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Ambient and Outdoor Advertising

By The Drum | Administrator

May 30, 2005 | 6 min read

According to research provided by JCDecaux and sourced by BBC Daily Life 2003, in the previous year, 80 per cent of the UK population was home by 6.30pm during the working week. By 2003, this figure had dropped to a mere 65 per cent. A further two years down the line, and judging by how long it took this Adline journalist to get home last night, the figure is undoubtedly still heading in a downward direction.

What this means – aside from the fact that 45 per cent of the country are in desperate need of a very long holiday – is that potential consumers are out and about more and more and, in turn, are primed for experiencing a wide, assorted mix of ambient and outdoor communication.

Advocating the outdoor media is Yvonne O’Brien, marketing director of Clear Channel UK, which has offices in Manchester, Glasgow and London. She argued: “Outdoor is so powerful because it’s not a choose to see medium, it’s a medium that finds its audience 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is free to consume with no cover price, or ticket to buy, or licence fee to pay. Outdoor enjoyed a year-on-year growth of 7.8 per cent in 2004, a figure that most other media will find hard to match and now accounts for around nine per cent of display advertising.”

While TV has worked hard in recent years to give audiences a more holistic brand experience from the armchair – most notably with the arrival of interactive advertising through the little red button – both outdoor and ambient media have also been evolving to ensure that brands can be experienced in their fullness outside the home too.

Saman Mansourpour, account director at Bristol-based marketing agency Rhythmm, explained: “We are being bombarded with an increasing number of messages each day. Achieving cut through in this plethora of media requires creative and innovative thinking; as much for the selection of media, as the creative used on it.”

An example of an alternative, yet well-suited, choice of media is Rhythmm’s campaign for client, Bridgestone, where messages were communicated using car park barriers. Mansourpour commented: “We looked at where our target market are, identified at which point they’re going to be most responsive to our message, and talked to them at that point. Hence the driving campaign was born. The key to the campaign was finding a location where motorists were in their cars yet were still captive, and not concentrating on driving. By taking over car park barriers and ticket machines, we captured motorists for those vital few seconds. Being first to use the medium reflected well on the brand; reinforcing its innovative position.”

Aiding the creative use of media space is the development of technology within advertising. Retail media specialist, Bezier has noticed a blurring of boundaries when it comes to ambient and point of purchase marketing. Bluetouch, Bezier’s in-house design agency, has recently been contracted to produce Asda’s trolley adverts.

Martin Fawcett, creative director at Bluetouch, said: “Ambient media has developed rapidly over the last few years. Technology means designers can appeal to all of the five senses through everything from movement activated sound effects and talking windows to scented media, interactive floor projections and new visual effects like lumisty. This technology can add subtle effects, which give graphics extra meaning to enhance a consumers brand experience.”

Admedia works with a number of big name clients such as Freeserve, Kelloggs and Orange. Explaining why outdoor and ambient is changing so dramatically, Philip Vecht, CEO at Admedia, commented: “With standard outdoor becoming more and more of a commodity sell, some ambient elements of ‘out of home’ increasingly provides advertisers and agencies with true tactical and ‘stand out’ opportunities on a large national scale, yet to finally targeted audiences.”

Excited about the prospects of the medium, Mansourpour said: “What will be really good is when personalised messaging really takes off. By the phone you carry and the signal it sends, the ads on the screens will change depending on your personal profile, age, type, interests, and so on. For this to work effectively, someone is going to have to start compiling the world’s largest database, with as many of the population entered and profiled as possible.”

So just how likely is a Bladerunner scenario? John Wolstenholme, director of regional sales at JCDecaux, said: “We’re not that far away technologically speaking, but we’re a lot further away in terms of consumers being ready for it and it will only go as far as consumers will allow it to.”

O’Brien, added: “Digital outdoor is very much in its infancy, and the prospect of a Bladerunner-style streetscape is some years off, although it certainly offers exciting possibilities.

“Clear Channel offers a number of digital screens in the UK as well as screens in taxi cabs and infrared technology on some bus shelters. Until there is a real demand for it from advertisers the so-called traditional vinyl or paper poster sites will remain the norm. However, high technology has an important role to play, particularly in allowing outdoor to become a direct response medium and in targeting people who have time to view and interact. Many posters advertisers are already inviting the public to send text messages, for example.”

Wolstenholme, too, has faith in the tried and trusted old-school outdoor media. He argued: “While technology advancements will become increasingly useful to advertisers, we believe it will never remove the need for, and value of, broadcast billboards and six-sheets.”

However, like Clear Channel, JCDecaux has invested in new technology and new ideas. JCDecaux Innovate has been set up to add experimental opportunities to an outdoor advertising campaign. Products include large format special builds, day and night printing and sounds and scents.

So what is the key to a successful outdoor or ambient campaign? O’Brien suggested: “The most valuable outdoor sites are those in the best locations and this is the same whether the format is digital, paper or vinyl. Getting content right is one issue and making it compelling enough for people to absorb the commercial message is another. For this reason the digital screens that have worked well tend to be in long-dwell time areas such as shopping centres or railway stations.”

Mansourpour believes that the promise of outdoor, regardless of technology, will rely upon intelligence. “It’s key to fully understand the target consumer. We need to know where they go, what makes them tick and what they respond to. This intelligence enables us to produce campaigns that effectively follow the right people around, and most importantly, get noticed.”

The combination of innovative technology, ideas and information means that outdoor and ambient are exciting, pioneering and fast evolving media to be involved in at the moment, and with the summer months now having arrived we can expect to see more and more clients wanting to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors.

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