Outdoor comes in from the cold

The real problem with outdoor,” said a despondent agency media director some ten years ago, “is that ultimately it is about men with brooms and buckets of glue.”

Dismissive though his comment was, it contained an element of truth. Outdoor was indeed very much the poor relation of TV and print.

A glance at the newspaper business pages in recent weeks, however, confirms that outdoor advertising has become an attractive proposition both for media owners and advertisers. It has grown from a fragmented local industry into a well-organised international business dominated by a few major players. The current battle between France’s J C Decaux and the American Clear Channel for control of the UK’s More Group is just the latest evidence of the opportunities that lie ahead. Interest in outdoor has been further kindled by reports that Maiden is receiving overtures from foreign investors. Announcing its financial results at the end of March it unveiled pre-tax profits up by 27 per cent to 10.lm and stated that it intended to remain independent.

Rising TV costs and audience fragmentation have certainly played a part in encouraging advertisers to look to other media for new opportunities. When they look to outdoor, they find that an industry once regarded as primitive is today embracing technology as effectively as its TV rivals.

Not only have there been significant advances in the quality of the sites themselves, but there has also been considerable progress in developing accurate audience research. This much-needed element will assure the outdoor industry’s future growth and help to transform the role of the poster specialist.

In the words of a recent Economist report, there has been “a revolution in the quality and ingenuity of outdoor displays”. The article went on to highlight some of the specific developments that have allowed outdoor to polish up its image. Not least has been the involvement of the famous architect Norman Foster in the design of bus shelters. Beyond this, site owners have harnessed technology to allow movement and sound so that the medium offers real scope for creativity. Another major area of development has been the exploitation of street furniture. Outdoor contractors provide local authorities free street furniture (bus shelters, kiosks etc) and other amenities in return for the right to advertise in this space.

As the Economist rightly points out, these deals originated in Europe and are now taking hold in the US – New York is expected to award the largest ever street furniture contract worth $1bn (609m) in the near future.

For brand bui lders the revitalisation of the outdoor industry is timely. With advertisers becomingly increasingly worried about media costs and audience fragmentation, it offers new opportunities to reach large audiences without fear that the quality of the medium will undermine brand values.

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