Ambient and outdoor feature

By The Drum, Administrator

January 28, 2004 | 10 min read

Forrest has recently introduced the high-tech City Screen. Far left: The old Irn-Bru site on Renfield Street, now occuppied by City Screen.

As a teenager prowling the streets of Edinburgh in search of a watering-hole that would look favourably upon a hastily pulled-together fake ID, the norm was to blend in. If you didn’t turn heads on arrival at said watering hole, the chances were that you would be able to slip by the imposing bouncers relatively unnoticed.

So imagine the dismay felt when, on pulling up at a bar door, the entire street stops to stare as you climb out of the taxi. Red-faced, your anonymity is shattered and another late night in McDonalds looks inevitable. However, not wanting to swap a chilled Hooch for a strawberry milkshake just yet, the doorman is approached and, much to the surprise of the group, sauntered sheepishly past as he points with his colleague to our trusty steed – Edinburgh’s (then) famous Irn-Bru taxi.

Talk about stand-out. From then on, the height of teenage sophistication was the Irn-Bru taxi, completely reversing the tried and tested rule of blending in.

But today the same tactic might be less fruitful in the quest to gain entry to Edinburgh’s premier underage drinking establishments. Where before, the garish orange and blue of the Irn-Bru taxi was a relatively unique burst of colour in a world of black (and sometimes white) taxis, today it is the norm.

And, while taxi advertising is still undoubtedly a successful tactic, its ability to stand out might be slightly lessened – a victim of its own success, perhaps? But then again, you could hardly call a rapidly expanding medium that has captured the imagination of planners, buyers and creatives alike – as well as the public – a victim.

Outdoor advertising is evolving – what were once innovative ideas are now standard practices.

Be it branded taxis or talking bus shelters, inflatable billboards or mega digital screens, the outdoors as an advertising medium continues to evolve in the elusive quest for brand attention.

The latest figures show that outdoor continues to outperform other media, with revenues up by 6.6 per cent for the third quarter of 2003, year on year, with a share of all display media for quarter three standing at 9.7 per cent – the highest share ever recorded for outdoor. For the second year running, outdoor is also forecast to be the fastest-growing advertising medium.

These impressive figures are the result of a great deal of hard work and investment by the outdoor media owners, says Stevie Spring, chief executive of Clear Channel UK: “Today’s results come from huge investment over the past five years. Contractor consolidation has allowed the major players to justify a serious upgrade of their plant, increased expenditure on marketing and research and a new professionalism in our attitude to accountability and flexibility.

“Outdoor is also the natural beneficiary of more people spending more time out of doors, as well as slower traffic flows delivering more eyeballs for our posters. The resulting higher audiences have come at a time when other media are struggling; ITV has necessarily been inwardly focused this year, while others have faced continued fragmentation. So, posters increasingly have delivered more bang for the advertising buck. And our commitment has been joined by clients’ increasing willingness to enter into strategic partnerships, to work longer term with the outdoor industry, to allow us to tailor-make solutions to achieve their goals. Long may this trend continue.”

Spencer Berwin, group sales director at JC Decaux, agrees: “As an industry, and a company, we have fared exceedingly well. But, like most media, we have had our highs and our lows.

“Perhaps we have gained from other people’s loss. Look at television advertising – audiences are in decline, there are issues of fragmentation and programming, and costs are rising. Many advertisers still want a mass broadcast, and that is what outdoor advertising can provide.

“We lost tobacco revenues in February 2002, but since that was taken away we have replaced the revenue and even grown. Of course we felt it, but it’s been a great recovery through the continued strong support of sectors such as telecoms, motor and FMCGs. A lot of clients still want to reach a lot of people. Posters don’t discriminate, they still broadcast to the masses.”

Scotland accounts for almost ten per cent of the UK’s £195,463,791 outdoor revenue and, while the out-of-home business may be booming, it has not been immune to the tough economic climate.

“Just as the rest of the industry has had a hard time over the last year, the outdoor industry hasn’t had it all easy either,” says Mark Greenhalgh, founding director of Cabtivate. “But, as in previous ‘recessions’ of media spend, outdoor, as an industry, is very resilient. As the market picks up this year, expect outdoor to continue to be at the front of the queue.”

Cabtivate is the brainchild of Edinburgh-based ITS Taxi Advertising and was launched officially late last year. However, the company is already planning a national rollout of its in-cab audio-visual technology.

“There was a misconception in the 90s that entering the media industry was a short cut to making millions,” continues Greenhalgh. “Hence, we got quite a lot of wild and wacky media ideas that have since fallen by the wayside, making no-one money except the liquidators.

“The biggest challenge to any client these days is cutting through that clutter of commercial messages we are each bombarded with every day. Whatever category we are ‘put’ into by clients and buyers, our aim is to justify our relevance to their market, the impact we have upon their potential customers and the value we offer as part of their marketing mix.”

