The great outdoor

At a busy intersection in downtown Montreal this past holiday season, passersby were confronted by a dazzling Christmas tree. What really made the scene shine, though, was the fact that they were able to change the colour of the lights that glittered on the ubiquitous seasonal symbol. A large video board, adjacent to the tree, invited viewers to do so, by sending a text message from their cellphones.

At a busy intersection in downtown Montreal this past holiday season, passersby were confronted by a dazzling Christmas tree. What really made the scene shine, though, was the fact that they were able to change the colour of the lights that glittered on the ubiquitous seasonal symbol. A large video board, adjacent to the tree, invited viewers to do so, by sending a text message from their cellphones.

The tactic is just another example of how out-of-home has gone sci-fi, thanks to the advent of holographic imaging, projected images, digital signage and electric luminescent paper. It’s all sure to create buzz, but the good news is that it’s also got a practical side. Digital technology ups the consumer-involvement factor through interactive apps such as podcasting, SMS, and radio messaging – and that means a better read on ad effectiveness and ROI for advertisers. Consumer response through downloads or SMS replies can be calculated and analyzed to gauge correlation to increased sales or brand awareness.

And knowing who or how many people actually see OOH advertising will become easier for advertisers as interactivity continues to encroach into the medium, something that Nick Barbuto, director of interactive for Cossette Media in Toronto, says will really burst forth this year. ‘The phone will become more of a remote control,’ he says.

Ed Weiss, media director at The Brainstorm Group in Toronto, also calls digital OOH the wave of the future and says it makes a lot of sense for retail clients in particular, because it is cost-effective, place-based, and flexible, with the ability to change creative to coincide with weekly promotions or sales. There’s also the opportunity to develop a database, he adds.

Weiss found DAN (Digital Advertising Network) Media’s food court properties to be a great fit for Jean Machine, an Ontario-based chain of casual denim clothing stores. For a back-to-school promotion – mid-August to mid-September – digital boards in food courts in 10 GTA malls were used to keep Jean Machine top of mind with a full-motion, full-colour ad and contest giving away a $1,000 shopping spree.

To enter, all viewers had to do was respond with a text message containing the numerical code from the ad. According to Weiss, Jean Machine was pleased with the more than 2,000 messages it received and plans to use the tactic again this year.

From a quantitative perspective, Cossette’s Barbuto says the fact that advertisers are able to measure the number of interactions with an ad is only one element of its potential impact. The people around the people interacting with the ad are also being impacted by that message, he says.

Doug Checkeris, president/CEO of Toronto-based The Media Company, adds that it’s all about engagement.

Checkeris’s agency was behind the Montreal-based Christmas tree campaign in December for its client Nokia. He explains it was meant to highlight the innovation and technology of the brand.

‘Some people think [digital OOH] is a poster that moves or TV that doesn’t make a sound. They haven’t captured the essence that it’s a different opportunity,’ he says. Checkeris adds that although OOH previously used low cost-per-thousand as its buffer against more rigorous scrutiny, there is now a lot more research work that will show how it can be more effective.

Four Canadian video board companies – Outdoor Broadcast Network (OBN), Tribar Industries, and Wild on Walls of Toronto and Lightvision Media Network of Vancouver – recently released some third-party research that indicates a high-level of awareness and positive perception of the medium, as well as an above-average recall of the advertising.

Peter Irwin, president of OBN, says a lot of what the companies suspected about the medium was validated by the research but he was surprised at the level of consumer receptivity.

The study by Toronto’s Starch Research, completed in December 2005, showed 82% awareness of the medium and that, of those aware of the medium, 72% have seen video boards in the past week. Favourable impression of the medium overall is high at 69% with respondents saying that they enliven the areas in which they appear (77%), communicate useful information (65%), and provide a better way to communicate information than static billboards (67%). Recall of advertising on video boards is on average 51%, significantly higher than industry norms.

