Technology is usually highly visible in the outdoor industry. Illumination and rotating panels have both helped to improve the visibility and impact of the medium. Now response mechanisms such as Maiden Outdoor’s posterinfo.com allows consumers to find out more information on a campaign they have seen.
Behind the scenes, there has been a more significant technological revolution with the introduction of mapping and geographical information systems (GISs). By associating data sets with the physical position of each poster site, media planners are able to focus campaigns on specific audiences, increase their effectiveness and reduce wastage.
Blade board director Malcolm Thomas says mapping has become an important tool when buying national campaigns. “If we are looking at the distribution of a package of 500 sites across the UK, we can lay them down on a map and see where they cluster,” he says.
This can show important disparities between competing packages. For example, one may have a greater emphasis in a particular region. By mapping sites, packages become visible and easier to compare. With the four major poster contractors all having created grid location files for their sites, planners can simply run the data into mapping systems.
By looking at such maps you can identify where a campaign needs to more heavily weighted. “We do weight certain areas. For example, last year with Bacardi we wanted to upweight sites targeted at 18- to 24-year-olds. We know where they have the propensity to be distributed across the UK, and we have targeted them,” says Rachel Stott, director of Poster Publicity.
Examples such as this reflect the steady increase in the use of technology beyond simple mapping and the spread of more complex GIS exercises. By geo-coding poster sites, you can attach similarly-assembled data sets – the most typical overlays being geodemographic classifications such as Mosaic and Acorn and the Postar audience research and index scores.
“Mapping has not necessarily had the same effect on posters as Postar,” says Andrew Atherton, marketing services manager at Portland Outdoor Advertising.
The joint industry research project to quantify sites’ visibility and audience has provided a common currency to make comparisons. For instance, planners can weigh up the impact of running 15 or 20 panels in one area using Postar scores.
But planners want to go further. “GIS allows you to bring a site-list to life. Where you have 2,000 panels on paper, people might read to line two and then give up,” says Atherton.
For poster specialists, there is a real opportunity to leverage GIS and gain a competitive advantage by developing bespoke systems. One route is to link in photography – or even video – so clients can be shown the specific position of each panel. “In the future, we are looking to do photographic mapping using aerial photography,” says Stott.
She says panel orientation is becoming more important, with photography allowing planners to analyse the direction a site faces and whether it will deliver the right audience. “It becomes more important to show you have got sites facing a certain way. For example, with McDonald’s you want to buy sites facing traffic which is going into town. You can’t get that from geodemographics and mapping yet,” Stott says.
Meridian managing director Anna Frith is not convinced that using visual data is best the way forward: “I wonder about the benefits of visuals because sites change so rapidly. If it is an extra tool in the system, fine, but I can’t see why you would want to use it every day because you would have to update it so often.”
But Frith believes GIS is beneficial in allowing outdoor campaigns to be aligned with other media. “When you are looking at other media as well, such as radio transmission areas or TV regions, you can match them up and map them against outdoor. You can even match against direct mail by putting in all the postcodes of where it is going and upweighting those areas,” says Frith.
There is ample evidence to prove that the careful co-ordination of media in specific areas can significantly improve the performance of each element. With the adoption of GIS by poster planners, clients are increasingly able to match locations with distribution and sales plans.
“You can analyse sales data against the proximity of, for example, car dealers. You might know that the maximum drive-time to a dealership is half an hour. Your GIS programme can run that drive-time and pick up all the sites that are relevant,” says Thomas.
This type of planning is identical to that used in direct mail and door to door, and similar to the way sales territories and distribution plans are drawn up. External data suppliers can, for example, supply drive-time models and proximity data, which might be necessary to ensure panels are within 100 yards of an outlet, or that a buffer zone is created around schools.
Thomas warns that it is possible to take this process too far. “You can carry out an exercise and come up with no sites if there aren’t any 48 sheets within 100 yards of an outlet,” Thomas says.
But the biggest barrier to targeting posters using GIS isn’t finding sites in the right location but whether media owners are flexible about how they sell them. “Because the majority of outdoor is packaged, you may come up with a list you want to buy, only to find that you can’t,” says Concorde managing director Nigel Mansell. “We are trying to persuade media owners that if you only want ten sites out of a package they should still let you have them.”
This is probably the biggest sticking point in an industry where specialists and contractors have been working towards common goals.
Mansell says clients’ briefs are polarising: “We are getting very specific briefs – wanting proximity and drive-time – but outdoor is increasingly being used as a broadcast medium. There is not much in between.”
To date, the packaging of outdoor has reflected the broadcast approach by aiming to deliver the reach and weight of audience required. But media owners are under pressure to allow more flexibility. Maiden Outdoor Advertising director of marketing Ann Jonas claims: “Outdoor is very flexible – probably more than any other medium. You can buy on package or line by line. We can sell down to street level. The old system of packages is not true any more.”
Maiden is the first contractor to develop a package that specifically reflects the planning innovations resulting from GIS. Dynamic Solutions provides 2,000 48-sheets that can be bought to match specific geodemographics and proximity requirements. “If an advertiser wants to target female 18- to 24-year-olds in households with two or more cars, we can give them the panels to match that brief,” says Jonas.
Mansell approves of such developments, but says they have been a long time coming. “Six years ago at the outdoor conference in Sorrento, Maiden managing director Francis Goodwin outlined the Dynamic Solutions package. It took three years to put it in place,” he says.
But while contractors may be under pressure to respond, specialists have had to adapt their approach. Mansell says GIS has led to a realisation that assumptions about the boundaries used to define distribution areas may need to be rethought. “If you look at a town such as Reading, the boundary around it has been defined by the council – it doesn’t reflect where people live. The town is different to the local authority boundary,” he notes.
Concorde has redrawn 600 urban boundaries by applying geodemographics to postcode data and plotting where people live, rather than the area the local authority administers.
Aligning postcode boundaries with population distribution may seem like a highly technical exercise but, as buyers of other media have discovered, it saves clients money by removing underperforming panels from a site-list.
This is the nub of how much difference GIS will make to the poster industry. The technology is there to pick the most appropriate sites, but most contractors will not yet release their stock into a free market. Packages will remain important, not least because they are easier to administer and post. Even the specialists may not want to pursue targeting to its logical conclusion because it might reduce the budgets they handle. As Thomas puts it: “It is a learning curve for everyone.”