Postar’s revolution has yet to illuminate outdoor

The Postar outdoor research system cannot yet deliver the revolution it promised, primarily because of inconsistent levels of panel illumination, and a lack of demographic data by site, says Nigel Mansell. Nigel Mansell is managing director of

Postar, the year-old outdoor research system, has been trumpeted as a revolution in how outdoor is bought and sold. Some argue that it allows poster buying and selling to move closer to other media. Adshel claims that for the first time, it will give advertisers the chance to buy posters based on credible audience ratings rather than panel numbers.

However, this requires a working audience ratings currency applied consistently throughout the industry and throughout the year. We haven’t got that yet. The major stumbling block is an inconsistent level of panel illumination.

You don’t have to be a poster expert to know that while non-illuminated sites may be good in the lighter summer months, they are poor during the winter, when they have been likened to a switched off TV. The more illuminated sites an advertiser has in a campaign, the more consistent the audience delivery across a year.

For six sheets – like Adshel’s – the audience delivered is more or less consistent across the year. This is because all six sheets are illuminated. Yet Adshel is the only six-sheet contractor planning to sell on ratings, and then only for part of its stock. The Concord view is that a currency for trading on audience delivery is a long way off.

You can’t add apples to oranges. Buyers will convert the Adshel ratings back to price per panel and make comparisons with the rest of the market’s currency. This shouldn’t be difficult as Adshel audience ratings vary by only plus or minus five per cent across the year. So until other contractors follow suit and introduce high levels of illumination, the Adshel initiative is little more than window dressing.

It is unlikely that any 96- or 48-sheet contractor will want to sell by ratings – even More O’Ferrall will not be joining its sister company Adshel. Only 13 per cent of 48-sheets are illuminated.

Nearly twice as many unlit sites are needed to deliver the same ratings in November as in June. The market price of panels in the winter does not reflect this. So contractors are getting more money than they should do in, say, November and less in June. To change this, even given the necessary capital and manpower, it would take a good few years to illuminate all possible 48-sheet stock.

Another difficulty is that Postar does not give demographic data by site, and without this advertisers cannot make truly informed audience decisions. So even if l00 per cent illumination existed across the industry, no real currency could be applied yet.

These issues must be addressed in the coming months. The onus lies on the media owners to develop illumination and, alongside Postar, to extend the parameters of the research to include demographic data by site.

Only with these obstacles removed can poster audiences be traded by demographic group. Automotive advertisers, for instance, would then be able to buy a pos ter campaign delivering a given number of AB ratings, as with TV buying.

The downside, as TV buyers will testify from their experience of media auditors, is an advertiser trying to beat the average price rather than attending to positioning, quality and “creative buying”. Nevertheless, buying outdoor in audience ratings would still be a major advance.

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