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Outdoor ... The seen, But Overlooked, Medium In The Marketing Mix

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Cigarette and liquor manufacturers knew for years that "it" could build an image for their products that is almost unequaled.

Radio and TV stations have used it to economically reach upwardly mobile people who are on the move.

The fashion industry has found that it can do the same for them.

It provides a month-long message on your organization at a lower cost than almost any advertising medium you can use.

It is also probably the most misunderstood and misused medium.

"It" is outdoor advertising.

Outdoor advertising can cost as little as $1,000 per month (or less) to reach business and personal buyers as they commute to work, home and recreation. That's less than a full-page ad in the daily newspaper, a week's flight of radio spots, or three days of advertising on TV during prime time.

Not Like Yesteryear

The outdoor advertising industry has faced a number of problems in the past which have kept it from becoming a strong, viable medium.

First of all, the industry still has the image of the Burma Shave signs and BeechNut barn paintings you either saw if you grew up in the Midwest or have seen in some of the advertising history books. With that kind of mental image, it is difficult for anyone to convince you that putting 25 to 35 percent of your advertising dollars into outdoor advertising is going to improve your image.

Unfortunately, the BeechNut and Burma Shave ads that once dotted the countryside are now only distant, faded memories. They were the art of their era and can now be seen only in the Smithsonian and similar places that record our past for posterity.

In fact, if you talk to representatives of the outdoor advertising industry, they will quickly point out that today's ads are completely different. They include laser art, three-dimensional graphics, animated boards, fiber optics, and other exciting advances.

The problem is that the professionals in the medium simply aren't imaginative when it comes to selling you on the idea.

When was the last time you had a salesperson from an outdoor agency come into your store to discuss the medium and how it could help your sales?

On the other hand, you see your newspaper salesperson at least weekly, as well as the representatives from the local radio and TV stations.

You have to seek out the purveyors of the medium because they don't call on you.

Medium is Misused

With few exceptions, most advertising managers and agencies are not prepared to make the most of outdoor advertising.

One problem is that few art directors or account managers really understand how to use the medium to help you promote your store or operation.

If they recommend using outdoor in your advertising mix, they will generally attempt to take one of their print ads and spread it onto an outdoor board. Remember, you only have an average of six to ten seconds to see a board. This means you have to focus and streamline your message.

Keep in mind as you drive by a billboard, bus card, phone display, or other form of outdoor ad that the medium is really larger than life and should be used in this manner. That means large graphics, large letters, and a lot of creativity that presents a very succinct message or image in a brief time period.

There are only a few creative people around the country who have mastered the medium.

Nike, with its larger-than-life graphics and underplayed use of their logo, set itself apart from the casual and sportswear industry with their outdoor advertising.

The Gap with its stark but striking clothing ads has established an image for their stores.

Calvin Klein's obviously sexy outdoor advertising has forever changed fashion promotion.

The creativity that has become the backbone of Apple Computer’s advertising has outshone its competitors who still tend to think in terms of bits and bytes.

But memorable outdoor ads are rare.

Leads, Not Follows

Generally, outdoor supports and reinforces the use of other media.

At times though, campaigns such as those by Apple, Calvin Klein and Nike have created editorial coverage across the country and have given outdoor advertising a much-needed boost. They have shown that these creative activities can create excitement and interest in the local community.

And for the dealer, the local community is his or her marketing arena.

As outdoor advertising representatives will quickly point out, it is also at the local, not national level, that sales will be made for product producers.

More Co-op Available

Because of the rising cost of television, the relatively low return on investment for newspaper advertising, as well as similar escalating promotional costs, more and more manufacturers are providing co-op advertising dollars to dealers for outdoor advertising.

Few consumer electronics and computer producers can, or are willing to provide massive outlays of advertising dollars to build share-of-mind awareness for their hardware or software. Without such investments, they have to turn to their dealers to carry out what could best be termed grassroots levels of promotion to stimulate sales.

In addition, because outdoor advertising is so regional, manufacturers and distributors work closely with their dealers to saturate a specific market segment where they need to increase market penetration or where they want to have a decided impact.

Outdoor advertising permits dealers to have a long-lasting presence in the marketplace that would be impossible to economically achieve using any other medium. Outdoor advertising permits dealers to extend the life of a broadcast campaign as well as provide reach and frequency to a print campaign.

Outdoor advertising of all types is giving dealers and manufacturers alike more bang for their buck.

Attitudes Change

Representatives of the outdoor advertising industry have publicly stated that they are going to do more to work with local dealers to gain a greater share of the advertising budgets in the industry. In fact, manufacturers themselves are making it easier for the outdoor sales representative.

They note that the rising cost of national/regional media combined with the relaxation of rules in co-op advertising programs have permitted them to be more creative and more supportive to dealers when it comes to developing an outdoor advertising program for a specific market.

With the proper assistance, dealers can show manufacturers that they can do more with fewer dollars using outdoor advertising compared to any other medium they might be considering and/or using. And, if the program is sound, manufacturers will provide the co-op money, because they ultimately rely upon the local dealer to sell the customer.

As a result, some manufacturers will pay for part of the poster production costs as well as 50 percent of the monthly rental space.

This means that both parties benefit because they are both able to buy market area dominance at greatly reduced cost. In many instances, when the dealer and/or agency has developed outdoor advertising which goes beyond simply putting a few sheets of paper up on a board, the sharing of the costs can be significant.

Advertising industry leaders project that more than 50 percent of the total available co-op advertising dollars go unused by dealers because they are unable to either creatively or significantly use the money to have any notable market impact.

However, with outdoor advertising it is possible for the dealer to co-op several outdoor locations with a single manufacturer for two to three months for as little as $2,000 per month. And, it is possible to not only have the products/store visible for that period of time, but also have their messages in front of decision-makers with a greater degree of impact.

The benefits of outdoor can be closely matched to the marketing needs of both the manufacturer and dealer. As a result, we should be seeing more and better outdoor computer advertising in the future.

© Copyright 2003, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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