Out-of-home now a primary contender

Five years ago, the role of out-of-home advertising within the media mix could have been described quite simply as 'a broad reach reminder medium that builds frequency.'Not so today.While it is true that out-of-home advertising works well as a support medium,...

Five years ago, the role of out-of-home advertising within the media mix could have been described quite simply as ‘a broad reach reminder medium that builds frequency.’

Not so today.

While it is true that out-of-home advertising works well as a support medium, that it can make a large number of advertising impressions by virtue of its being in front of consumers as they go about their daily tasks, and that it reaches all demographic and psychographic groups, there is increasing evidence that the role of out-of-home advertising within the media mix is changing.

Today, both media planners and clients are more likely to consider out-of-home advertising as a primary medium, or, at the very least, a strong secondary support medium.

Take, for example, a recent campaign for Sunkist oranges.

Mary Falbo, senior vice-president and director of media operations at Toronto-based Backer Spielvogel Bates Canada, says her agency pitched and won the Sunkist Growers account based on a media plan that recommended the exclusive use of out-of-home advertising.

Falbo says the plan called for outdoor to be used in a variety of formats – horizontal and vertical posters, superboards, transit shelters and mall posters – to reach a dual target audience.

‘We were trying to demonstrate to the trade that the product was going to be supported through advertising and, at the same time, talk to the consumer and have them demand the product at trade level,’ she says.

According to Falbo, there were plenty of reasons outdoor fit the bill as the vehicle of choice.

‘We felt the medium could provide us with continuity, high reach and frequency, we could dominate the medium and we could afford a number of creative expressions – we had something like 11 creative expressions – so we could keep the creative fresh over a long period of time,’ she says.

One TV spot

‘For the same amount of money in production, we would have been able to afford only one really well-produced television commercial,’ says Falbo, who adds the total budget for creative and media placement was less than $1.5 million.

In addition, the use of out-of-home allowed the agency to cover off the market for a six-month period.

With television, says Falbo, she would not have been able to achieve that kind of continuity.

The campaign had excellent results. According to Falbo, sales of Sunkist oranges in the Toronto market increased 178%, and awareness of the Sunkist name grew in both the trade and on the part of consumers.


Of course, it helped that the creative was appealing.

The campaign, which features photographs of people of all ages, from all walks of life, with a wedge of Sunkist orange in place of their smiles, personalized the experience of eating an orange, says Falbo.

Jane Brown, group media manager at Toronto-based advertising agency Leo Burnett, agrees out-of-home advertising is beginning to play a more central role in the media mix.

‘For years it was an afterthought,’ Brown says.

‘Everyone would go tv or newspaper and then add some outdoor,’ she says. ‘I think the role has changed in that people are now looking at it potentially as a standalone medium.’

One of the principal reasons given by media planners for their consideration of out-of-home advertising more often these days is the increase in the variety of products available to them.

At one time synonymous with billboards, the term out-of-home advertising now encompasses horizontal and vertical posters, superboards, transit advertising, wall murals, pixelboards, street level columns, truck posters, mall posters, airport, elevator and in-store advertising, and everything in between.

Cathleen Collier, associate media director at Cossette Communication-Marketing in Toronto, says the variety of products now available contributes to the larger than life feeling of out-of-home advertising.

Own the market

‘You can go into a market and actually own the market, or have the appearance of owning the market,’ Collier says.

And new products are being introduced all the time.

Last month, for example, Toronto-based advertising agency Chiat/Day became the first agency to use Urban Outdoor Trans Ad’s Contra Vision decals in a campaign for the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo.

Two-way mirror effect

The decals, which work like two-way mirrors, are affixed to bus windows. People inside the bus can see out, but people on the street see the advertising.

In one of the concepts, the creative takes advantage of the two-way effect by labelling three consecutive windows A, B and C.

In one of the windows, a cartoon hippopotamus is displayed. In the other two sit real passengers. A tongue-in-cheek poster on the side of bus asks, ‘What wallows in mud, sleeps all day and behaves like a real animal?’

David Cairns, vice-president and media director at Chiat/Day, says the agency has had some real creative fun with the out-of-home medium.

And while Cairns is a firm believer in the continuing effectiveness of television as the primary advertising vehicle, he says out-of-home advertising is gaining a more equal place at the table as a selection of choice.

‘With declining budgets, a lot of advertisers have had to think hard about how to spend their money,’ Cairns says. ‘The rise of accountability is part of that. Every business expense is scrutinized a lot harder.’

Although out-of-home suppliers have gained at the expense of television and other media, he says, they, too, have had to do their share to provide advertisers with more value. They have had to become a lot more flexible.


‘It used to be impossible to actually pick sites,’ says Cairns.

‘There was a time when if you said `I have a teen targetted buy and I need to put my message in these areas’, their response would have been `we can’t do that, because it will affect the [Gross Rating Points] levels that other advertisers are getting. We’ll just have to give you a run of schedule.’ ‘

Carole Anne Desjardins, senior vice-president and director of client services at Toronto-based Genesis Media, agrees there has been a change of attitude on the part of out-of-home suppliers in the past few years, in large part due to increased competition.

