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Outdoor Advertising

By The Drum | Administrator

March 8, 2007 | 8 min read

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association, more than £341million was spent on transport advertising in 2006, while nearly £487m was spent on roadside advertising. In short, commuter-focused campaigns are big business. “It’s a huge market,” says Richard Bon, head of campaign planning at Clear Channel. “It’s got its own dynamics in the sense that we have Scottish clients who only want to advertise in Scotland.

“What we are finding is that companies are targeting people in a much more modern way – they are not only looking at people who are commuting, but they also want to know why people are commuting. Is it for work? Is it for leisure? Is it for school runs? They also want to know if people are driving to work or driving home. This is because companies want to be relevant to their audience.”

Sarah Whethem of Forrest Group Media believes that the fragmentation of media and the growth in the number of people travelling to work every day on public transport has made outdoor advertising more important to clients.

“People are spending more time out of the home than ever before,” she says. “And they are now consuming more media in many different ways. So there are many different ways of targeting different people.”

David McEvoy, marketing director of JC Decaux, agrees that there’s a growing emphasis on outdoor campaigns to reach consumers on the move. “It’s a medium that suits today’s busy lifestyles and increased time spent in the car and commuting,” he says. “In terms of reaching the commuter audience, outdoor is powerful because it’s not a ‘choose to see’ medium. It can’t be switched off or ignored and it’s free to the consumer.”

One of the greatest changes in the last few years has been the move into the use of digital screens in place of poster sites. This is something that’s noticeably happening in railways stations in Glasgow and Edinburgh courtesy of Titan Outdoor.

“A digital screen really offers flexibility to creatives at any time of day,” says Chris Collins, rail concessions manager for Titan Outdoor. “It also offers stand-out, as it’s a very impactful product.”

Titan Outdoor used to use BBC News to attract commuters’ attention to its screens, but it has just linked up with Sky for news instead. “All of the comments we’re getting about Sky’s news have been positive,” says Collins. “It’s a brighter picture and offers more information to rail passengers, as well as some regional content.

“We provide the advertising, but the content provides the commuter with up-to-date news, entertainment, sport and a business section. It really does make people want to look at the screens to find out what’s going on.”

According to Collins, the appeal of advertising on trains and in stations has grown alongside rail travel – the number of people travelling by train has increased by around 50 per cent in the last decade, with an estimated 1.15billion journeys being made in the UK by train every year. Gavin Hollywood, managing director of Poster Plus, also knows there are more commuters to target these days. He says that with the evolution of digital display, advertisers are having to reposition to catch commuters on the move.

“It’s now easier to have multiple adverts on one site,” he says. “Where some traditional poster sites are sold on a traditional two-week cycle with one poster, now there can be multiple adverts. On top of this, you also can run video clips and, if you’re a bit more creative, use BlueCasting [a new way to deliver content to mobile phones].

“So if a company such as McDonald’s wants to promote the McMuffin Sandwich and then in the afternoon run a different promotion, they can make their displays time specific – they can be easily changed and altered, whereas with traditional posters, once it’s pasted up, that’s it up for two weeks.

“Most of the digital work is sold in ten or 20-second slots – certainly the slots we sell are, and most traditional operators are the same. With anything over 30 seconds, people won’t stand and concentrate on the screens for that long – unless their train has been cancelled.”

At Forrest Group, Whethem fears that the introduction of digital outdoor advertising will have a negative impact on poster sites: “There’s still a place for standard paper and paste, but people are very proud of the quality of their digital sites and the image that they portray because that’s reflecting their brand. We’ll see less and less of paper and paste, but people will upgrade their sites.”

JC Decaux’s McEvoy agrees. He believes 2007 will be “a watershed year” for digital outdoor with the medium developing from the promotion of leisure and retail into mainstream out-of-home environments. “Poster campaigns already enable clients to reach audiences in the right place and at the right time,” he says. “What digital adds is flexibility of communications – and that’s a powerful proposition in today’s marketplace.”

Not everyone agrees though. Over at Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT), which has just renewed its £3.9m contract with SMG Primesite for the next five years, marketing manager Liz Park says the company is not yet ready to go down the digital path – although she does admit digital probably is the way forward.

She also admits that advertising is an important revenue stream for SPT, bringing in between £700,000 and £800,000 annually. But with ticket sales bringing in around £12m a year, she is keen to emphasise that ads are very much a supplementary source of income. Even so, the company isn’t afraid to experiment with outdoor options.

“We’ve had ‘advertising trains’ in the past, with Morgan Spice and O2 branding entire carriages,” she says. “We’re also looking at introducing other formats including plasma screens. We are still primarily paper-based, but that’s what has been making money for us. Plasma will grow in popularity, but at the moment the infrastructure costs money and we’re in the business of making money from advertising. Six sheets and the four sheets do a good job.”

Commuters have so many advertising messages aimed at them on a daily basis, it is easy to wonder how any manage to stand out from the crowd. Steve Cox, strategic planning director of CBS Outdoor, believes that running an advert to saturation point will get it noticed, but it’s often better to make it stand out for creative reasons.

“Arguably, if your net is wider, you give yourself a better chance of achieving your communications objectives because you get your message in front of people,” Cox says. “However, just getting your message in front of people isn’t necessarily a guarantee they’ll look at it.

“You can probably run too many posters to the extent that you get used to seeing them. At best they become wallpaper, at worst you become irritated. People expect to see advertising on bus shelters, on buses and taxis, everywhere they go. It’s part of the environment, but I don’t think that means they don’t notice it. The onus is on creative agencies to come up with captivating executions.”

This is becoming increasingly important in Scotland as a major distraction from in-carriage adverts continues to fall into the hands of bored commuters. According to Cox, the success of Metro and other freesheets has had a definite impact on the poster-observing audience – but only on the train, and not in the station.

“If you look at the underground network, someone may well pick up a copy of a free newspaper outside the station,” he says. “They engage with advertising the moment they go into the station, so the chances are the newspaper is not going to have any bearing on the way they react to ads on escalators, in corridors and probably not even on platforms.

“Once they get inside the carriage, yes, they may sit and read the newspaper, but on average they’re in a tube for 13 minutes and I suspect that even if a person has a seat and a newspaper in front of them, they are going to look up and see the dour interior panels opposite.”

Of course, there’s one more travel hub left for agencies to target – and it can be a very profitable one. JC Decaux Airport plans to invest £25m installing around 1000 digital screens at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports. According to Richard Malton, marketing director at JC Decaux Airport, most of the brands targeting air travellers are business-to-business brands.

“The key thing is that airports always have been and always will be the area where you get business-to-business brands,” Malton says. “We know how difficult it is to get the high demographic business guy, and the airport is still very much one of the places you can guarantee to get them.”

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