Advertisers set their sites on old ‘holding’ strategy

The practice, once espoused by tobacco advertisers, of booking specific poster sites on a long-term basis is experiencing a revival. Robyn Adams isn’t surprised

There has been a lot of attention in recent years on new advertising opportunities in the outdoor sector and, in general, the focus has been on those that offer greater flexibility or better targeting and those termed “ambient”. This is not surprising. The medium has been selling these opportunities hard, and it’s human nature to be interested in what’s new and different.

Ambient media, in particular, has received so much attention that advertisers would be forgiven if they’ve forgotten the more traditional ways of using the medium. But an interesting new trend – or more accurately, an interesting old trend – seems to be developing, with a number of advertisers going back to a more traditional outdoor strategy, but updating it to take advantage of what outdoor can offer now.

An increasing number of advertisers are either investing in, or at least considering, what older readers will remember as “holdings”, that is, taking a number of specific sites and advertising on a long-term, continual basis.

It used to be common practice for advertisers to buy these sites “until countermanded”, which allows an ad to be run until stopped by the advertiser. Often such long-term activity was used as a way of freezing out other advertisers from key sites. Tobacco companies were particularly adept at using outdoor in this way, with certain brands becoming fixtures in their chosen locations.

Now advertisers are returning to a similar long-term strategy, not for defensive reasons to keep the competitors out, but for more strategic reasons, and they are tending to favour premium sites, in conurbation areas.

Increasingly, advertisers are treating these holdings in the same way that many press advertisers use specific ad locations, such as outside back-cover or facing the contents page, to gain extra impact for a campaign. A long-term outdoor campaign can work in a similar way, establishing an ongoing dialogue with consumers in a consistent media environment.

The sector that has jumped most eagerly on this idea is the media owners, with TV channels using a holding strategy to create a “programme guide” (again, older readers will remember LWT doing something similar a while back).

But such a strategy could be beneficial to other types of advertiser as well. Companies with a wide range of products could use a consistent outdoor presence to tell consumers about their portfolio of brands, in much the same way that Cadbury uses the Coronation Street sponsorship as a shop window for its different brands. Retailers could also benefit from this strategy by using sites to direct consumers to stores. It could also offer online retailers, who need to compensate for their virtual existence, a constant presence in the real world.

Outdoor has proved that it has much to offer advertisers by way of flexibility and high impact, but if this revival of the holdings practice continues, the use of outdoor for long-term strategies could become popular again too.

Robyn Adams is a board director at Posterscope

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