Outdoor ads can talk to everyone, individually

Marketers face a dilemma – risk targeting ads too closely or put out a general ad that appeals strongly to no one? Outdoor is the answer

There is a saying about people who try too hard to specialise – that they end up knowing more and more about less and less, until in the end they know everything about nothing.

The same principle could apply to brand targeting. Marketers face a dilemma: target your brand too loosely and you risk an undefined proposition, with no real focus on core customers; but target your brand too tightly and you risk reducing your target market to minuscule proportions, creating communications that are “just right” for a tiny minority and missing out everyone else. When you define a core group on which to focus the brand, just how “core” should it be?

The same risk applies in media selection. In too many cases, communications are targeted at a minority audience which, although important, still represents only a small fraction of the spectrum of brand users.

Not surprisingly, when highly specialised advertising and media strategies are developed with just that core group in mind, there’s a real risk that the majority of the brand’s users actually don’t see the ads at all. Examples could include categories as diverse as drinks, clothing, headache remedies, supermarkets, crisps and shampoo.

As a worker in outdoor media, it goes without saying that I am in favour of broad targeting, although it is a myth that outdoor can’t be targeted – consider London Underground cross-track posters, airport media and bus interior ads. Each of these formats is tightly defined, but each is very different. So a lack of precision is not the issue – in fact, there’s a very wide choice. Nor is there any lack of alternatives when selecting an appropriate communication channel and tone. There is a world of difference between a large, quality roadside billboard (important, corporate, serious) and a small ambient ad, for instance, in a pub washroom (cheeky, invasive, intimate).

The main point is that outdoor is a broadcast medium, which means that it can both efficiently and effectively reach all markets – or at least all the young, affluent and economically active people at whom the vast majority of advertising is aimed. So next time the media plan calls for late-night TV spots backed up by consecutive right-hand pages in a heavy-metal magazine, spare a thought for those of your potential customers who may never get to see those media. You might even go so far as to ask your agencies what proportion of your target market your communications will actually reach. Because, surely, the idea has got to be to address all of your customers. And if growth is important, business common sense also demands that you put your messages in front of suitable new prospects. There, too, outdoor offers a great solution.

Mike Baker is European marketing director of Viacom Outdoor

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