Outdoor has cleaned up its act. The image of badly pasted posters
peeling from sagging billboards is long gone. Today’s sites employ the
latest technical wizardry to ensure that the medium improves the
And with internet companies desperate to get their brands in consumers’
faces, the hard cash is beginning to roll in.
Zenith Media estimates gross spend was pounds 585 million last year and
forecasts it could reach pounds 615 million this year. At one stage, the
outdoor sector was anxious about the prospect of losing revenue as
Britain prepared to fall in line with other EU members and ban tobacco
ads. Luckily the dotcom boom seems to have come to the rescue.
Outdoor Connection estimates that dotcom adspend rose from pounds 1
million in 1998 to pounds 13 million last year. The specialist says more
than 70 new internet companies turned to outdoor advertising in 1999.
The biggest spender - online auction house QXL - ploughed pounds 2.2
million into the sector.
The prospects for this year look even better.
Sales people who work in the sector claim outdoor can provide two
services for the price of one. As well as being a mass medium ideal for
building brands, more accurate research means it can fulfil the same
brief as a highly targeted direct-mail campaign.
For the recent London Fashion Week, Ready2Shop.com hijacked the South
Kensington underground walkway, using creative from Bartle Bogle
Commuters were treated to 144 metres of posters depicting Trinny Woodall
and Susannah Constantine naked save for a few strategically placed
Motive media manager Jayne Potter, who bought the tactical campaign
through transport specialist TDI, says outdoor was the ideal medium.
’Kensington is the greatest footfall carrier for people attending the
London Fashion Week shows, and it’s a highly targeted environment,’ she
A decade ago, only 35 of the top 100 advertisers used outdoor. Today
that figure stands at 93. Procter & Gamble increased its outdoor spend
to pounds 2.8 million in the third quarter of last year. In two years,
the fmcg giant has risen from the 24th to the fourth-highest outdoor
For internet companies, which need to build brands almost overnight, the
appeal of outdoor has proved irresistible. It is half the price of radio
and a quarter the cost of TV, and its ability to reach a huge number of
people in a very short space of time is a big bonus. ’In an age of media
fragmentation, with the traditional media chasing smaller audiences,
outdoor can be considered the last of the broadcast media,’ says David
Tallis, joint managing director of Poster Publicity.
’Out of home’ is also regarded as an international medium, because it
gives advertisers the chance to spread a global message rapidly and
cost-effectively. That’s why The Wall Street Journal Europe is using
outdoor as the main plank of its current campaign, which also promotes
’We needed a high-impact format for WSJ Europe and outdoor is the best,’
says Doug Baxter, the paper’s senior director of marketing.
But outdoor has also built its popularity through innovation, which has
been sparked by the industry’s consolidation. Ten years ago, there were
more than 150 contractors. Today there are 17, four of which control 80
per cent of the market: More Group, part of Clear Channel, has a 23 per
cent share, JC Decaux has 22 per cent, TDI 20 per cent and Maiden 15 per
cent. This concentration means the big four are investing heavily in all
areas, ranging from research and marketing to technology.
Decaux pledged it would pump pounds 50 million into its UK arm,
following last year’s acquisition of the beleaguered Mills & Allen. The
French outdoor giant commissioned Sir Norman Foster to design a
high-quality illuminated scrolling panel to replace its much-criticised
Ultravisions. It is also axing its poor quality sites.
Decaux also plans to introduce timesharing on a trial basis in Paris,
its home turf. Under the scheme, advertisers will be able to buy space
across a whole city, giving them blanket coverage for an agreed number
of hours. If introduced, timesharing could become central to any brand
launch because it will enable advertisers to gain critical mass. Owning
a city, airport or underground system would prove a powerful weapon in
the brand war.
David Pugh, managing director of Maiden Outdoor - the last big outdoor
independent - says his company is investing between pounds 4 million and
pounds 5 million in upgrading its offering.
It has experimented with heat- and light-reactive inks that enable a
poster to display different messages depending on time and temperature.
It has also introduced a website, www.posterinfo.com, which provides
background information on campaigns and links to advertisers. The site
has registered more than 1.2 million page impressions since its launch
12 months ago.
The outdoor sellers are also trying to improve their service to
TDI and Clear Channel have introduced barcoding on their outdoor sites,
enabling them to inform buyers which sites have been posted. This paves
the way for real-time trading.
