There may have been faster-growing sectors in the outdoor market in recent years - young pretenders all of them, building from a relatively small base - but six-sheets represent the medium's most significant for growth, both in terms of sheetage and revenue.
More than 60 per cent of all roadside inventory is in the six-sheet format these days. In 2005, the total revenues commanded by this sector came to an estimated minimum of £175 million, although some media owners suggest the total was nearer £220 million. In other words, between 19 per cent and 24 per cent of the whole outdoor advertising medium.
Audience and environment are important factors in the six-sheet success story. Street-furniture formats, notably bus shelters, are largely to be found in prime positions in the high streets of our towns and cities, just steps away from the top retail chains. As a result, this sector has expanded in terms of the quality inventory it has been able to offer, and has succeeded in attracting the sorts of advertisers that might not have been big spenders on outdoor a decade ago.
The top five categories on roadside six-sheets last year were entertainment and media, food, telecoms, drink, and cosmetics and toiletries. FMCG advertisers will doubtless continue to be important to this part of the outdoor medium - the fact that many six-sheet sites are within touching distance of pedestrians is important as the sector embarks on the next stage of its evolution.
Digital is high on the agenda here, not just when it comes to incorporating video screens but also in terms of technologies such as Bluetooth and infrared, which can be used to interact with mobile devices. The prospect of offering further information or money-off schemes in exchange for data capture will establish this sector as a must-have for advertisers.
But, according to some observers, the inexorable rise of the six-sheet may not be unreservedly good news for the outdoor medium as a whole. Judges at outdoor creative awards over the past couple of years have been worried about a decline in creative quality - and they have speculated that the six-sheet is to blame.
The theory is that some advertisers (especially the very FMCG clients who might be new to this sector) are often tempted simply to tweak existing magazine work instead of starting from scratch. After all, six-sheets offer a portrait aspect ratio and are viewed relatively close-up, so blowing up existing work might represent an attractive cost saving.
This sector continues to be dominated by Clear Channel's Adshel division, which has more than 44,100 sites, or 65 per cent of total sheetage in the UK, with Primesight and JCDecaux sharing the rest. In the biggest recent contract battle, resolved last May.
Adshel saw off strong competition from JCDecaux, Maiden and Viacom to retain one of Transport for London's bus shelter contracts. Ad revenue on the 2,500 sites involved (thought to be the biggest street-furniture contract in the UK) will be worth an estimated £250 million in ad revenue over a ten-year period.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Clear Channel (Adshel), JCDecaux, Admedia, Primesight
WHAT'S NEW: The incorporation of video screens into selected six-sheet sites, especially bus shelters. Increased data interaction capacity with mobile devices is also high on the agenda
CASE STUDY - Diet Coke
Client: Diet Coke
Media owner: JCDecaux
Brief: Give Diet Coke a fresh look and feel. While maintaining that Diet
Coke is sugar free, great-tasting and low in calories, the brand wanted
to introduce messages such as "Diet Coke, for those who love life" - a
significant change in communications style
Target market: People who "love life" - those who are self-confident,
vibrant, social and fun, specifically 16- to 24-year-olds
Sector inventory used: Six-sheets
Wider outdoor inventory used: None
Other media used: TV, press, internet. There has been advertising in the same style for varieties such as Diet Coke with Lime and Cherry Coke.
Client testimonial: Kara Clarkson, media manager, Coca-Cola GB: "Outdoor was integral to the overall campaign. The campaign delivered maximum impact through carefully planned, good quality sheetage. We were delighted with the results."