Feature films’ depictions of the future, from Planet of the Apes to The Matrix, can often be depressing. But at least there is one film that portrays the world as a marketer’s fantasy – especially for those working in ambient media. In Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, electronic posters call out customers’ names as they walk past, enticing them to buy the kinds of products which, judging by their previous purchases, are likely to appeal.
When you consider recent technological developments in ambient media, you can see where Spielberg got his inspiration. Last year saw the world’s first LED advertising panel – promoting Nike’s three-a-side football tournament – fitted to a London bus. In the summer, a reflection of the midday sun moved across the mirror lens of Oakley’s Splice sunglasses on 140 sites around the country. And Manchester’s Arndale Centre became the first shopping centre in the UK to install digital advertising: 21 plasma screens in key footfall areas showed rolling ads.
Hive Associates, which was behind the Nike ads, predicts that in the future wireless modems will allow remote changes of message to be made. And Bluetooth technology will enable passers-by to interact with ads through mobile devices – not far from Minority Report-style interaction.
According to research from poster site provider Van Wagner, these unusual means of communication do succeed in grabbing the public’s attention. The research suggests that large posters and those with non-standard dimensions are more effective in conveying messages and producing recall than smaller formats and traditional sizes. Recall scores rise geometrically with poster size: for example, a 96-sheet ad, measuring 900 sq ft, is 4.5 times larger than a static 48-sheet but delivers 16.5 times the recall. And a mega six-sheet, which is twice the size of the static 48-sheet, delivers 11.8 times the advertising recall. In addition the use of technology, such as scrollers and LEDs delivers higher recall than static ads.
According to Van Wagner chief executive Charles Hamlin, this knowledge should revolutionise the way media planners buy posters. He says: “Little thought is given to what can be achieved with fewer, larger posters. Advertisers think that more is better: they look at the quantity rather than the quality.”
Outdoor advertising has boomed over the past few years. Last year, the market was worth almost £680m – about eight per cent of the display advertising market. In recent years, outdoor has taken share from newspapers, radio and TV advertising, according to figures from the Outdoor Advertising Association (OAA).
The use of outdoor advertising itself has changed. Not long ago, outdoor was often seen as a medium for publicity stunts or one-off ads. Who can forget the fibreglass models of the Mini fixed vertically to giant poster sites across the UK, or Ford getting into the Guinness Book of Records with the world’s largest billboard, measuring 132 by 24 metres, to launch the Ford Mondeo?
Nowadays, outdoor is more part of the standard media mix, says Hive Associates managing director Marc Edmunds: “While you will always get specials such as the Mini, companies are using outdoor advertising as an integral part of their campaigns.”
Royal Mail, for instance, used outdoor advertising as a key part of its Lord of the Rings campaign. The company used 400 dynamic image lenticular six-sheet posters to advertise its promotion. Edmunds says: “We used to get people dealing with 25 sites, but now they are ordering 300. The six-sheet market is where the main business is but 48-sheet ads are becoming popular”.
According to OAA chief executive Alan James, outdoor did not suffer badly in 2002 – despite a difficult year for advertising: “We have managed to claw back the share we lost in the early part of last year. Other sectors have not been so successful.”
James attributes outdoor’s success to the “wow” factor: “The primary responsibility of a piece of communication is to be noticed. But it’s getting harder to be noticed, as consumers are bombarded with advertising. It’s easy to ignore a column in a national newspaper but you can’t ignore a huge poster.”
Absolut Vodka succeeded in grabbing attention when it erected a 900 sq m banner mounted on a gasometer outside of the Eastlands Asda Wal-Mart superstore, as part of its pre-Christmas “Absolut Chilled” campaign. The same site, near the Commonwealth Games stadium in Manchester, was also used with great effect when Asda Wal-Mart wrapped the gasometer in a 3,500 sq m banner for the period of the Games. This was seen by millions of viewers in the UK and worldwide, as well as by spectators at the games.
Giant posters give advertisers total domination of their environment, agrees Mega Profile commercial director Harry Torrance: “It’s like half the front page of a national newspaper or the whole commercial break in News at Ten.”
Turn off the TV
At the same time, traditional advertising has faced renewed challenges. The fragmentation of television has led many media planners to ditch TV – once the mainstay of advertising – and look elsewhere. There are now so many TV channels that it is difficult to target an audience effectively, according to Edmunds. Outdoor campaigns can be national but at the same time quite specific.
JC Decaux marketing director David McEvoy points out that many companies can’t afford to spend £1.7m on TV and contrasts it with the cost of a poster campaign: “You can get incredibly good value and a large presence for £300,000 outdoors.” Again, the economic downturn is putting pressure on advertising budgets and media planners want their advertising to work harder.
McEvoy adds that lifestyle changes mean many consumers are spending less time at home and more time at work or commuting: “TV isn’t such a huge part of most people’s live as it once was. The 16to 34-year-old viewing figures have collapsed. It’s difficult to reach this audience through conventional methods.”
Brewer Carlsberg has developed a strong outdoor presence to complement its TV advertising. “Using outdoor media at football matches is an excellent way of targeting our key market: males aged 18 to 44,” says sponsorship manager Steve Cummings. “It supports the TV presence as the perimeter advertising can be seen on TV through live games, highlights or news programmes.”
Carlsberg uses rotating hoardings at football grounds, but Cummings acknowledges that this medium has pros and cons: “The fact that it’s moving means the audience is more attracted to it, but if a free kick or goal happens next to the board and your ad is not showing at the time, that’s disappointing.” Research from OMM, which provides moving advertising for sporting venues, shows that moving media has greater impact and greater recall than static boards. Spontaneous recall is 3.5 times higher with moving media than with static advertising.
Other traditional TV advertisers are also going outdoors. McDonald’s has become a big outdoor advertiser, attracted by the medium’s flexibility. The fast-food chain displays multiple messages throughout football games. At half time, for instance, ads invite fans to buy a Big Mac. Such tactics are not possible with other advertising.
Catch them in the act
Outdoor and ambient media can also target people when they are actually shopping. Jessica Hatfield, managing director of Media Vehicle, which sells advertising on supermarket trolleys, says: “We have seen more companies integrating ambient with TV and taking the message into stores. A company will advertise a product on TV and in newspapers, but if they also advertise it on the supermarket trolley they remind the consumer when they are actually buying.”
Craig Duff, sales director at advertising media owner Inter-ad, which manages the Arndale Centre screens, agrees that if you target people as they are shopping you’re more likely to get a response: “Retailers can advertise on TV, but viewers may have forgotten the ad by the time they get to the shopping centre. If you can grab them when they’re in leisure mode and suggest other places they might like to visit then you’re on to a winner.” In the Arndale Centre, KFC uses the technology to direct weary consumers to the food court, and other advertisers such as Vodafone and Nokia target them once they’ve recharged themselves in the food court.
Spielberg himself is critical of the type of advertising depicted in Minority Report. But he accepts that it is inevitable. “What little privacy we have now will be eroded in the future to our detriment,” he says. And the figures back that up: of the UK’s top 200 advertisers, 93 per cent are using outdoor. And the trend is not confined to the big spenders. Ten years ago, 35 per cent of advertisers had used outdoor advertising at some stage. Today, over 80 per cent have. As advertisers fight harder to grab a weary public’s attention, more technologically innovative and creative means will be used to target customers as individuals. Minority Report-style interaction is not that far away.