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In Through the Outdoor

How brands are making out-of-home the entry point for consumer engagement
  • April 30 2012

A car appears to drive across the iconic Santa Monica Clock Tower in a six-story-high 3D ad and shows up moments later on YouTube. Bus shelters in Australia dole out samples of soup after pedestrians dial in via the mobile phone. Billboards change their messages based on the time of day and weather conditions. Vacant storefronts become multimedia branding opportunities, with windows turned into interactive signs for photo sharing. Giant downtown screens integrate social media feeds in real time to encourage greater interaction.

Out-of-home (OOH) advertisers are raising the stakes in the quest to get consumer attention. The goal is to make OOH even more engaging for consumers. In many cases, this means coming up with creative ways for people to interact with what they often view as a static medium. It’s a classic conundrum for OOH to combine one of the oldest forms of advertising—the poster—with many of the newest technologies. Yet today, OOH advertisers have a key point of entry: the consumer’s mobile device.

While it might appear that OOH is in direct competition with mobile programs—after all, both are trying to engage consumers in location and in context—OOH providers instead see mobile as a way to turbocharge their ads and broaden their reach. Mobile elements, from QR codes to Twitter handles to customer-generated images and video, are being incorporated into ad messaging. Billboards and posters aggressively court consumers to interact using their mobile devices. And camera phone-equipped pedestrians are snapping and sharing pictures and videos of flashy OOH stunts, giving local ads a global impact.

OOH ad spending has been growing consistently since recovery from the recession in 2010. According to Kantar Media, U.S. outdoor advertising expenditures increased 6.5 percent to $3.755 billion in 2011 from $3.509 billion in 2010. This is not just a U.S. phenomenon. Globally, OOH’s forecasted annual growth rate of 7.9 percent through will be a faster pace than ad industry growth overall, according to MagnaGlobal.

This growth is the byproduct of a number of factors. Consumers today face more OOH messages than ever before. More building faces are now being dedicated to commercial outdoor ads; transit systems are pushing for more revenue from ads on trains, buses, shelters and furniture; and low-cost, high-impact digital screens and easily accessible networks are putting messages in fast-food restaurants, on top of gas pumps and just about everywhere else.

With all this noise, the challenge for OOH is to deliver high-impact, disruptive and engaging messages. And smartphones are becoming critical components of these campaigns. In fact, in many cases, the ads themselves are simply becoming points of entry for mobile and social programs.

How prevalent is this kind of social/OOH synergy? Nancy Fletcher, president and CEO of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), notes that in last December’s OOH Media Plan Awards, “Every single one of the entries had a social media/mobile component. That had never happened before.”
Consider some recent OOH campaigns.

To promote its cognac, Hennessy used floor projection units on street furniture placed outside bars and nightlife venues in Chicago and San Francisco. It cast a “What’s Your Wild Rabbit?” shadow (alluding to its current youth-oriented wild rabbit campaign) to give the ads extra nighttime impact. Hennessy fans were then encouraged to pursue their “Wild Rabbit” by scanning the poster’s QR code to get to the company’s website.

As part of its RealFlex campaign, Reebok used out-of-home formats and social media educate consumers about the sneaker’s “Running Buddy” technology. Interactive storefronts allowed passersby to take pictures of themselves as “running buddies” and share them via Facebook and email. The campaign—executed by Posterscope—yielded nearly 60 million impressions in New York and Los Angeles, and the interactive storefronts recorded more than 20,000 pictures taken.

In Philadelphia, the Giant grocery chain, with virtual grocery store Peapod, courts commuters with signage at train stations that encourages people to order items for home delivery. Each sign is basically a virtual store shelf, and commuters just need to scan or tap in codes to place orders directly from the sign. The campaign, started this past March, has been so successful that Peapod will be expanding it to other markets, including Chicago.

“There’s a tectonic shift in what OOH does. You can see how a poster can help someone’s daily life,” says Dave Etherington, SVP marketing and mobile for Titan, the transit advertising provider that hosts the Peapod campaign. “We are working more hours and have less time to do the things we need to do. Advertising is becoming a utility to help me through my busy life. We’re reaching a point where out-of-home is a portal to all these things.”

The Santa Monica Clock Tower stunt was a way for Hyundai to draw attention to its youth-focused Veloster subcompact. The 3D projection—combined with a soundtrack from DJ Porter Robinson—had a broader audience than just passersby on the promenade, as people immediately started recording the event on their smartphones and posting it on social media.

