The ambitious and upbeat outdoor industry has set itself a new target. Not content with increasing the industry’s share of total advertising from six per cent to eight per cent over the past three years, outdoor has set its sights on ten per cent.
Despite the rise in use of the medium, not all delegates at the Outdoor Conference in Barcelona last week felt that the industry was delivering a good service to advertisers.
For them, the industry is still flawed. The increase in the diversity of outdoor media, through the introduction of ambient and trolley advertising, has led to confusion among many advertisers. Contractors have also continued to attract criticism for their lack of consistency in developing pan-European campaigns, despite a spate of consolidation and acquisitions which has resulted in the emergence of three main players: JC Decaux, Clear Channel and Viacom (the parent company of TDI).
Unilever’s worldwide head of media, Alan Rutherford, was among the industry’s fiercest critics.
Rutherford called for common European practices among contractors, which currently tend to offer different levels of flexibility in each market, thereby hindering pan-European media planning. He added: “Outdoor has to get better at service.”
But Eric Newman, chief executive of media specialist Poster Publicity, maintained that the outdoor industry was perfectly placed to take on pan-European campaigns and to take advantage of a rise in global media planning by clients. He says: “Cross-border co-ordination already happens with airport advertising.”
Rutherford also warned contractors against exploiting recent consolidation in the market by fixing prices.
Rutherford claimed he found the industry’s diverse offering “confusing”, and believed that some forms of outdoor, such as trolley advertising, would be better coming under advertisers’ point-of-sale budgets. Rutherford adds: “Its [the outdoor industry’s] current share [of advertising revenue] does not warrant the complexity.”
The level of investment in research also came in for criticism from Rutherford: he labelled the industry’s measurement system, Postar, “an inwardly-focused black box”.
But Postar non-executive chairman Ken New revealed that there would be changes to the system. Since its launch in 1995, Postar has only covered roadside sites but it is now being extended to include data on bus and London Underground sites.
Despite the generally upbeat mood, there was an undercurrent of frustration among contractors. Some feel that, although the industry has invested in a better outdoor advertising environment, with the introduction of scrolling 48-sheet sites and more flexible sales packages, it is still failing to get the quality of advertising it feels it deserves. The finger of blame was pointed at creative agencies, which were criticised for being uninterested in the medium.
“The cake is bakedit just needs the icing,” said TDI chief executive Tom Goddard.
Proof that the creativity of the medium had yet to be fully used by a broad range of advertisers lay in the fact that the main brands showcased in Barcelona – Wonderbra, Fcuk and The Economist – were the same as those that highlighted at the previous conference three years ago in Madrid. Outdoor experts interpreted this as a sign that advertisers and creative agencies are continuing to snub the medium.
A number of commentators lamented the passing of full-service agencies and the rise in their place of media buying points and creative specialists, preoccupied with financially lucrative TV campaigns.
Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R executive creative director Robert Campbell said that it was up to the client to make media and creative agencies work closely together.
He says: “I would love to see a return to full service. My suspicion is that it will be media agencies who make the first move.”
Rupert Howell, joint chief executive of Chime Communications, and chairman of the conference, echoed Campbell’s words, saying: “I think the split between media and creative has got as big as it can get, and it will start to go the other way.”
Toyota commercial director Mike Moran agrees that it is the responsibility of advertisers to make creative and media agencies work closely together. But, he says, it is also incumbent on the outdoor industry to raise awareness of its own medium among agencies and to capitalise on the failings of TV.
“TV is still seen as the lead medium,” says Moran, “but the growth and frequency of pan-European advertising has led to a dumbing-down of the creative process.”
Instead of using bland pan-European TV, he says, advertisers should divert a small part of their budget into outdoor, where they can deliver more creative and cost-effective solutions.
John Billett, chairman of The Billett Consultancy, also backed the use of outdoor in conjunction with TV to maximise the impact of campaigns. He showed how advertisers such as Britannic Assurance, Channel 4 and the TV Licensing Authority had used a combination of outdoor and TV to achieve a greater level of awareness than if TV alone had been used.
If more advertisers follow the advice of Moran and Billett, the industry may achieve its target, which More Group chief executive Stevie Spring says “is well within our potential”. But the industry will also have to market itself better, and go some way to addressing advertisers’ concerns.