SUPPLEMENT: What POSTAR really means

As the outdoor industry prepares to adopt Postar, John Owen asks eight key players how it is likely to affect the medium

As the outdoor industry prepares to adopt Postar, John Owen asks

eight key players how it is likely to affect the medium

Posters, as everyone knows, are a passive medium. The fact that an

individual has walked or driven past a site does not prove that he or

she has seen the ad. Traffic, in absolute numbers, is not a true measure

of exposure.

But, until now, that was all media planners and buyers had to go on. If

you were within 180 yards of a poster site, you were deemed to have had

an ‘opportunity to see’. On that basis, the twin measurements of a

campaign’s effectiveness - coverage and frequency - were calculated

under the old Oscar system. Given that most people in the country find

themselves in close proximity to poster sites many more times than they

are aware of, Oscar’s ‘gross impacts’ were, at best, a very rough guide.

Postar aims to change that. For a start, it redefines opportunity to see

using state-of-the-art, computer-modelled traffic counts to provide a

more accurate assessment of ‘gross impacts’.

But where Postar really promises to make a difference is in the fact

that it doesn’t really deal in ‘gross impacts’ at all. It takes them,

then applies a ‘visibility adjustment’ in a bid to reveal, not only how

many people passed the site, but how many of them actually looked at it.

Thanks to the work of Dr Paul Barber at Birkbeck College, the Visibility

Adjusted Impact, or VAI, is set to become the new currency in poster

buying. Rather than OTS, it correlates as the ‘likelihood to see.’

Based on Barber’s research, explained in detail below by Simon Cooper of

NOP, poster sites have been classified according to a number of

different factors: the angle of the site in relation to the road or

pavement, its size, height and distance from the road, whether or not it

is illuminated, and so on. It is with this information that the VAI is


Postar also breaks down audiences into key socio-demographic groups. A

travel survey of 7,500 people, which tracked 120,000 of their journeys,

was matched to the locations of actual poster panels in order to

calculate coverage and frequency.

The industry has invested pounds 1.6 million in Postar. It believes that

this new system will put posters on a level playing field with all other

major media, in terms of outdoor’s ability to justify its usage and

measure its effectiveness.

No longer will poster campaigns claim to deliver 80 to 90 per cent

coverage, but the 45 to 50 per cent coverage they will actually deliver

will be of a real value.

At least that’s the theory. For the moment, because only roadside sites

were covered by the initial phase of the research, bus-sides and London

Transport sites still rely on the old research. They will need attention

soon, as Chris Dickens, the chairman of Postar, acknowledges here.

Whether or not they get it will depend on the success of what is being

launched now - not just technically, as a measure of effectiveness, but

politically, by motivating all those involved in outdoor to work

together to claim a bigger share of the overall advertising market.

Christine Walker

Q. What is the significance of Postar to the outdoor industry?

A. Apart from the more obvious, but nonetheless important, benefits

Postar will bring to the industry, such as updated and more credible

audience figures, there are two significant differences with the past.

One is that the data will be fully accessible and in a more

comprehensive format, allowing posters to be planned in line with other

media. The other is that, for the first time, the research will become

truly independent, as part of the new collaboration that exists between

the specialists and the contractors. Under a newly formed Jicpar, the

significance of this independence cannot be over-stated. In the past,

research has always lacked credibility and been seen as data that has

been produced exclusively by the poster contractors.

The launch of Postar is just the beginning and, under Jicpar - with

representation from all sides - there is a real chance that future

developments will be in line with what the market wants. The full

potential of Postar is exciting in that it offers the opportunity to

learn more about tightly targeted campaigns and the individual audiences

for each site, as well as confirming the huge audiences we know outdoor

delivers for broadcast campaigns.

Christine Walker is the chief executive of Zenith Media

Ivor Hussein

Q. What will Postar measure and how will it affect the lives of planners

and buyers of the poster medium?

A. Postar measures the number of people passing each site where the

poster faces the direction they are travelling. Therefore buyers ought

to feel confident that an OTS is just that - an opportunity to see.

