'A' is for amenities in out of home advertising

On vacation in Bermuda, eyes peeled for out of home (OOH) ads, but finding nearly none in restrictive Bermuda, I spotted a hydration station on the waterfront artery in Hamilton, the capital.

That colorful (lonely) panel with a push-button water tap serves societal goals (hospitality, reducing waste), and as a vivid reminder of the appeal of amenities, even in a place like Bermuda where restrictions are pervasive.

Related to our industry, Bermuda’s advertising law (the original 1911 Advertisement Regulations Act) not only puts the kibosh on billboards but even bans ads on parachutes and prohibits any person to act as a “sandwich man” displaying ads.

Amenities transcend restrictions, delivering quality-of-life perks paired with promotions, in this case, the subtly-placed logo of Bermuda Air Conditioning (BAC) and fits into “with some exceptions” consideration.

Worldwide, urban amenities are supported by advertising, just as ads subsidize transit.

“Cities,” says Kansas City’s chief innovation officer Bob Bennett, “are part of a complex ecosystem. Both the public and private sectors can provide something of value to enhance the quality of the city experience. Advertising is one way to self-fund some of those enhancements.”

Kansas City has 28 info-kiosks (49 screens), which look like seven-foot iPhones.

In the first year, ads generated $130,000 for Kansas City, says Bennett, without disputes over privacy or content. Private-sector startup Smart City Media installed the street-level screens, adding displays in Dallas, Little Rock, and Raleigh to create a platform big enough to attract national advertisers such as Coke, Pepsi, and the US Army.

Consumers can make restaurant reservations via touch screens, learn about the city and its services, and see commercial ads and — if necessary — emergency information. Mindful of the deadly tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri in 2011, Bennett has tested the screens in Kansas City to make sure they can deliver bad-weather updates.

A larger trend

In Philadelphia, OOH tech company Intersection is installing 100 kiosks that provide free WiFi, phone calls, mobile-device charging, maps and information, and advertising, like in other major cities.

"As we've seen in New York City and London, providing free high-speed WiFi, an array of digital services and engaging content on city streets enriches the experience of the city," says Ari Buchalter, CEO at Intersection, which has installed more than 1,400 panels in for New York City's LinkNYC effort.

Advertising pays for these free amenities and also pumps millions to city partners. Likewise, advertising supports high-tech amenities for airports and transit.

Global out of home advertising company JCDecaux is a pioneer in bike-sharing. Under its business model, the investment and operating costs of self-serve bicycles are financed by advertising on street furniture, says Jean-Charles Decaux.

Changing faces of media

In late 2017, New York-based Intersection raised $150 million in new financing to expand its internet-enabled digital OOH advertising. Graham Holding Company led the new funding. Its chairman, Donald E. Graham, and his family sold The Washington Post newspaper to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2013.

Graham Holding Company says it sees "tremendous opportunity" in deploying smart city technology to create value for cities, consumers, and brands.

Meanwhile, American cities are currying favor as Amazon decides where to locate its second headquarters and the Georgia Municipal Association may have useful coaching — calling amenities a key to the future — and advising cities to worry less about attracting jobs and look more to attracting the workers.

"We’re not just competing for jobs, we’re competing for residents, for people who want to live in that city," said Dr. Sally Wallace, chair of the Economics Department at Georgia State University.

As digital natives enter the job force, cities and their tech partners will try to integrate advertising into everyday life as an enhancement, not an intrusion.

And as cities figure out that balance in a changing media world, one fundamental will remain constant: advertising helps pay for amenities.

Ken Klein is executive vice president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.