Category Archives: outdoor

In defense of Yammer’s one-way communication

What does it mean when a social network posts a billboard criticizing billboards? We debated this with Darryl Ohrt last week:

This is such an interesting debate. Let’s put aside that outdoor advertising is the second-fastest growing medium in the U.S. after Internet advertising, or that Americans continue to have record commutes and spend more time in cars than ever before, or that the outdoor industry now has launched new metrics to improve targeting against different demo groups.

I’ll get to the crux: “futility of one-way communication.” There is a huge vibe in advertising circles now that this is bad, it doesn’t work, “we’ve been doing it wrong” — and all this chest-beating is baloney. All the people on ad panels who say this take money from clients with the express intent of influencing others, and one-way communications is primarily how that happens.

Of course one-way communication works. The entire premise of advertising is to get people to buy things they don’t need, or at least don’t know they need yet. None of us asked for cameras on cell phones or minivans, yet those products were created and pushed on us with one-way messaging, and we adopted them. There are far too many products in the world, each shoving their way toward us unwanted, and to suggest that one-way messaging doesn’t work neglects the core need of society to push ideas to others.

Individuals do this, too, of course. A scan of Twitter shows that the majority of messages are one-way broadcasts — here’s a witty thought, here’s a link, please click to my post, etc. Engagement is a fine idea but the truth is humans are egocentric, get up in the morning thinking about themselves, and spend the vast majority of time trying to influence others.

The sneakers you wear and the color of your hair are attempts to tell a story. Your clothes are a one-way attempt to express who you are. You didn’t engage with your audience before making the decision to broadcast those expressions to influence others. You’re pushing it out, one-way.

We attempt to influence others with each opening of our mouth, each key on a keyboard, each expression of our being.

As far as this being old media, well, yeah, people still drive 2 hours a day past billboards. People also watch 5 hours and 9 minutes a day of TV and read boatloads of content in magazines, PC screens and tablets. The delineation of impressions between “old media” and “new media” is a bit silly when it’s really about consumer modality, most of which is passive receipt of message from distance fields (billboards) or closer fields (laptops). Most people watch a lot.

So hat’s off to you, Yammer, for proving one-way communication works. Glad to see the billboard is getting you so much buzz.

Billboards in Japan: Why, hello mister, you look 40

We spent time early in our career working for Don Peppers, the 1to1 marketing guru who touted personalization as a competitive advantage back in the 1990s, so it’s cool to see some of those concepts finally emerging. A group of 11 railway companies in Japan is now testing billboards that recognize passers-by gender and age, a bit like that Tom Cruise scene in Minority Report. In the first foray the boards will simply collect data to build profiles of which type of consumers actually look at (and presumably digest) the ad message, but you can see a future in which digital displays begin customizing content.

Personalization has never taken off as a competitive force in the United States, barring a few examples in customer-focused service industries. Peppers used to suggest that the more your customers differ in terms of what they need from you and the financial value they provide to you, the more it makes sense to customize your service — which is why airlines, hotels, and financial service companies, all industries with huge skews of customer value, remain the leaders in CRM and service customization.

Mainstream marketers in the U.S. interested in such technology might check out the outdoor industry’s new “eyes on ratings,” a traffic estimation service that moves beyond DEC traffic counts to estimate actual impressions against different audience demos (men, women, Hispanic, Asian, etc.). It’s not Minority Report personalization, but may be more practical for fine-tuning how you reach your target outside.

The Outdoor rope around her wrists dug deeper

Erotic prose aside, what Internet hyperbolists fail to mention is that out-of-home advertising (billboards and the like) has been the second-fastest growing ad medium of the past decade. Outdoor slumped slightly in 2009, like everything else, but in the 11 years prior its share of U.S. ad budgets rose 242%, and prognosticators suggest outdoor will accelerate again with the expansion of new digital boards, LCD point-of-sale displays, and improved ad metrics that supposedly give marketers a read on the audience demographics likely to have made eye contact with a display. The Traffic Audit Bureau is rolling out an “Eyes On” system that uses video monitoring of passers-by eyeballs, 50,000 surveys of consumer travel habits, and a pinch of statistical magic to make outdoor ratings real.

