Media: Behind the Hype - New Postar research claims greater effectiveness

Findings may harm outdoor if clients react by reducing their spend.

The outdoor industry was in celebratory mood at the recent Outdoor Advertising Association conference in Barcelona. And it's an industry that doesn't have a problem in talking itself up, arguing that even its own research was not doing outdoor justice.

"We all knew there was something wrong with Postar's previous research - clients' own research showed the outdoor industry was penalising itself," Alan Simmons, the chairman of Alban, says.

But with the release of new figures from the outdoor industry's measurement system, Postar, last month, most believe it has finally got it right.

Postar's research is significant in two ways. First, the reclassification of 120,000 roadside sites revealed higher awareness levels, suggesting the medium is more effective than previously thought.

Second, the research included other outdoor media for the first time, with Tube and rail sites now available on Postar. There are also plans to incorporate buses, taxis, retail and leisure next year.

Helen Tridgell, Postar's managing director, explains: "There is a huge amount of work that goes into it - you have to go out and physically visit 120,000 sites. It has also been a joint industry decision and discussion takes time."

The cross-format element seems to be attracting the most interest. Paul Thomas, a managing partner at MindShare, says: "The cross-format research is going to be useful as it was hard to pull together outdoor's consolidated effect. This will strengthen the justification for using the medium."

Mike Baker, Viacom Outdoor's European marketing director, says: "It is so much better to have a single currency and the net effect is bound to be a rise in the number of cross-media and cross-format campaigns."

Opinion is more divided on the accuracy of the roadside figures. As a result, some agencies and clients have commissioned their own studies.

"WPP evaluates all sites itself and has its own index, which is more accurate than the previous Postar figures," Thomas says. "Postar's research will be of use, but it is not going to affect the way we use outdoor dramatically."

The new findings do seem to have been taken seriously and are endorsed by both the IPA and ISBA. "There's bound to be a degree of scepticism; cynicism is endemic in this industry, but the research uses one of the most thorough, sophisticated techniques in the world," Simmons says.

But what tangible effect will the research have on the outdoor industry? With roadside sites, Simmons argues it could go one of two ways. "Clients will either continue to buy the same amount and see it as better value for money or clients who were happy with previous levels of awareness will buy a lower weight of sites," he says.

Thomas also sees various possible effects. "The outdoor medium could steal share from elsewhere as it is seen as being cost-effective, or media owners will put their prices up," he says.

However overdue the research is, it seems undeniable it is going to have repercussions for outdoor. The coming months will reveal whether clients or media owners will be the ones to benefit.