Prior to the launch of its own on-premise digital video screen network, Tim Hortons tested digital video advertising with an OBN campaign last June in downtown Toronto. Only one board was used and the Tim Hortons franchisee in the area experienced a significant uptake in business. The whole objective was to heighten awareness of certain products and price points at times when people would be thinking of a break or a meal, coffee or breakfast, lunch or cappuccino – and it worked.

Tim Hortons is now using a similar approach with digital menu boards in-store and near its drive-through windows.

‘With the new menu board system we can do more daypart messaging and be a little more strategic,’ says Michael Lorenzi, director of strategic analysis and brand development for Tim Hortons. ‘It’s being used to support national campaigns and promotions within the store – and really to help us educate [consumers] about product [offerings].’

Lorenzi says it’s difficult to be more specific about the actual contribution of the medium alone because it’s considered part of a mix including TV and radio that all work well together. However, in the U.S., Starbucks has figured out that OOH performs admirably against other mediums. (See gistbox.)

Here in Canada, although measurement of OOH audiences has been available for several years from organizations such as the Toronto-based Canadian Outdoor Measurement Bureau (COMB), effectiveness has only been dealt with through individual case studies and proprietary consumer research conducted by agencies and OOH companies. That is changing thanks to the Out-of-home Marketing Association of Canada, a new industry group formed last September that plans to tackle qualitative metrics such as effectiveness, relevance, and ROI. Its first research study gets underway later this year.

GISTBOX – 00h key ingredient for starbucks

So just how strong is OOH as an ingredient in the broader media mix? A case study and extensive ROI study, conducted by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) for Starbucks’ launch of its new Frappuccino products in the summer of 2004. would suggest it adds a lot of oomph.

The campaign involved OOH executions outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago, in subways, on the tops of New York taxi cabs, and on a wall in Venice Beach, Calif. where a 3D thermometer acted as a moving straw in a giant Frappucino.

Starbucks experienced a 44% increase in Q3 earnings and an 11% increase in comparative sales. And while TV, radio, and magazines were also part of the mix, the company was able to assess the contributions of each of the media components through a recognition-based tracking program it uses to help ascertain what media, when, and where, is the most effective for the brand.

The study found that the TV ads received the highest recognition at 32%, followed by OOH (27%), print (25%), and radio (15%). The researchers judged OOH to be the most efficient since it accounted for only 16% of the cost. TV received 31% of media dollars, print 28%, and radio 22%.


With the lack of data on the effectiveness of OOH in Canada, it’s no wonder that emerging tactics that encourage response, engagement and interactivity have piqued the interest of media folks who are trying to figure out what will work best for their clients. What’s catching their eye?

Cory Pelletier, account manager at Starcom Worldwide in Toronto, points to radio messaging that sends signals from a billboard to cellphones as consumers pass to provide additional information, a Web site link, or even deliver a coupon.

Holographic OOH imaging, a technology coming out of Europe, has also grabbed his attention. These executions involve either street columns or holographic pods that replace posters but project 3D images or even a short commercial. He says the technology could work for his client Diageo.

‘It could be a spinning liquor bottle or an actual image. One example they have in Europe is around the Lord of the Rings movie where Gandalf the Wizard appears and then the whole messaging plays out.’

Randy Carelli, who is also at Starcom, is strategy supervisor on the Nintendo of Canada business. He says campaigns for Nintendo are more hands-on than typical OOH advertising and usually involve indoor place-based advertising because it lends itself to sampling. Nintendo deploys tactics such as cinema programs with in-lobby ads (shown right) and a lounge-type area where gamers can try the product. ‘You want to get the product into the hands of the consumer,’ Carelli says. ‘If you can get them to try it then they can see how great a game it can be.’

To that end, Carelli sees a lot of potential in some of the new applications involving Wi-Fi, Bluetooth technology and SMS. For Nintendo’s DS system, which is portable and Wi-Fi compatible, he’d like to create some billboards or posters that would allow gamers to download content right onto their DS device.

‘I’m looking at how we can bring the value proposition right back to the consumers and I think that’s one of the great ways to do it.’