Secondary importance

Advertising to children is under pressure so it is time look at the effective communication of suitable ad messages. Alternative ad vehicles must be used and in-school marketing offers an opportunity

Ofcom’s decision this month to impose an outright ban on junk food advertising during children’s television programmes took many brands and advertisers by surprise, while others such as Burger King (swiftly followed by KFC) sought to steal a march by declaring a self-imposed pre-emptive ban (MW November 16).

Campaigners, including the health lobby group Sustain, slammed the broadcast regulator for not going far enough (as reported on marketingweek.co.uk). But the shift in focus from the over-nines to the under-16s took many in the marketing industry by surprise.

The heated debate over inappropriate marketing to children has inhibited similar debate over the efficacy of the vehicles available to marketers with suitable messages for an in-school environment. Research by the Havas-owned education specialists Heist, looking at six-sheet poster panels in secondary schools on behalf of in-school media agency Ten Nine, starts to address this imbalance.

Heist explored three variables in relation to six-sheet messages delivered to 11to 18-year-olds. Printed questionnaires, which the pupils completed in a supervised session, were sent to schools and colleges that displayed such advertising posters.

The initial question posed was how many times a pupil had the opportunity to see a poster site in their school during the usual two-week period of display. The measure was split over several questions based on and around schools’ timetables. A picture of the poster panel was included in the questionnaire, so pupils knew exactly which location was being referred to (there were two or more panels in each school).

The first wave of activity in July asked up to 1,000 year seven to year 13 students, across secondary schools nationally, about their exposure to six-sheet poster panels in their school.

Opportunity to see (OTS) was analysed within each school, with results derived from the timetable-related questions. The mean daily OTS was used as a measure for that school. This, when multiplied by the number of students, yielded an accurate overall OTS.

The initial survey, (part two continuing this autumn), reveals a mean daily OTS of 2.3 for the panels.

This means that during the usual two-week period of any display – ten school days – a student is exposed to the message 23 times. This compares with five times on a bus, four times on the London Underground or just twice in cinemas.

Six-sheet panels are located in a range of different locations within schools. While some of these panels have passing traffic, those in locations such as the refectory, or particularly the sixth-form common room, offer a significant dwell time for the delivery of a message.

The research also considered the frequency and duration of student visits to the sixth-form common room. Pupils used a grid to record the frequency of their daily visits to the common room and the time that they spent there.

The results reveal an average of 3.13 visits per student a day with an average dwell time of 23.42 minutes. Over the usual two-week period of the display, students were therefore exposed to the poster for more than 12 hours, compared with just over two-and-a-half hours in a shopping centre over the same period.

The high level of OTS developed by a single panel in a school and the long dwell time delivered by common-room panels were subsequently seen to deliver correspondingly high levels of prompted recall. Students shown an unbranded poster were asked if they had seen it, and if so, what it was advertising. Recall levels were typically 80% and above, contrasting strongly with a roadside six-sheet poster average of 28%. (There is no audience measurement system covering the 11to 18-year-olds for roadside posters.)

Postar, the outdoor research specialist, has a first demographic of 15to 24-year-olds. There is some security, therefore, for those spending hard-pressed budgets, that the audience is obliged by law to go to school, at least until they are 16.

Marketers and media planners, faced with the internet’s sustained assault on “business as usual”, may find themselves re-evaluating some ancient maxims. Outdoor, traditionally viewed as a primarily mass-coverage vehicle, may be due for a rethink.

Real value may be offered by a growing catalogue of destination vehicles, such as the typical secondary school, where a single six-sheet panel can seemingly “pressure cook” hitherto unprecedented levels of prompted awareness across the core target audience.

Alan Scurfield, managing partner at Ten Nine, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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