Category Archives: OAAA

In defense of outdoor

Sure, internet makes headlines. So why doesn’t anyone talk about billboards, the second-fastest growing ad medium in the United States?

Outdoor advertising has leapt from 0.6% of all ad spending back in 1996 to 2.4% in 2007. About $7 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on billboard or so-called out-of-home ads, half that of magazine ads or two-thirds of internet ads. The irony is outdoor, one of the few bright spots of the ad recession, often gets a bad rap among marketing elitists who fail to recognize the reality that most Americans are trapped in cars for 25 minutes a day, staring dolefully at giant signs by the side of the road. Occasionally Ad Age mentions the award-winners, such as this piece above by agency Serve for the organization Pathfinders (which achieved a 30% lift in funding and inundated local police with 911 calls about kids sleeping on billboards). But agency or marketing execs typically disdain outdoor; one told us years ago, “billboards are what we do when we have money left over.”

Too bad, because outdoor works well for many products or services whose consumers have high modality. This is the psychological state of apathy interruptus, when you don’t think about something very much until suddenly you do — insurance, banks, Realtors, a new car. It’s impossible to tell when an individual will enter the 7% of the population about to buy a new home this year, but if you sell rugs or heating oil, you want to reach those consumers right when they get to that decision point. Direct mail or TV might hit a few by chance. Outdoor puts you there, in front of that entire 7%.

Part of billboards’ funky rap is their own fault, because the creative is so often awful. Local businesses often grab a board to try to convince consumers to turn off a highway exit, so homespun, multiple-font bastardizations that would make Edward Tufte groan are commonplace. Rare is the elegant Mini Cooper S whimsy. And the industry has recently alienated some in the ad world with its Wild West approach to pricing the new digital signs (say, huge electronic billboards that rotate messages, where the pricing for one slot out of six is the same as that for a single regular billboard — yet most drivers passing by won’t see the digital ad).

We recommend you don’t focus on formats or creative, but start with your customer. Do they have high modality (thinking about your service only rarely, and then suddenly)? Does your product have mass appeal, but only to the masses when they reach a critical point of interest? If so, then outdoor could be your thing. To see how some marketers do it well, visit the creative library at industry group OAAA.

Outdoor: Be direct or be nothing

We’re constantly amazed at how horrible most billboards look. You know, 25 syllables, 7 fonts, 3 response mechanisms, artwork that doesn’t pop. So sad, since out-of-home advertising is the second-fastest-growing media in the United States (and your commute home is not getting any shorter).

Which is why we love this Bridgestone tire ad. Crisp. Clear. Direct. You get it in a heartbeat. The ad could be written in Italian and it would still make sense.

For inspiration, visit the OAAA association case studies.

Need creative inspiration? Visit OAAA.

Outdoor is the most challenging design format because it forces clients to make tough decisions on what the single message should be. This is why so many billboards are horrible, because they cram too much in … phone numbers, URLs, headlines, subheads, taglines, and multiple images. As a Zen master once said, your billboard is finished when there is nothing left to remove.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America offers a wonderful library of award-winning outdoor creative, searchable by industries, keywords, or award categories. You can check out new formats, study competitor brand positioning, get inspired by leaders in your industry, or benchmark your existing campaign.

Here’s a test for your marketing team: As you review the best outdoor designs at OAAA, count the syllables in each message. Then count the syllables on your current billboards, and see who makes an impact with fewer beats.