Taking outdoor into new realms of possibility

The out-of-home media sector is embarking on a period of exciting transition, stimulated by digital and the London Olympics. But for some brands, evolution of outdoor isn’t happening fast enough.

  • Glen Wilson (GW), Managing director, Posterscope
  • Lloyd Page (LP), Head of brand marketing, John Lewis
  • Paul Rowlinson (PR), Head of exchange, Mindshare
  • Danni Murray (DM), Director, media and marketing partnerships, Warner BrosIn association with
  • Andy Bolden (AB), European media director, GSK
  • Christopher Katsuleres (CK), Director of Olympic marketing and sport programmes, GE
  • Gordon Lott (GL), Head of London 2012 partnership and group sponsorship, Lloyds
  • Zoe Vafadari (ZV), Head of brand communications, TalkTalk
  • Rob Atkinson (RA), Managing director, Clear Channel
  • Jenny Bullis (JB), Head of media, BT
  • Richard Hirst (RH), Senior marketing manager, McDonald’s
  • Matthew Dearden (MD), Chief executive officer, Clear Channel
  • Gideon Adey (GA), Business development director, Kinetic
  • CHAIR: Mark Choueke (MW) Editor, Marketing Week
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Marketing Week (MW): At what point does out-of-home figure in your consideration when planning a new campaign or strategy, and what formats have you been experimenting with?

Lloyd Page: When we start with our brief we consider all channels. Outdoor is really important for John Lewis and we envisage that continuing to be the case. One of the main considerations for us is that when we look outside of the London area, there seems to be a degree of inconsistency in the quality of outdoor. That’s something that really plays on our minds.

Danni Murray: I’d agree. You can find plenty of outdoor product at the premium end in London but not so much outside of London. A lot of the media industry is based in the centre of London. So we’re constantly seeing some of that premium product in the capital.

We’re finding at Warner Bros that this is swaying some of our decisions to invest in outdoor. Some companies have been making inroads into producing better products and investing in the sector, certainly in areas such as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. The situation is improving, but it’s certainly not anywhere as good as London.

Andy Bolden: Our brand teams at GSK use outdoor very strategically. But, we’ve got to get the creative idea right. For me, that’s always the biggest bugbear. Outdoor is a simple media that we make incredibly complex because of the creative. I wonder how many people would own up to getting it 100% right? Probably not many.

In association with Clear Channel
In association with Clear Channel

Chris Katsuleres:

A lot of what’s been said here rings true for us at General Electric [GE] from a global perspective. We certainly use outdoor, more so in certain markets than others. Outdoor is always part of our mix in some capacity. As a business-to-business company we have very focused and targeted outdoor campaigns, particularly in and around airports. We’ve done some nice work at Terminal 5, for example. We are looking for opportunities to push the boundaries of what it can do.

Gordon Lott: For Lloyds, the role of outdoor has been the delivery of brand messages rather than product messages.

MW: Does outdoor deserve to be lumped in with other ’traditional media’, or have marketers properly identified its new capabilities and the opportunities it presents?

Zoe Vafadari: What we’ve been trying to do at TalkTalk is work out the role outdoor should play for us within the mix of all the other channels that we want to use. We’re trying to fine-tune the parts that they could all play in terms of which channels help us best with awareness, which help us best with consideration, which with search and research and which with leading to purchase.

Rob Atkinson: Brands’ use of outdoor is a mixed bag. Some advertisers get what outdoor does and understand where it fits and what its place and relevance is. The ones that do get it really get it and understand it and use it very well. Others struggle with it, and then creativity becomes the barrier. Some of the responsibility for this falls on us the media owners to make sure we’re doing our best to educate creative agencies how best to use the medium.

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Jenny Bullis:

At BT, we put a lot of resources into outdoor because if you don’t put the effort in, you’ll get poor creative. Poor creative will fail the medium. You have to think about outdoor from the perspective of the consumer. They’re walking past it. Do you judge your creative as you’re walking past it? No you don’t. But maybe you should. If you can crack that, you’ll get better outdoor creative, you’ll get a better campaign effect and then outdoor investment is repeated.

MW: What formats have you seen recently that are new to the market or what would you like to see?