‘We can now pick specific locations, we can add extensions, we can put snipes across boards,’ she says. (Snipes are banners that can be added during the course of a campaign to announce, for example, ‘promotion ends next week.’)

She points to an agreement with suppliers Omni and Gallop & Gallop to build extensions to 10-ft. x 20-ft. posters for a recent McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada campaign.


‘That’s just an example of the flexibility and the openmindedness of the outdoor companies. [The industry] has matured a lot,’ Desjardins says.

While most industry analysts agree that the out-of-home medium is being taken more seriously now than ever before, Canadian agencies have traditionally made more use of outdoor advertising than their u.s. counterparts, says Hugh Dow, president of Toronto-based Initiative Media.

Figures from the Canadian Media Directors’ Council digest show outdoor advertising makes up 8.3% of total advertising revenue in Canada.

In the u.s., the figure is 0.8%, less than 1/10th the proportion, according to an Industry Facts publication. Dow attributes the difference, in part, to the Canadian out-of-home industry’s skill at promoting itself as a mainstream medium.

More effectively

Not only is out-of-home advertising being considered more often these days, it is being used more effectively.

Fiona Gallagher, vice-president and media director at Toronto-based advertising agency Harrod & Mirlin, says clients today are becoming more selective in their use of outdoor.

‘I truly believe more and more people are moving away from [out-of-home] as a mass reach vehicle over the past few years,’ Gallagher says. ‘They are very much going into neighborhoods, to specific routes and street corners even.’

‘People don’t have the luxury of reaching all of Toronto,’ she says. ‘They are now focussing on where their dollar is going to get them the biggest return.’

Evian, for example, would rather concentrate its exposure in upscale neighborhoods where its product is most likely to be consumed, says Gallagher.

A similar principle applies to the agency’s annual pre-Christmas campaign for Levi’s jeans. Much of the buy is concentrated near key retail outlets.

For Brown, outdoor will always be a broad reach vehicle, but she says it is possible to target depending on the out-of-home product she buys.

Interior subway cards tend to carry advertising for gum, breath fresheners and candy bars – impulse buys directed at teens. Mall posters are used for more family-oriented products.

The trend toward targetting has to do with the increasing availability of research on the part of out-of-home suppliers, says Brown.

An improvement

‘It’s still pretty gross research, but it’s more than we’ve ever had before, so it’s an improvement,’ she says. ‘Besides, all media buying is judgment. The research just helps quantify that judgment.’

Julie Myers, group media director at Toronto-based media buying house Optimedia, agrees some clients are scared off by the comparative lack of research available on the out-of-home medium.

‘We’ve got so much research on tv, [clients] feel comfortable with it,’ Myers says.

‘And even though they are willing to spend a fortune creating a television commercial, they question whether they want to spend one-tenth of that amount on creating outdoor,’ she says.

‘I think there are a lot of opportunities to use out-of-home that are missed, primarily because it is one of the least understood media.’

One thing that is clearly understood about out-of-home is its ability to communicate a simple, straightforward message to people on the move with slam-on-the-brakes creative.

When she is selling clients on outdoor, Brown tells them the reason she loves the medium is because it is so big.

‘I keep coming back to the drama and holy-shit creative and then I give them the numbers,’ she says. ‘But I really start with the emotional pitch. The consumer has an emotional reaction to good outdoor.’

A case in point: BSB Canada created an integrated campaign for Trident gum in which the transit advertising consisted of extruded plastic 3-D lips.

A runaway hit with teenagers, literally hundreds of the posters have been stolen since the campaign broke in February.

The agency recently commissioned a large-scale backlit version of the lips – measuring four by six feet – that made its debut Aug. 3 at Toronto’s Yonge/Bloor subway station.

Toby Styles, executive director of support services for the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo, agrees one way to judge the success of outdoor advertising is how often the creative is stolen or requested.

Styles says a few years ago, the Zoo’s transit shelter creative consisted of a large portrait of its male gorilla.

The copy simply read: ‘Charles. Eye to Eye. Daily. Metro Toronto Zoo.’

Styles had more than 400 requests for that poster, including one from a Florida resident who sent $200 for ‘postage.’

As for the future of outdoor, Dow says it is one of the few major media that will not be dramatically affected by technological change.

‘Barring any regulatory restrictions on sites, it should experience a relatively stable business environment over the next few years,’ he says.

‘Certainly it will not be faced with the changes that tv, radio, newspapers and magazines are going to be faced with.’

As well, Dow says, the efforts outdoor suppliers are making to reduce the lead time required for placing advertising makes it a medium that can be used proactively and reactively, a real advantage to clients from a competitive point of view.

‘All in all, the medium is well-positioned for the next five years, and has a lot going for it,’ he says.