Special Report: Out-Of-Home Media: ‘Another great push’

Predicting the future of all advertising is a pursuit best left to bungee jumpers, trans-oceanic rowers, hockey goalies and others who don't much care what happens to them.But even those who err on the side of caution would agree the outlook...

Predicting the future of all advertising is a pursuit best left to bungee jumpers, trans-oceanic rowers, hockey goalies and others who don’t much care what happens to them.

But even those who err on the side of caution would agree the outlook for out-of-home advertising is bright.

Paula Tillmann Peirce, vice-president and media director at Axmith McIntyre Wicht in Toronto, believes outdoor advertising is ‘on the threshold of another great push’, and she expects increased spending on out-of-home media.

One of the reasons for this situation, says Tillmann Peirce, is the fact that the outdoor suppliers are marketing themselves better.

Robert Troutbeck, executive vice-president at Toronto’s Doner Schur Peppler, agrees with Tillmann Peirce.

The medium, says Troutbeck, ‘has done a hell of a job compensating for the loss of the cigarette business and bringing in some of the bigger packaged goods companies and now moving into beer, although the liquor category has been up for some time.’

A federal ban on tobacco advertising has been in place for years, ending what was one of the major sources of revenue for outdoor suppliers.

Elsewhere, outdoor suppliers have not only revamped themselves and created new alliances but also have dusted off their industry associations.

Bob Reaume, former vice-president of marketing at the Association of Canadian Advertisers, recently took over as president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Canada and also as president of the Canadian Outdoor Measurement Bureau. (See story, p. 20.)

Another development that bodes well for the future of outdoor advertising is the medium’s progress with the sometimes thorny issue of measurement.

Led by Toronto-based Mediacom and others in the outdoor business, new methods to measure effectiveness and efficiency have been developed.

Fiona Gallagher, vice-president and media director at Harrod & Mirlin in Toronto, says given those improvements, she does not believe outdoor is less measurable or provable than any other medium.

The ‘poor old’ outdoor business has been ‘stricken’ with criticism of its methods of measurement for some time, says Troutbeck, and has been forced to do all sorts of awareness-building creative programs using the medium itself to try to convince advertisers and agencies that people do notice outdoor.

However, says Troutbeck, he’s not concerned with the issue at all. The potential coverage of the medium is well-documented, he continues, noting outdoor’s ‘huge’ circulation numbers.

‘I’m comfortable that the coverage of the medium is unquestionable. It’s just simply, to me, the ability of the creative message to cause people to stop and notice it. I’m not worried about it. It’s an imprecise medium in terms of actually measuring it. But I’m very comfortable with the ability of the medium to deliver huge numbers of people,’ says Troutbeck.

Doug Checkeris, group vice-president at Media Buying Services in Toronto, says outdoor suppliers are on the right track with new measurement methodologies providing they stay with ’cause and effect’ awareness studies.

The number-tumbling for gross rating points and so on is a useful tool for planning, Checkeris continues, but at the end of the day it’s going to be effectiveness people will look for.

‘That’s actually where the outdoor companies have been very smart. They’ve put their money into running cause and effect studies.

‘`We ran the boards. Your awareness went up this amount.’ I think [outdoor suppliers] have an enlightened view. You can’t get any television broadcasters to think that way,’ says Checkeris.

One of the attractions of out-of-home, whether as support in a multi-media campaign or as a primary advertising vehicle, has been its comparatively low cost.

Whether those costs remain about where they are, relative to other media, remains to be seen, and it’s one issue on which opinion differs.

Clearly, though, the situation is paradoxical: outdoor has gathered at least some of its popularity because of its lower costs, but will outdoor’s costs remain modest should that popularity continue to grow?

Harrod & Mirlin’s Gallagher says the usual supply and demand equation will set prices, although where outdoor differs from other media is the continual introduction of new advertising sites and the occasional start-up of a new out-of-home supplier.

Growing inventory could contain costs, suggests Gallagher.

Stay inexpensive

Checkeris says he subscribes to the view that the medium will stay inexpensive.

‘[Outdoor] doesn’t cost anything. Television has certain floor costs. You’ve got a studio, you’ve got to buy programming. [But] the cost of outdoor has got to be dirt cheap,’ says Checkeris.

