Billboards and Beyond: Transport - Airports

The growth of budget airlines is transforming the audience demographic of airport advertising.

The airport medium has changed out of all recognition in recent years and when BAA put its revised contract (including Terminal 5) up for grabs, it became clear it stood on the verge of yet another quantum leap. The winner of this pitch was not known at the time of going to press but this is a big one - worth a cumulative £500 million in revenue over ten years.

The evolution of airport media has been all about numbers. In 1980, UK airports processed 50 million passengers; by 2003, traffic had more than quadrupled to 217 million. Some forecasters believe the figure will hit 500 million by 2030. The simple point is that audience figures are booming and this is no longer a niche environment.

The demographics are evolving, too, and 2003 arguably delivered a defining moment here as well. In November that year, Ryanair carried two million passengers - the first time the budget airline had eclipsed British Airways, which scored 1.8 million that month.

Ryanair aims to establish itself as the largest short-haul airliner in Europe by 2010 and when you consider the growth of other low-fare airliners such as easyJet, this is clearly an important source of growth in passenger figures. These airlines are also helping to shift the medium's profile.

As air travel becomes ever more affordable and routine, the average airline passenger tends to be younger and come from a broader spectrum of backgrounds.

Even 20 years ago, airport advertising still had an aura of the jet-set era: it tended to be all about luxury goods ads aimed at the super-rich and corporate messages targeting a business traveller audience. Now the medium is supported by a broad range of brands - though there is still a skew towards the upmarket, corporate end of the scale; while global brands are perhaps more likely to see the immediate benefits of targeting an airport audience.

Top spenders in 2005 were Royal Bank of Scotland, British Airways, Vodafone, Marriott Hotels and Samsung. The top five categories were: travel and transport, finance, telecoms, computers, and business and industrial.

Total spend was slightly less than £50 million and, over the past five years or so, growth in revenues has generally been pretty much in line with growth in passenger numbers.

The only real downside is the fact that passenger numbers can be hugely affected by security scares - for instance, in the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist outrages in New York in 2001, passenger numbers declined steeply for several months. The big picture trend is ever upwards, though.

Now, many observers believe the medium will change out of all recognition in the next decade. Traditionally, airports have been cluttered by a swathe of formats: traditional posters on the approach roads, back-lit sites, installations, trolleys and floor advertising within the terminals themselves.

The new BAA contract could signal a change. The whole architectural philosophy behind Terminal 5 will be to make the concourse space as beautiful and awe-inspiring as it can be, and advertising will be expected to play a part in that. So we should expect to see the advertising environment become less busy, with some sites culled and a new focus on big audio-visual screens.


MAJOR PLAYERS: JCDecaux Airport, Clear Channel, Primesight

WHAT'S NEW: Concourse screens, digital panels

CASE STUDY - Vodafone

Client: Vodafone
Media owner: JCDecaux Airport
Brief: Communicate with international business travellers throughout
their airport journey on a long-term basis, with a focus on promoting
Vodafone's business tariffs, latest products and innovative services.
Budget: Vodafone spent £3.8 million on UK airport advertising
during 2005
Target market: People who travel abroad on business five or more times a

Inventory: Dominant sites in key bottleneck areas at Heathrow; three large-format external sites targeting both arriving and departing passengers; internal sites including wraps and light boxes at drop-off points, main walkways to gate rooms, plus the Vodafone experience, an internal retail sponsorship zone where passengers can find out from Vodafone staff about new products, foreign services and tariffs, and charge phones and laptops.

Heathrow Express signage sponsorship. A summer upweight campaign targeting the leisure and holiday audience at Gatwick, Stansted and London Luton.

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