“You can get eyeballs or stop consumers in their tracks and get them to do something that creates a lasting impression about a brand, and then share their experience,” says Josh Cohen, president and CEO of N.J.-based Pearl Media. “We try to create an eye-catching experience through our different types of technology, light and video projection, touch and gesture technology, social media. We now have the potential to do that anytime, anywhere and at anyplace.”

Last year, Pearl turned a vacant storefront into a fictional crime scene for the TNT crime drama Rizzoli & Isles. Passersby who solved the crime could have a picture taken of them next to photos of the series’ lead characters for downloading on social media.

At the same time, more traditional billboard campaigns are being transformed by digital technology. In many cases, this allows advertisers to alter campaigns and messaging based on time of day, weather, demand and a variety of other factors. Basically, they get the opportunity to target more finely at the same cost as what previously was static.

In Tampa, billboards promoting the local Fox affiliate change based on the time of day and the night’s programs. This way, an afternoon drive-time campaign can highlight a special report on that evening’s newscast, or promote a special episode or premiere coming up during prime-time.

Similarly, McDonald’s has changed its billboard messages depending on the outside temperature. During cold weather, it promotes its hot coffee drinks, and during warm weather, it changes to its iced drinks. Morning drive time ads can target breakfast specials; afternoon commutes focus on deals related to take-home salads and dinner times.

Mike DiFranza, CEO and founder of Captivate, a Boston-based subsidiary of Gannett, describes this approach as “hyper-local messaging, provided automatically in real-time” He predicts its usage will increase as companies see the effectiveness of a surgical strikes. “You’re going to see more capabilities like this in the digital play space. It will look more like the online space in its ability to change content.”

“Digital in outside-the-home advertising is just finding its way into more places,” concurs Nicholas Petralia, president of Pasadena, Calif.-based OSiK MEDiA. “It’s on freeways, surface streets, in supermarkets, buildings, healthcare, sporting, recreational and healthcare facilities. As companies figure out whom they want to speak with, how to reach them and when, they can build their network.”

The digital-OOH synergy is also encouraging OOH providers to come up with their own digital solutions. Clear Channel, for example, offers FLYsmart, a location-based app that allows air travelers to get information and advertising specific to an airport terminal. It doesn’t take the place of in-airport ads (still one of the biggest segments of OOH). Rather, it provides an additional way for advertisers to reach desirable air travelers.

Similarly, National CineMedia, whose cinema media network covers some 1,400 theaters, offers a Movie Night Out app that recommends movies and related movie night activities. It broadens the reach of preview ads by reaching mobile users who may be checking movie times or getting other movie news.

Digital updates allow OOH ads to focus as much on content as they do on brand messaging. Yet success depends on content quality. Out-of-home providers are investing more in their editorial teams to ensure that information is resonating. In the network of screens it manages at health clubs nationwide, Zoom Media & Marketing combines separate fields: a clock for timing workouts, play-lists of musical artists, and health and fitness information. Dan Levi, Zoom Media’s SVP Digital Media & Strategic Partnerships, says that visual elements are more effective when combined with fresh, timely content. This blending ensures that viewers’ attention is on screens when ads appear. “It’s not about gimmicks,” says Levi. “It’s about providing tangible value so viewers want to keep looking.”

National CineMedia’s president of sales & marketing Cliff Marks says that engagement stems from emotional attachment. “It is about associating or wanting to associate with something that’s important to you,” says Marks. “We believe that there’s a heightened engagement when emotion is attached to what you’re watching.


Soup for You

What’s more engaging than actually feeding a consumer? Several recent OOH campaigns from JCDecaux are doing just that by combining bus shelter advertising, vending technology and mobile call-ins.

In Australia, bus commuters in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane can get free samples of Unilever’s Cup-A-Soup directly from a shelter ad. All they need to do is phone in and provide some basic information and the ad panel immediately releases a packet of soup in one of Cup-A-Soup’s three flavors—pumpkin, roast chicken and tomato.

In the U.K., bus shelters started dispensing slices of cake to passers-by in a campaign for confectioner Mr Kipling. Not only do the ads give out samples, but, thanks to a scent-spray on the poster site, they also tempt pedestrians with the smell of freshly baked cake.