The Great Outdoors

By The Drum | Administrator

July 28, 2005 | 8 min read

Outdoor advertising has long been an accepted way to reach a target audience when they’re out and about. But these days it’s not enough to be able to offer premium sites in different locations around the country. At a time when client budgets are being scrutinised down to the last penny, outdoor companies are under increased pressure to show how effective their medium can be in achieving an end result.

“Effectiveness is as important in outdoor as it is in any other medium,” says John Wolstenholme, regional sales director at JC Decaux. “Effectiveness is the wrong word, though, it’s really the accountability of that effectiveness that is key.”

Wolstenholme is backed up by representatives of some of the UK’s other major outdoor players. Yvonne O’Brien, marketing director at Clear Channel UK, comments: “I think accountability is hugely important for us in terms of how to demonstrate to advertisers how valuable outdoor is as a media for their campaigns. There has been a strong demand for accountability for a number of years now, and I think clients do expect to get effectiveness with their campaigns.”

“I think the whole industry is moving much closer to full return on investment,” says Stephen Fuller, head of consumer insight at Viacom. “If we don’t keep up with the other advertising mediums then we’re going to have problems. Traditionally outdoor has been a difficult medium to tie into sales, but that’s changing now and clients are recognising it.”

There are several ways in which the outdoor companies in Scotland and the UK are showing their accountability. One is to keep track of the number of people that pass by a given poster site during a campaign. Forrest Outdoor, the Scottish born and bred outdoor company based in Glasgow, has developed a unique way to let clients know just how many potential customers are passing their ad. Marc Keenan, managing director at Forrest Outdoor, explains: “The best example of accountability in the industry is with Forrest’s City Screen. We are the first outdoor company to install webcams on an outdoor site, where clients can actually log on to the website and see both the screen itself and how many people are passing their ad. It’s the ultimate proof of posting.”

Clear Channel, meanwhile, has its own research system, which is able to provide detailed information on whether a campaign’s creative is working. O’Brien said: “We use our own Adshel Research Monitor for our Adshel format. We’ve had it running for the last eight years, and it can give specific feedback on the posters, including on the creative itself, which is invaluable. Clients use this research when they’re talking to their creative agencies to make sure that the posters are exactly right. We also have a pre-testing service with Adshel, which can be used to tailor a campaign before it runs.”

Maiden also offers a pre-testing service to clients prior to running their campaigns. Marketing director Juan Peraz remarks: “We offer pre-testing to determine whether or not the creative has best effect. Creative agencies don’t always like this, as it’s scrutinising their work and attaching numbers to it. I can understand that, but the clients that recognise there’s an issue with their creative can really benefit from the service.

“The first part looks at the speed of recognition of the product and then the speed of recognition of the brand on the ad. Car ads are so similar that it can be really difficult for the brand to shine through. The second part of the research is a lot more qualitative. People are sat in a separate room with creatives and asked about the campaigns. It’s an in-depth piece of research which creates valuable insights.”

The ideal form of accountability, of course, is when a campaign produces tangible results for a client. Keenan said: “We constantly seek client testimonials, and we’ve built up quite a bank of them. Every month we send out a testimonial from a different client who has used City Screen.

“The Sun ran a campaign at the beginning of the year on City Screen and they sold out of newspapers in the vicinity of the screen. It was fantastic to get that in writing from the client.

“We also had a campaign for Asda on City Screen site highlighting, among other things, a special offer on Wotsits. Their agency had to call us and tell us to stop the campaign because they had no more Wotsits to sell.”

Effectiveness and accountability aren’t confined to larger billboard and poster sites, of course.

Moto Poster is a subsidiary of guerrilla marketing agency Kommando, and owns a fleet of scooter-towed poster sites. Business development manager, Chris Lennox comments: “The first thing we did was make sure that all our bikes are GPS-prepared. We can tell how much time we’ve spent at specific locations, where the bikes have been and so on.

“You can’t put a figure on it but the reaction we get is incredible. We did a campaign for the Calvin Klein store opening in Edinburgh, and they’ve decided to use us for every other store opening in the UK. The shop opened and the next week it was packed, and that was just through our bikes.”

Similarly, Mobile Media operates a number of trailer-mounted billboards, which are able to be deployed anywhere.

“Clients are becoming more aware of the possibilities of measuring effectiveness. There are agencies that do this, using Marplan for example that tests the absorption of a message. It is ‘the way of the world’ more and more, for campaigns to be deliverable, accountable, and researched.

“We have used Marplan ourselves to gauge our effectiveness. To do this we carried out a fictitious campaign so we knew awareness would be zero at the start. The campaign was for a dog food brand, which did not exist. It was called ‘Boomerang’ and the slogan went ‘Boomerang, the dog food free of kangaroo meat’. After seven days Marplan tested awareness. The result was 32 per cent recall.”

Helping a client to sell products is one thing, but attempting to raise awareness of a health issue or provoke a response on behalf of a police force is quite another. Edinburgh-based 360 Degrees Communications operates a number of washroom poster sites throughout Scotland, and works solely with non-commercial clients such as Health Scotland and Lothian and Borders Police. Manager, Hamish Macdonald, said: “We have a two-weekly schedule to monitor the condition of the sites; vandalism and so on. It’s always interesting to see the vandalism. Some of the vandalism we see provides a fascinating detail on how people are responding to the ads.

“We don’t have an increase in our sales to measure effectiveness by, so establishing a campaign’s effectiveness is vital to our business. Telling clients their campaigns aren’t working is as important as telling them they are.”

Gauging a campaign’s effectiveness is not just left up to the outdoor companies and their clients, however. Industry monitor POSTAR has been in effect for ten years and now counts all of the country’s major outdoor companies as members. “Outdoor has an advantage in that it can produce robust figures instead of projected figures. POSTAR does a great job of providing the raw facts,” says Decaux’s Wolstenholme.

The organisation, which employs five full-time staff in London, conducts in-depth research into outdoor poster sites and the number of people that are in contact with them.

POSTAR managing director, Helen Tridgell comments: “The nice thing about this industry is that it’s very inclusive. The feeling is very much ‘Let’s get people in. Let’s not be territorial.’ A lot of the contracts are brought up for review, but we’re still able to push forward as an industry.

“If any company in Scotland is not already a member then they should sign up. What we’re talking about is a fully inclusive media application. At the moment it’s roadside and track, but will be expanding into buses, leisure centres and we’re also currently looking at a range of different areas.”

Whether it’s through an industry body such as POSTAR or through their own research systems, outdoor companies are clearly looking to promote the effectiveness of their medium. In an industry where ROI is paramount these organisations need to prove, perhaps now more than ever, that outdoor can deliver clients considerable bang for their booking.


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