Or so we hear. Outdoor still has significant challenges. Digital board units, which are rotated on electronic billboards every 8 to 10 seconds, are often priced at par with normal billboards — a rather interesting math stretch since drivers zipping past at 60 miles per hour are likely to miss 3 of the 6 units being rotated onto the new digital screens. Point-of-sale displays have a wonderful potential to provide customized offers to consumers as they near the checkout, most vulnerable to impulse buying, yet marketers have failed to find a way to provide any true personalization (imagine, if you will, a scanner that recognizes your grocery cart contains ingredients for beef stroganoff and so offers you the perfect matching red wine on sale as you roll up to the register). The inability to measure any direct response to outdoor messages makes marketers awash in Google Analytics gun-shy about throwing big dollars into a silent hole. And outdoor execution, which can be brilliant (see the OAAA Creative Resource Center for inspiration), is often abysmally produced by local auto dealers or hospitals whose cluttersome eyesores give the entire segment a bad name.

Marketers evaluating outdoor need more than fancy impression estimates: It’s a function of whether the media use fits your target demo, whether the modality of consumer interest makes low-cost frequent impressions an asset, and whether you can articulate your message in a few clear beats. For product categories where consumers rarely think about you until they suddenly need to — home insurance, automobiles, health care specialities — a low hum on the horizon helps intercept the untargetable. Soon, you can measure the real eyeballs perking up, too.

Via Scott Brunjes.

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.

Digital signs: Influencing you in the last 3 feet

Attention impulse shoppers: One of the few bright spots in the ad industry is now digital out of home (OOH), which covers everything from giant glowing billboards over the interstate to digital signs above store cash registers. Digital OOH spending was up 24% in 2007 and is tracking to 11.2% growth in 2008. Patrick Quinn, chief of PQ Media, recently told Mediaweek that digital signage should fare better in the economic downturn than other media channels.

Why? Fragmentation of traditional media makes breaking through on TV, radio or print problematic. Digital signage at the point of purchase is unavoidable, and can influence consumers in “the last 3 feet” before they reach for their wallets. A recent study by Point of Purchase Advertising International found that 70% of all buying decisions are made in the store and 43% of consumers can be influenced at point of purchase.

Of course, if you believe everything a point of purchase advocacy group says about point of purchase advertising, you’ll probably be influenced by signs at the cash register, too.

PETA takes a stab at viral messaging

PETA, the animal-rights group known for flirtatious nudity in advertising, is launching an outdoor campaign showing a merman stabbing a human … to convey that fish have feelings, too. But before launch PETA is hosting an online caption-writing competition to build buzz among animal rights activists.

If you’re feeling creative, or just sick of tuna, offer copy brilliance here.

Via Copyranter.

UPDATE: We received an email on Oct. 24 from PETA’s Amy Cook politely asking us to remove the image, which PETA took down over a copyright question. Amy, we’re here for you.

McDonald’s, just the stop for interplanetary road trips

Someone has cut an eerie crop circle in Nebraska that looks an awful lot like a McDonald’s ad. At first glance, this “media placement” is downright silly, since only 0.58% of the U.S. population lives in Nebraska, you can’t see it without a plane, and surely participants walking in the maze pack a picnic.

Yet all this goofiness points out the new media strategy of seeding a viral campaign — using lever A to set off a cascade of people talking B. Someone at McDonald’s, we bet, was willing to invest a few thousand dollars in cutting up a cornfield in hopes that web sites would pass along the message. The cost of creating corn mazes has fallen in recent years as companies such as The Maize give farmers GPS-guided tools to design paths that resemble almost anything.

Or perhaps space aliens just get hungry.

Via Marta Kagan and Brandcurve.