The out-of-home conundrum

An afterthought....

An afterthought.

That, says Starcom Worldwide managing director Scott Neslund, is the status far too many advertisers accord to out-of-home when they’re developing multi-media campaigns.

‘I think it’s way under-utilized,’ he says. ‘It tends to get thought about after the fact – after the TV and magazine campaigns have been done.’

It’s a curious phenomenon. Many creatives and media planners will rhapsodize about the virtues of the medium – the opportunity to paint the client’s brand message on an enormous canvas, the ability to reach your target consumers when they’re in close proximity to the point of purchase, and so on. Yet the out-of-home component often seems the weakest link of many large campaigns.

‘I see campaigns where the idea originated as a magazine ad, and then the out-of-home board is simply a lift from that,’ Neslund says. ‘Or worse yet, a lift of a frame from a TV commercial.’

Lisa Francilia, co-creative director of Vancouver-based Bryant, Fulton & Shee, agrees. ‘It’s hard to force-fit your TV idea into outdoor,’ she says. ‘But people tend to do that and hope consumers will make the connection, rather than using outdoor for what it’s supposed to be.’

The result of all this is an unfortunate number of multi-media campaigns in which out-of-home and the other elements simply don’t work together well. And for a brand trying to establish a clear image for itself in the consumer’s mind, that’s a problem.

‘I think people forget when they’re doing these multi-media campaigns that they’re working on a brand,’ says Martin Beauvais, vice-president and creative director with Montreal-based PNMD Communication. ‘All of the parts should look and feel and smell and taste exactly like the brand.’

So why don’t advertisers do a better job of integrating out-of-home into multi-media efforts?

Neslund, for one, blames it on the industry’s long-standing bias toward television. A lot of advertisers, he says, are simply more comfortable with that medium; out-of-home – which has relatively high production costs and allows one to communicate only the bare minimum of information – tends to rank much lower down the list of considerations when developing large campaigns.

That’s not to suggest it’s impossible to find campaigns out there that effectively integrate out-of-home. Indeed, for this report, Strategy has compiled four case studies that illustrate how billboards, transit shelters, bus ads and the like can be made to work in harmony with other elements of the media mix.

What’s the secret? Nothing more than smart communication planning, Neslund says.

‘You have to start at the right place. You start with the target and their media habits, and determine what you’re trying to say to them. That should lead you to the right media for delivering the message. And then the creative should be developed for the particular media.’

Francilia seconds that. A well-integrated campaign, she says, always begins with a clear, simple creative concept – one that is flexible enough to be adaptable to different media.

Outdoor, TV and print all have their advantages, Beauvais says. The best campaigns incorporate all three, playing to the strengths of each.

In some ways, Beauvais adds, out-of-home is the ‘ultimate’ medium, because – more than any other – it compels advertisers to distill their messages to the purest essence. Indeed, it’s often the benchmark by which the strength of a whole multi-media campaign can be judged.

‘If you can’t communicate your message on a billboard, then there’s a good chance your brief isn’t simple and concise enough. If you can, then there’s a good chance you’ve got it nailed down.’

Also in this report:

- Quebec dairy producers milk outdoor opportunities p.B1

- Stampede lures locals with transit blitz: Humorous bus boards take message deep into Calgary’s neighbourhoods p.B4

- Dunkin’ Donuts campaign leaves its mark p.B5

- CIBC targets commuters with whimsy: The campaign began with the ‘billboard thought’ p.B8