Richard Hirst: Digital is great for putting a message out at a certain time of day and then taking it down when it’s no longer relevant. So for McDonald’s breakfast segment, which finishes at 10.30am, digital works well. But we can’t do it on a national basis at the moment – the acceleration of that innovation would be welcomed by us.

DM: Digital is definitely the best leap forward the outdoor industry has begun to make in the past 12 to 18 months. The biggest disappointment for an advertiser like Warner Bros is that we’re still finding that a significant proportion of the inventory is being sold in a traditional two-week format. For companies like us which tend to have a lot of product that is very time sensitive in terms of when it can be released, this is not helpful. Perhaps the industry has not been as quick to grasp the opportunity of being able to sell digital in the way perhaps that it was intended.

Glen Wilson: With digital I think we’re at the beginning of the next 100 years of the medium. Whether it will be successful for businesses and brands is going to be as a result of collaboration [between the agencies and the clients].

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MW: If advertisers are able to use creativity better because they can use time slots differently, isn’t this encouraging a new flexibility in the way out-of-home media is bought?

Matthew Dearden: It surprises me that, collectively as an industry, we only offer clients 26 times a year to start a campaign. I don’t think that’s in the industry’s interest because I don’t think that’s in the client’s interest.

I’d be keen to know if there is market demand for greater flexibility for starting a campaign by not just selling it in the standard fortnightly blocks. I personally hope that goes beyond digital. That would be quite a big change for the industry and it’s not about to happen overnight, but it’s something that we’re certainly interested in at Clear Channel.

Gideon Adey: The industry has a long history of selling blocks of units for a fixed amount of time, because it is convenient to do. I imagine within the next 12 months or so that we will be selling and buying much more on blocks of audience. And that then allows flexibility within the delivery of that audience, as is the case with any other medium.

For example, rather than buying 1200 panels of advertising, you’d buy 600 ratings.

RA: I’ve noticed that media owners are starting to do things like 24-hour media reposts for certain clients, which means that when a brand has different products it wants to promote, it can change them on the poster site over the course of a fortnight. Marketers are increasingly taking this approach to make sure they’ve got relevant, topical copy for a particular period.

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MD:

What I hadn’t appreciated before I got to know the industry better is how brilliant it could be at targeting. I hadn’t appreciated how well we could take a geo-demographic brief and target a campaign against that. That’s an under-exploited opportunity by some clients and therefore it’s an opportunity we should be pushing.

But more particularly, I agree with Gideon, that as an industry we should be trading an audience rather than a panel [of advertising space], which is ultimately what clients care about.

JB: Most media owners would take a real-time brief and deliver on that well. The thing that they can’t currently do is guarantee that that promotion can stop [by taking the campaign down]. I think that’s a problem. If you do a short-term promotion for a limited time using outdoor, the industry has to help me do the ’offer ends’ bit but at the moment it can’t do that. In some cases that can put me under a bit of legal pressure. And it’s not helping me take full advantage of the promotion.

CK: It puts you under a legal stress, but also potentially a consumer stress. If they think that that offer is still standing and they come to you and it’s not, you’ve got a dissatisfied customer.

RA: But there are a lot of media owners now who can offer a proof of posting [service]. We’ve got the technology to be able to show what time that poster was taken down, by whom, and any other detail that you need around it.

MW: Who has incorporated or is planning to incorporate the consumer’s growing use of smartphone technology into their outdoor campaigns?

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LP:

We have thought about it but we haven’t used it yet. That’s because our strategy is largely being driven by the way our customers are behaving at the moment. But we are seeing a trend for more of an appetite for that kind of technology. It’s very exciting for a retailer when you think about increased targeting and what we can learn about our customers to improve how we engage with them more effectively.

ZV: It has got to be relevant. It’s like when brands tried to get involved with social media 18 months ago. At the moment we’re all trying to work out what’s the reason we should be giving consumers this experience.

MW: Is new technology incorporated into the market right now or are we talking ahead of time?

GW: The technology is there, but that’s irrelevant really. Technology is just an enabler, it makes things easier to do and, generally speaking, if you make things easier then people will do more of it.

