Using Outdoor To Reach Consumers On The Move

Like most advertisers, has long struggled with determining which of its various outreach efforts is most effective. Does TV, for example, drive more sales than print? So CEO Jim McCann was intrigued last summer when his sometime golf buddy Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS, made a prescient suggestion over barbecue. “You really ought to connect with our out-of-home group,” said Moonves. “Something interesting is bound to come out of it.”

That comment led to a meeting between the flower giant and CBS Outdoor chairman and CEO Wally Kelly. The question on everyone’s minds was, “How do we come up with a clean test [where] we can show our other advertisers how effective this medium is?”

They soon did just that. To promote its new cocktail-themed floral product line, Happy Hour Bouquets, the Long Island-based company picked outdoor advertising as its sole offline medium and saw a 600 percent jump in revenue for the product, which had debuted in late summer, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

With CBS Outdoor as the sole vendor, the 1-800-Flowers campaign aimed to prove a point. “We said to ourselves, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to show that [a sales increase was achieved] just by outdoor?'” recalled McCann. Markets in which 1-800-Flowers had outdoor advertising saw a sevenfold jump in sales for the Happy Hour Bouquets. “In the past we’d done lots of online, lots of TV and radio and a lot of direct marking, but this was the most successful campaign launched in the flower category. It absolutely, unequivocally demonstrated that they can move the needle.”

For most clients, outdoor advertising is a small part of the mix that often includes TV, online, direct or print. But now a number of clients are experimenting with outdoor as a medium that can carry a campaign to reach an increasingly mobile customer base.

“We’re still probably the most inexpensive medium for reaching all demographics that exist in the market,” said Kelly, who added that working with 1-800-Flowers offered a rare chance to demonstrate today’s street power by taking “the last company that people associate with outdoor” and making it a “star category.”

Marketing aside, changes in consumer behavior and technology are converging to give the out-of-home environment a long-awaited boost. “People are spending more time outdoors,” said Kelly, “so we have more time to reach them.” Indeed, whether shopping, commuting or hauling a laptop to a coffee shop, today’s wireless citizen is on the go. And as gas prices continue to rise, outdoor advertisers wager, so too will the number of eyeballs in the nation’s ad-rich public transit. Spending on outdoor advertising, which had been stagnant at $5.2 billion annually from 2000 through 2002, began rising again in 2003 and hit a record-high $6.3 billion in 2005, per the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

Measuring ROI on outdoor has always been a dicey proposition and one that has lacked the reams of data available for measuring electronic media such as TV, radio and online. But that’s beginning to change, as Nielsen Media Research has launched an outdoor measurement service that for the first time will track exposure to outdoor ads by individual consumers using GPS-type technology. But only one market, Chicago, is up and running, with a second, Los Angeles, to follow in the fall.

Reaching its on-the-go audience is a challenge that prompted Oxygen, the women’s cable network, to rely almost exclusively on outdoor advertising in the top two markets, New York and Los Angeles, to launch a new reality show featuring brash supermodel Janice Dickinson, said Debby Beece, president, programming and marketing for the channel. The show, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, debuts June 6 and will chronicle Dickinson’s efforts to launch her own modeling agency in Los Angeles.

It seems contradictory that in the nation’s two biggest and most media-savvy markets, outdoor would be the medium of choice to launch a TV show. But it is. “The audience that we think will be attracted to this show is a very out-and-about group,” said Beece. “So it’s really about getting to where they are.”

In New York, the Dickinson campaign will feature a fake modeling agency, and dozens of buzz marketers who will be roaming the streets of Manhattan talking up the show and encouraging would-be models to drop off their photos at the “agency.” Those that bite get a surprise when they ring the agency’s front door buzzer, however—Janice (a recording, actually) insults them. One example: “You’re hired. I need someone to clean the toilets.”

And Beece says she expects to be using more outdoor in the future. “I love outdoor. It’s a great way to do the unexpected and get people’s attention.” Beece, and Oxygen’s agency, Toy, certainly got attention in January, when they hung boulder-sized bras on billboards in New York and Los Angeles for the debut of Campus Ladies.

Ari Merkin, founding partner and chief creative officer at Toy, says the mock storefront is “sort of a hand-and-glove fit” to get across the concept of the Dickinson show, “in what is basically a different kind of billboard.”

For Merkin, outdoor is “completely uncontained. You literally have the entire landscape to work with. As long as you’re doing work that’s entertaining, it can be an enormously fun way to engage people.”