Nick Maddison, buying director at Blade, welcomes these moves but is
sceptical about whether they or any similar systems will be
’There’s a great wariness of letting buyers know what’s actually
available. The contractors think if we had those details real-time, it
might push down the price.’
Audience measurement system Postar has been another factor in helping
outdoor change its image. The system, introduced in 1995, is still
evolving but there is a determination to market it more effectively as
the industry-wide standard.
In addition, contractors are commissioning their own research. Clear
Channel has launched a pan-European project to try to identify what
advertisers and agencies expect.
’Our approach is to identify their perceptions of the medium’s strengths
and weaknesses, then respond with improvements which add value to their
campaign,’ says Clear Channel’s group marketing manager Robert
The first findings are expected by April.
The jury is still out on whether industry-wide consolidation will enable
contractors to exploit the link between outdoor and other media,
particularly radio. Clear Channel and Scottish Radio Holdings, which
acquired More Group and Score Outdoor respectively, both have extensive
Cross-media packages such as CBS Plus are a reality in the US, but would
they work over here?
Peter Smyth, the former managing director of More Group UK and now Clear
Channel’s regional director for Northern Europe, takes the view that
’outdoor and radio can be complementary’, but feels such packages are
’some way off’ becoming a reality.
Tallis is more outspoken. He says companies need to change their
structures radically before they can contemplate such moves.
’Cross-media selling is still an urban myth,’ he states.
Whatever happens in the future, the outdoor industry realises it cannot
afford to be complacent - even when high-spending dotcoms are adding to
its coffers (they are expected to account for an estimated 15 per cent
of spending this year).
As Smyth points out: ’There will be fallout. Of 100 internet start-ups,
only ten may survive. Our most important task is to market the medium
and encourage other new advertisers to embrace the sector.’
POSTERS ON THE MOVE
David Pugh, managing director of Maiden, says the failure of John
Prescott’s transport policy is a boon for outdoor. ’There are more cars
on the road going more slowly, which means outdoor is getting more
exposure,’ he explains.
Similarly, advertisers have a captive audience on London’s Underground
as more travellers struggle on to the overcrowded system; what’s bad
news for Joe Public is good news for American-owned transport specialist
And the Tube’s frequent breakdowns benefit Taxi Media, the UK’s largest
taxi ad contractor.
The explosion in the dotcom sector means Taxi Media is experiencing a
record first quarter, with web-related products backing up continuing
support from traditional advertisers such as airlines Continental,
United and Delta. Marketing manager Adelle Springer says activity
crosses the product range - Easy-Everything has bought double doors and
Excite has booked fully liveried cabs.
Springer points out that because company directors frequently use taxis,
the vehicles provide exposure to the stock market and potential business
partners. The Wall Street Journal is using 300 sets of taxi double
panels in its latest campaign.
TDI’s marketing director Mike Baker says bus and Tube advertising, like
taxis, have benefited from dotcom spend. He is also witnessing
increasing interest from finance companies, with brands such as Norwich
Union, Prudential and CGU using the sector for the first time in the
past 12 months.
Unlike the Underground itself, TDI is at the cutting edge of
Since the King’s Cross fire, Tube posters have been restricted to paper,
rather than more durable but flammable materials. But the introduction
of fireproof vinyl should allow for experimentation that will make the
medium even more versatile. The company is also experimenting with
crosstrack rail projection, working with Scandinavian company DHJ -
which pioneered the system in Sweden - and electronics company Racal.The
system allows still or moving images to be shown on the wall facing the
platform. The film stops as the train enters the station.
’A limited number of stations - probably about 100 - have crosstrack
capabilities,’ says Baker, who believes projections could be in use in
the next two years. In the longer term, TDI is looking at flat-screen
technology for escalators.
How long it will be before electronic signs replace paper and paste is a
moot point. Some think a few years; others maintain decades. Baker says
the advent of digital technology has already driven down production
costs, which means trains and buses can be painted or fully wrapped.
Bus advertising is also exploiting new technology. Last year,
advertisers began using lenticular panels on London’s buses. The panels
create a giant optical illusion as the bus moves - when Fila put
footballer Ian Wright on one of them, he appeared to change out of a
suit and into to his football kit.
There is, however, a downside. The double-decker bus fleet is being
reduced, especially outside London. Sheer cost means minibuses or
single-deckers are servicing city centres and small towns. David Tallis,
joint managing director of Poster Publicity, points out that smaller
buses don’t give advertisers the same impact as double-deckers and this
will eventually affect the sector.