For most media, OTS is enough to give an indication of the true

coverage. However, posters are not like other media. For instance,

nobody believes that the act of passing a panel guarantees a ‘hit’.

Therefore Postar applies a visibility factor, which reduces the OTS to

the campaign’s real coverage.

With other media, it is possible to measure the frequency distribution

of campaigns. For posters, coverage and frequency are based on the

geographical separation of sites, combined with people’s travel

patterns. The travel survey data produces accurate estimates of coverage

and frequency at TV region level, and above. In future, additional

surveys will allow smaller regions and towns to be measured.

Free access, combined with a purpose-built planning and buying tool, is

as important as the quality of the data when constructing campaigns.

Therefore, a new system, with all data included, will be made available

to all interested parties.

With Postar, agencies, specialists and advertisers will finally have

research that is comparable with other industry currencies.

Ivor Hussein is the media research director of Lowe Howard-Spink

Chris Morley

Q. How do you think media planners and buyers will benefit?

A. For the first time, with Postar, media planners and buyers will have

a realistic system of reach and frequency measurement that will

withstand scrutiny alongside Barb ratings and NRS scores.

It also brings with it a new gold standard with which to trade and

provides accountability for both sides involved in negotiations.

Postar bears very little resemblance to Oscar. Any comparison with the

past will be a pretty futile exercise, not least because we have created

a completely new expression of value measurement in the Visibility

Adjusted Impact. The number of VAIs relates to the likelihood of someone

actually looking at the sites, assuming the strength of the design is

equal. Even the seasonally weighted value of illumination and the

distribution of panels across the country will affect the way a

campaign’s value is assessed in the future.

All of this adds up to more detailed and relevant information than media

planners and buyers have ever had before, which will help them achieve

greater value for clients and prove to them that this is what they’re


Chris Morley is the chairman of the Council of Outdoor Specialists and

chief executive of the poster specialist, IPM

Stef Clarke

Q. What was wrong with Oscar from the client’s perspective? How will

Postar make things better?

A. The biggest problem with Oscar was that it didn’t allow you to

examine the effectiveness of individual sites, or to look at sites on a

fairly local basis. You had to take an aggregate view over an entire TV

region. The way traffic was measured, in terms of pedestrians as well as

vehicles, was always queried.

Postar is a huge step forward in enabling individual scores per site and

allowing for real quality control. I will still go on site visits at

short notice, though, to assess the quality, not only of the site, but

also the posting.

The likelihood to see currency is as good a measure of value as whether

someone read a newspaper for two minutes, or more, or was in the room

when the TV was on - which is how NRS and Barb work. All the research

we have to work with is based on opportunity to see rather than ‘has-

seen’, so this is no better or worse. Perhaps that’s an indictment of

industry research as a whole, but it’s hard to see what else they could

have done without spending a lot more money.

One gripe: it’s a year too late. We were promised this in Sorrento two

years ago and it was supposed to ready by March last year. Any delay of

this length is worrying. Are there problems with the data which we have

not been told about?

Stef Clarke is the media manager of the Halifax Building Society

Simon Cooper

Q. Postar claims to be able to evaluate impacts that have been adjusted

to take account of site visibility. Is this real, and how does it work?

A. The best way to explain how Postar will work is to describe the

methodology behind it. It’s a long story, but worth following.

A psychology experiment was devised that would show where people looked

when presented with street scenes. This was then related to the outdoor


The study, designed at Birkbeck College by Dr Paul Barber, involved

photographing a representative set of poster locations from a car

occupant’s point of view. The chosen sites included all the relevant

sizes, in differing locations and times of day and night.

The images were mixed with scenes not containing posters and presented

to the observers, who assumed different roles - driver, navigating

passenger, passive passenger or pedestrian. Their eye movements were

measured using infra-red technology and recorded on a computer.

The recorded data and the location of the posters were later analysed

and a predictive probability model developed. This predicts the number

of impacts, based on the poster location details, the likely duration of

a passage and the total level of traffic passing the site.

