Feature

Outdoor: The People's Reaction

Nick Mawditt on why consumer behaviour is changing - and how outdoor can tap into that.

It has been suggested that the pace of life since 1945 has increased more than ten times, and we are living five to six times faster than even in the heady 80s.

Technology has had the biggest impact, but key changes include a quest for more excitement, greater leisure opportunities, vastly improved transport services and the way our cities are now planned to accommodate movement with more appealing space and architecture.

All this has a significant effect on how advertisers communicate to people on the move. More active audiences are more discerning. You would think they might have less time to assimilate their surroundings, but active, contented individuals are not just happy to receive informing and exciting messages, they expect them.

We are now increasingly engaging with events. The British social calendar is awash with an eclectic variety that offers amazing opportunities to stimulate interest, discussion or calls to action. Sporting events and festivals are among the most high profile of these - the second quarter of this year alone included the General Election, the Fifa World Cup and Glastonbury's 40th anniversary. All had a significant impact on the streets of Britain. Each is a milestone in its own right, but blink and you will miss an Olympic Games; as an advertiser, this is doubly true.

The General Election was a brilliant example of how communication can work effectively and holistically. The main parties were all in the spotlight, and TV acted as the dominant medium - but only through discernible content that engaged the audience, rather than overt advertising. The leaders' debates made a big impact, but the rest of the TV coverage offered a time-heavy and repetitive view (the news media were obsessed with polls and personalities, while the party political broadcasts tended to repeat the familiar mantras of each party).

Of course, the parties embraced new media. They used SMS messaging, employed social networking sites (mainly in a dull way, but even this was enlivened by the TV debates) and were active on local websites (albeit around niche issues and predominantly on those serving marginal constituencies). Social media, however, mainly had only a supporting role, often summarising views and opinions generated elsewhere. Digital did not dominate the agenda - an Obama-style communication makeover it was not.

In contrast, outdoor media asserted its credentials, demonstrating impact and flexibility. Highly targeted, visual messages were in tune with the leaders' TV debates and the issues concerning the electorate. All the main parties entertained and engaged the public with bold messaging, both ridiculing the opposition and heralding their own party leaders. Flexibility was shown in messaging that changed regularly, while constituencyand issue-led targeting was well used. Campaigns for all the main parties reinforced the power of outdoor and the effect it can have when done well.

And in Brighton, the Green Party used imaginative billboards throughout the town and won its first MP.

During the recent World Cup, meanwhile, advertisers fought to be heard on TV, YouTube and, notably, London's Cromwell Road, not to mention the pubs, parks and streets of every major town and city.

The event was something the public genuinely anticipated, with 34 per cent of people saying they were excited by the tournament. According to Kinetic's Moving World Panel surveys conducted before the competition started, 64 per cent of adults said they would be tuning in to watch the England games, and half said they would watch games involving other countries. A third planned to watch these games outside of the home.

The tournament was generating significant demand in the out-of-home space before it even began, with large formats performing especially well. One battleground for sponsors was the street. Nike's impressive "rock" billboard on Cromwell Road, for example, played on the image of Mount Rushmore by replacing the faces of America's founding fathers with those of the England squad members Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and James Milner (as well as Theo Walcott).

The 75m-wide board was expected to be seen six million times over the course of its erection. Displaying the instruction to the squad, "Play to be remembered", it was designed to inspire football fans as they geared up to support the national team.

The sports brand also used digital billboards to display news from South Africa.

The UK now hosts more than 500 music and arts festivals over the summer, with up to 20 per cent of us claiming to attend at least one (the statistic is 40 per cent among the younger generation). Festival-goers are big spenders and a truly mobile audience. In 2008, the survey "Touchpoints 2" found that these fun-seekers splash their cash with little consideration, on clothes, toiletries and cosmetics, and prefer to spend money than to save it. The effect of festivals on movement is huge - across the summer months, Friday virtually becomes part of the weekend as railway stations and motorways fill to capacity. Those left behind go shopping.

The impact of advertising will be measured in more depth in the eagerly anticipated relaunch of Postar later this year. Ground-breaking GPS technology, which measures reality more profoundly than any other medium, suggests we are spending 20 per cent more time on the move than previously thought. This is significant because the technology tracks the intricacies of our movements and all our journeys to the letter. It also accurately measures the increased mobility of Britons; enhanced visibility research by format and environment will measure realistic contact with more accountability.

Looking ahead, it isn't long before the Olympics come to our shores and, although billed as the London Games, they will be a truly national event as different disciplines will be contested in various parts of the country.

Stations, airports and the London Underground will be inundated with advertising opportunities as clients vie for space to reach the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the country. London's parks and streets will offer countless further chances to advertise outside of the home.

The opportunities are already up for grabs. Out-of-home is virtually alone in being the only regulated environment that can offer guerrilla marketing, mobile phone location services and integrated communication opportunities in abundance. A ring around the core venues is already subject to restriction and regulation, as advertisers jostle two years ahead of London 2012.

So where does this leave us? Technology means 40 per cent of us rely less on the office. The catalyst is mobility and urban improvements that have created unlimited opportunities for advertisers to engage and excite, connecting with our changing lifestyles and those environments in which we spend increasing amounts of our time.

Following the economic tribulations of last year, advertisers are once again flocking to our oldest and fastest-changing medium to reach people in the relevant space.

- Nick Mawditt is the global director of insight and marketing at Kinetic.

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