And value, or perhaps the proof of value, is one thing that the industry has been working hard to develop. Mike Baker, European marketing director at Viacom Outdoor, says: “Several initiatives have recently been developed to increase the accountability of Outdoor. At Viacom, in particular, we have worked with Optimad to produce a weekly posting performance report which we send to specialists. Across the industry, new inclusivity initiatives with POSTAR are currently on the boil, meaning, by the end of the year, inventory covered by POSTAR will rise from 50 per cent to 85 per cent of all outdoor formats. Running order for POSTAR inclusion by the end of 2004 is TRAC (Underground), Adrail (national rail), Busads (buses), taxi, kiosk and retail POS formats.”

These developments in tracking come at an important time for the industry, continues Baker: “Outdoor formats have experienced organic growth during 2003, especially in the shape of shopping centres and roadside 6-sheets. Beyond this, the very visible increase of spectacular sites such as huge building wraps by the likes of Van Wagner clearly demonstrates that outdoor sites and formats are continuing to expand.”

Despite the growth of outdoor advertising as a sector, there are still a number of problems encountered by the industry. One such problem is locating the prime city centre sites – especially in Scotland’s major cities. David Philip of Forrest Media says: “Glasgow is one of the liveliest and most diverse cities in the UK. In recent years it has been awarded such accolades as European City of Culture and UK City of Architecture & Design.

“Yet, despite its obvious importance as a cultural hub, coupled with the fact that it is the largest retail location in the UK outside of London, there remains very few outdoor opportunities for companies to showcase their product or service.

“The reason for this is simple; Glasgow city centre has a protected status as a conservation area. This means there are very few freestanding advertising sites within a one-mile-square radius of the city centre – the only opportunities that do exist are limited to a handful of (6-sheet) bus stops.

“The upshot of this for the advertiser is that, whereas in Edinburgh, Manchester or Birmingham, for example, an outdoor campaign can be productive and dynamic, the same strategy, if deployed in Glasgow, would see completely different results – and all too often does.”

Forrest Outdoor Advertising, formerly Trainer, recently launched its flagship development – City Screen – after three years of development.

Standing 9 metres tall by 6 metres wide and situated above Glasgow Central Station (the previous location of the famous Barr’s Irn Bru neon sign, which stood for nearly 60 years until it was taken down in 1993), City Screen uses the latest LED technology to display static images in a portrait format. Utilising the technology behind such iconic landmarks as that of Times Square and Piccadilly Circus, City Screen claims a footfall in excess of 1.75 million people per week.

“In addition to this,” claims Philip, “the sheer physicality of Renfield Street, as a long straight stretch of road, comprising seven sets of traffic lights, means it can take in excess of ten minutes before both traffic and pedestrian alike reach the City Screen site – providing a highly captive audience.”

Audiences are now very advertising literate. They know that they are being sold to at all junctions, so grabbing them can be a difficult balancing act. But the public remain unoffended by outdoor advertising in amongst the clutter of the marketing mix, says Berwin: “We often conduct vox-pops in and around our outdoor properties, and perhaps the best way to sum up the perceptions of outdoor advertising was offered to us by one lady. She objected to paying £3 for a magazine that was half filled with advertising. However, in outdoor advertising she saw a choice, and above all, it is free for her to consume. The audiences are discerning in what they consume.”

The emergence of what is widely termed as ambient (although many people will still sigh at the word, whilst failing to describe it in any other way) to complement other media has been fast. And, like taxi advertising, many new ideas and formats are now part of the established norm.

One such format looking to capture the imagination of the market is Agripa’s Fleet Media. The new truck-side technology means that, as well as adding a new dimension previously unavailable, it allows adverts to grace the highways, where heavy restrictions normally apply.

Roseanne Grant, sales and marketing director at Agripa, says: “The variety which ambient offers is very unique within the media industry and is probably limited only by imagination. Each year new ideas emerge but, due to its nature, ambient is constantly changing. It has to. Media that were once thought to be ambient are turning more and more mainstream.

“The Agripa Fleet Media concept is very young – less than a year old. We would like to think that our medium, as it grows and becomes established, would move to mainstream.

“Ambient developed within outdoor because the outdoor market creates so many opportunities to connect with the consumer at so many points in their daily lives. Ambient media is complementary and almost always reaches areas where mainstream outdoor can’t get. For example, 44 per cent of Agripa Fleet Media audience is captured while travelling on motorways. There is very little mainstream outdoor on motorways, for planning reasons, so that audience would otherwise be inaccessible.”

Agripa already has the largest retailer in the UK, Tesco, changing 600 panels on the sides of its fleet every month. In November of this year, Agripa booked 600 96-sheet panels on the Tesco fleet to Chrysler. The first ever national campaign of its size on the side of trucks and the first ever significant spend by a major advertiser on a fleet owned by another plc company.

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