Healthy outlook for outdoor ads

Far from being outdated, outdoor is embracing modern technology and becoming the dominant medium. Consolidation means it is now on the road to achieving global acclaim.

Clear Channel’s decision to commission Europe-wide research into advertiser attitudes towards outdoor reflects the surge in interest this medium is enjoying. Last year, outdoor revenue growth outstripped other media.

The most visible sign of this new-found popularity is the explosion in dot-com businesses using posters to quickly establish brand visibility. According to AC Nielsen, Media International’s outdoor ad revenue from dot-coms rose by a startling 1,000 per cent between 1998 and 1999, from &£580,000 to &£8m.

But this is not the only reason for outdoor’s appeal. At a logistical level, consolidation across the outdoor market means it is now relatively simple to buy a pan-European campaign. Clear Channel, for example, is in 15 European countries, allowing advertisers to buy multinational campaigns from a single source.

Outdoor has also enjoyed something of an image boost, thanks to a few high-profile fashion brands building their marketing programmes around posters rather than the press. The US retail chain Gap, for example, astutely recognised that some fashion brands were becoming lost in the packed ad pages of glossy magazines. So the company chose posters as the main media for every new city it entered. This initiative, by a high-profile and stylish advertiser, encouraged others who might historically have steered clear of outdoor.

So what can we expect Clear Channel to discover when the Henley Centre delivers its report in April? Without wishing to pre-judge the outcome, Clear Channel group marketing manager Robert Thurner suspects it may reveal a few misconceptions about outdoor.

“One common misconception is that it is fragmented and therefore difficult to buy coherent international campaigns,” he says. “The other misconception, although this is less prevalent, is that the outdoor industry is still stuck in the Seventies, with tatty boards and blokes on bicycles with buckets of glue.”

The reality is that outdoor is keen to embrace new technology as fast as any other media. And there are many opportunities for contractors to do so: computer-aided systems are allowing real-time advertising so clients can tailor messages to specific audiences at particular times of the day and night. The use of plasma screens gives outdoor a similar moving image effect to that of TV. And the increasing use of outdoor interactive kiosks provides a new way for advertisers to build and maintain close consumer relationships at street level.

Outdoor may not have the glamour of TV or the buzz of the Internet, but it is in as strong a position as it has been for many years. Now is the time to listen to advertiser requirements and become a truly powerful international medium.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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