At some point the outdoor market won’t have any more good sites to offer advertisers and that may have some impact on prices, Checkeris continues. The real escalation in outdoor price will come from the introduction of new out-of-home technologies, he argues.

‘When you think of what happened [recently. Suppliers] took their good superboard locations and they put up polyvinyl product. It was backlit, and they charged more for it,’ says Checkeris.

Barbara Passmore, group vice-president and media director at J.Walter Thompson in Toronto, isn’t sure outdoor is quite as inexpensive as its fans maintain.

‘Production cost is always an issue,’ says Passmore.

Careful about costs

The jwt executive says she is careful about production costs and tries to avoid unnecessary expense by ensuring the creative is not easily dated and can therefore be used for a longer period of time or at some point in the future.

As for the supply of outdoor advertising, again, opinion varies.

Gallagher says too much outdoor just becomes clutter and the message of particular campaigns could get lost as audiences tune out.

However, she continues, other areas of outdoor – such as airports – are underserviced by suppliers so there is some growth left in it.

Troutbeck is unequivocal about the supply of out-of-home. He says the medium is starting to get saturated and he isn’t pleased about it either as a buyer of media space or as a consumer.

‘Personally, I resent it. I saw a proposal the other day from a organization in Montreal that’s got media billboards in washrooms, [above] urinals. I find that to be just relentless bombardment of advertising messages,’ says Troutbeck.

He says he thinks too many people in the advertising industry create new types of outdoor simply because they assume advertisers are looking for brand name exposure when in fact the majority of them are doing nothing of the kind.

Doner Schur Peppler doesn’t put up boards for its client Honda, for example, just because the name should be out there, says Troutbeck, since the advertiser already enjoys a high level of brand awareness.

Rather, his shop wants boards that will ’cause a consumer to do something.’

Everyone is into finding a way to sell a product today, tomorrow and the next day, Troutbeck continues.

But in a couple of cities in Canada, finding a way to sell might not include outdoor.

In Vancouver, says Stu Cousins, media director at VRH Communications, there is ‘definite civic resistance’ to outdoor advertising, often boiling down to community objections.

In fact, says one outdoor observer, there’s a group in Vancouver which paints over out-of-home advertising, although whether the group has the sanction of City Hall or is merely freelancing in time-honored b.c. style remains unclear.

In Montreal, there’s also frost on the relations between City Hall and outdoor advertising. In fact, two years ago the city imposed a moratorium on more outdoor advertising.

It seems only Toronto, among Canada’s big three cities, is prepared to give outdoor free rein.

One such example is the outdoor campaign Harrod and Mirlin mounted for Levi’s jeans in the Skywalk, the atrium-like link between Toronto’s Union Station and SkyDome, the downtown entertainment palace.

David Dusang, manager of advertising sales for Controlled Media, which sells space in Skywalk, says last August to December, Levi-Strauss bought half the space in the walkway for the installation of 12 ft.-by-12 ft. hanging banners, 22 Levi’s flags and huge hanging mannequins wearing Levi’s jeans.

All in all there are 10 different Levi’s displays, says Dusang, who notes the company has bought the space again this August for another campaign.

The jeans campaign generated many, many phone calls from interested advertisers, says Dusang.

Agencies with breweries and automakers as clients wanted to know if 3-D beer bottle or car figures could be hung in the Skywalk, for instance, says Dusang.

The success of the Levi’s campaign was built on a number of factors, says Dusang, not the least of which was the Skywalk space itself.

The Skywalk in effect ‘processes’ people, says Dusang. They enter the glassed-in link at one end and leave three to five minutes later at the other end.

The Skywalk site is unique, Dusang concedes, but there isn’t any reason why advertisers shouldn’t seek similar locations for their outdoor campaigns.

Nor is there any reason, media planners agree, why out-of-home shouldn’t be used to advertise any or all categories of products and services.

Tillmann Peirce at Axmith McIntyre Wicht says outdoor is good for new product launches, and points to the success beer companies have had with the medium over the last year.

Nor is there any reason why an outdoor brand launch for a packaged goods product shouldn’t work either, Tillmann Peirce adds.

Checkeris says the future of out-of-home holds more categories, especially as advances in electronic and other types outdoor advertising begin to make their mark.

Even media buying firms could use outdoor to promote themselves, Checkeris continues, suggesting with a laugh new outdoor projection technology could put a fat mbs on the side of offices of Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell, its crosstown media rival.