Americas of Kinetic Worldwide. “It’s a great opportunity to reach consumers with a pure message anywhere they may be on the path to purchase.”
Advances in mobile technology promise to further reshape the category. Already, consumers are using their smartphones to conduct mobile searches and scan QR codes or UPC barcodes in stores to call up product reviews. Often, these kinds of activities lend themselves to marketing opportunities. “Geo-targeting consumers [based on location] with a special coupon offer is one of the biggest growth areas for advertising,” says Payne.
Whether mobile will get rolled into OOH is uncertain, though most advertising and media experts see an overlap between the two disciplines. “Every shop views it differently. Sometimes mobile is a line item in an out-of-home budget,” explains MediaVest’s Chait. “There’s no doubt that mobile provides a ton of opportunities to interact with out-of-home advertising.”
Others agree with Chait that mobile and other emerging media will enhance the application of OOH advertising “It’s only going to get better with improving technology,” says Sergio Fernández de Córdova, co-founder of Fuel Outdoor. “To me, the biggest opportunity lies in interactivity. Let’s say, texting from a bus shelter to download a coupon—that provides a vertical link to your end user. It’s real value for the advertiser and the customer.” Ultimately, the value in OOH for marketers boils down to a simple truth: Out-of-home advertising is hard to ignore. “You don’t have to worry about whether the user is actually watching TV while your commercial appears or is looking at the website that has your online ad,” says Fernández de Córdova. “The advertising is in your face and you can’t turn it off.”