The Visually Adjusted Impact is then incorporated into all coverage

analysis produced by Postar. This is done by applying the probability of

seeing the posters in a campaign to a frequency profile, varying over

time, at that weight of campaign. This effectively reduces the gross

cover to an impact-based cover.

Simon Cooper is a technical consultant at the NOP Research Group

Neil shepherd-smith

Q. You’ve been involved in joint industry research for other media. How,

in your experience, does this compare with Barb, NRS, Jicreg and Rajar?

A. Of all the major media, outdoor is the most difficult to research, so

the Postar system has to tackle a more complex problem than NRS or Barb.

I don’t think you can say the results are more accurate, but really it

is like comparing apples with oranges.

First of all, because posters are a passive medium, direct questioning

is impractical. People are exposed to poster ads without having to take

action, so they are likely to have difficulty in recalling when and

where they saw them. The research has to be carried out by indirect

means, such as traffic counts or surveys of people’s travel patterns.

Second, there’s the sheer scale of the medium: there are more than

100,000 poster panels in Britain.

Third, estimating the coverage and frequency delivered by poster

campaigns depends on the varying probability that the viewers of one

site will also be viewers of some of the others in the schedule.

Fourth, a single poster can be seen repeatedly by the same person, as

well as by extra people, every day. So the inclusion of time as a factor

in the estimates of coverage and frequency is absolutely vital - unlike

in other media.

Postar has solved a problem that has never been cracked before -

providing a currency by which poster advertising space can be bought and

sold. For that, I think that Postar deserves the congratulations of the

entire advertising industry.

Neil Shepherd-Smith is a technical director at the media research

specialist, Telmar

Chris dickens

Q. What are your plans to take Postar further and keep it up to date?

A. It’s difficult for me to comment on plans for Postar’s future

development before it has even been launched, and before the first

meeting of the Postar board. I can only offer my personal view.

It’s clear, however, that one of the goals of Postar’s board is to use

the launch as a stepping stone. One of the major criticisms of Oscar was

that it was not refreshed and kept up-to-date. This will not be allowed

to happen with Postar research. No media research represents the ‘holy

grail’, or perfection, for the user. There is always room for

improvement and the research has to evolve to meet the changing

requirements of all sides of the industry.

Postar will be alert to additional requirements and sensitive to

constructive criticism. We in the industry need to maintain a momentum

of evolution that will be welcomed by buyers and sellers alike.

In the long term, I would like to investigate the possibility of

integrating all forms of out-of-home research to provide the advertiser

with a complete view, encompassing roadside, precinct, transport and

special locations. In the meantime, I expect to see all outdoor research

carrying the Postar ‘seal of approval’.

Chris Dickens is the chairman of Postar Limited, the newly formed joint

industry audience research body

David pattison

Q. Have agencies had trouble in the past justifying the use of posters

to clients?

A. It is no coincidence that, in the past, the media that have been most

difficult to sell to clients are the ones that have put vast amounts of

negative energy into internal squabbling.

The change in the radio industry is a classic example. For at least a

decade, it bleated on about how radio couldn’t grow because creatives

wouldn’t take it seriously. Then, people decided to get together, give

themselves a central focus through the Radio Advertising Bureau, get the

smart media companies to lead the charge and - surprise, surprise - the

medium grew and most of the creative issues were laid to rest.

The poster industry’s best chance is that Postar becomes that focus. The

new research in itself will not make posters an enlightened sell

overnight, but what it could do is to prove that the poster industry is

committed to growth.

Posters themselves have never been a difficult sell, although it has

always been an emotional sell as much as a rational one. However, the

wranglings between owners, specialists and consultants have ensured the

planning and buying of posters has, at best, been painful.

Will Postar change all this? I will be very surprised if it does. There

are too many diametrically opposed vested interests involved. At the

first sign of a problem, someone is going to throw their toys out of the

pram. I hope I am wrong.

David Pattison is a partner in the media specialist, Pattison Horswell



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