If you look at people who are heavy users of mobile internet, there’s an inherent cultural desire to be able to interact with things to a greater extent than in general. Whether it’s touch-sensitive screens, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, it only matters to a certain extent, it’s not a motivation in itself. The key is adding value. That’s the exciting opportunity.

GA: I agree with Glen in that in some ways technology is less relevant, it’s more about the adoption of this technology and the way it is becoming part of everyone’s lives.

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We are an increasingly mobile-enabled population and we are using our phones to connect with each other and with brands while we’re out and about. Outdoor is the physical, real-world signpost guiding people into that virtual world. If a brand has an objective to drive people to a social network site and we know that the people on that site are ’out and about’ enquiring what their friends are doing, then an ’out and about’ medium is the way to drive them to that website.

DM: In some ways we are talking ahead of time. Let’s not forget that 3G is not a perfect platform by any means. Coverage is not perfect around the country. Until 4G to some extent helps to correct that or we get more wireless points and better coverage, what we’re discussing here is limited. If some of the opportunity around new technology is based around bringing large swathes of people to a place in order to engage or interact with a brand, then that could be quite limiting at the moment.

RH: Crucially, it’s down to how the consumer is using technology and what the scale of that is. The consumer will dictate how we will adapt and how technology is used. It’s the brands that adapt quickly and in tune with the consumer that will step out in front.

MW: Is London 2012 going to be a trigger for innovation and giving outdoor a chance to shine?

Paul Rowlinson: During the recent World Cup in South Africa, we did a campaign with Nike where the digital picture and the text that ran with the picture was dependent on the result of each match. So we literally served the text onto those particular posters in real time. That’s the kind of immediacy that consumers are looking for.

GW: The momentum is starting to build now. At the beginning of this year it felt like it ratcheted up a level. I think 2012 will inevitably be a catalyst for activity. You will see more interesting uses of mobile, for example, and more sheer spectacular digital stuff. Inevitably, the Games will be an accelerator of innovation, but exactly what that looks like will depend on what brands do with it.

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CK:

For us who have been involved with Olympic Games in the past, 2012 is going to be a very different model in terms of the purchase process, and those who want to get involved have to start thinking about this now. If you go back to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver there were set packages that you bought into and there were some a la carte opportunities that you could buy into. But there wasn’t a whole lot of flexibility.

What’s going to happen here will be vastly different, certainly from an Olympic sponsor perspective. GE [as international sponsors] will have to adapt to that change. What we’re trying to do is familiarise ourselves with that process.

MD: You’ll gradually see more digital from us and other players and that will clearly evolve the market. London is overweighted with top-end sites but the rest of the country is undersupplied. We’re committed to fixing that. I’m very conscious that this is not just about the London Games. There are fantastic opportunities to make more of the creative.

GL: Having been to two Olympics, Beijing and Vancouver, just by virtue of the spectacular sites that we’ve been talking about that will be built, there will be some truly fantastic offerings that no one will have seen before. Consumer expectations after the Olympics will, as a result, be that much higher.

JB: We have to be careful that the sponsors don’t dampen innovation. Sponsorship can move into very corporate messaging, which doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation. It’s the Nikes of the world that have the consumer messaging which can do the really fun stuff in outdoor.

MW: Do you think the Olympics will change how budgets are allocated to out-of-home?

ZV: Tourism from the Olympics is obviously going to bring in a lot of revenue and that’s great. But it also means that outdoor will be more attractive to some brands than others. For a brand like us that needs to target UK-based customers, it might mean our advertising gets a lot of wastage because we could be talking to people that don’t live in this country.

JB: World Cups and Euro championships can create a deflationary market because brands choose to stay away from it. We have to be careful that the process doesn’t scare off normal advertisers. Brands choose to stay away from it because of lessons learned in years gone by when everybody piled in and created massive inflation.

AB: It’s important that the outdoor industry manages our expectations in terms of being able to participate as a non-sponsor. We will celebrate a very different environment next year. Marketers are planning but their expectations could be dashed if they are unable to get involved.

DM: The Olympics falls slap bang in the middle of the summer, traditionally the time when a lot of studios release their blockbusters. So it is really important to make sure that we’re not left out in the cold.

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