It's a cruel twist of fate that the medium currently experiencing a revenue crisis is also that which recent research suggests is the best for building trust and credibility in the middle of a recession.
JCDecaux canvassed 500 consumers for their views on how outdoor advertising compared with press ads. The study found that 14 per cent more people said that outdoor makes them feel they can trust a brand, 15 per cent more said outdoor makes them feel a brand is successful and 17 per cent more said outdoor makes them feel more confident in a brand.
In a separate study, Titan asked more than 1,000 adults whether they agree or disagree with certain statements about outdoor. Fifty-four per cent agreed that large roadside billboards make them think the advertiser is trustworthy and 49 per cent agreed that posters do a similar job to TV in making the brand seem trustworthy.
Dave McEvoy, the marketing director at JCDecaux, says the fact that outdoor does not appear next to any editorial is a major reason for these results. "There's a lot of bad news in the press at the moment and that affects consumer confidence in press ads," he says. "Last week, I saw an ad in Metro for Marks & Spencer right next to the headline: 'M&S profits down 40 per cent.' Outdoor doesn't have that problem. It's just advertising. Being so public, big and bold also engenders trust. The fact that an advertiser is advertising in such a public place is like a public display of confidence."
McEvoy cites Nationwide as a perfect example of a brand that has used outdoor to build brand awareness, equity and credibility in a tough market. Having not used billboards widely in the past, Nationwide went live earlier this year with a simple but striking outdoor campaign using taglines such as "Honest. Open. Trustworthy. Your choice of words, not ours."
Arguably, this strategy contributed to Nationwide being named as the number-one most-trusted mortgage brand in the Reader's Digest annual survey this year. Similarly, ING set out to reassure consumers that it is the safe choice for their money with a billboard campaign declaring: "When others zig, zig" and "Sometimes it's good to be a sheep."
A third financial brand that has reaped the benefits of outdoor is HSBC, according to the global director of insight and marketing at Kinetic, Nick Mawditt. The bank ran a billboard campaign promoting its low mortgage rate offer. "Outdoor gave HSBC a way of getting back into public consciousness," he says. "It was as if the bank was saying 'no-one respects our industry at the moment, but we're proud of what we do and proud of our mortgages'. That is bold, positive and brave. Outdoor enables advertisers to make big statements."
But it's not just the beleaguered financial sector where outdoor has worked. The supermarket chain Morrisons used billboards for the first time in May and as a result saw a sharp jump in consideration among non-core customers; half of those interviewed for post-campaign research said they were more likely to shop there during the offer period. The week-long campaign used outdoor to hit home Morrisons' value for money, transforming the billboards into huge coupons proclaiming: "£5 off when you spend £30 or more at Morrisons. Look out for smaller vouchers this week in The Sun and the News of the World."
"This bold offer tapped into the fact that people in a recession aren't just seeking value, they are looking for a value proposition that doesn't sacrifice quality," Mawditt says. "Vodafone followed a similar strategy using billboards to advertise the good news that it was lowering its rates and launching new value-based offers."
Marks & Spencer also used outdoor to striking effect in its latest lingerie campaign. McEvoy argues that "if ever there was a case of amazing brand-building on a billboard, it is this". Indeed, The Sun and the Daily Mail described the ad as "the most traffic-stopping billboard since Eva (Herzigova for Wonderbra)".
The ad also drove sales, with online orders of M&S underwear shooting up by 163 per cent compared with the same week the previous year. The specific green underwear set that was advertised on the poster sold out on pre-order before it even became available in stores.
And for those who are still unsure that outdoor can build brands, the Clear Channel Research Monitor with Millward Brown attempts to quash doubts. The monitor has been going for 13 years and is compiled using data filled in by clients, agencies and specialists.
When asked why outdoor featured on their media plan, 57 per cent said to increase awareness, followed by 25 per cent who said to increase footfall. The monitor also shows that the average prompted campaign awareness uplift before and after a campaign is 58 per cent. "However, campaigns with striking and eye-catching creative can outperform the average by a long way," Clear Channel's marketing director, Pip Hainsworth, says. Hainsworth argues that outdoor can work particularly well in the entertainment sector, proved by the fact that the top-performing creative for 2008 was for ITV's Harry Hill's TV Burp which ran in October. "ITV spent £3.7 million on outdoor in the 12 months to March 2009 and it really understands the effectiveness of billboards," she says. "The Harry Hill campaign, for example, generated an uplift in awareness of 327 per cent."
According to CBS Outdoor, FMCG brands are also waking up to the brand-building powers of outdoor. The CBS national sales director, Peter Charlton, says that Cadbury in particular has upped its spend this year. "Last year, Cadbury only spent money on one brand; this year, five different brands have already been advertised via outdoor," he says.
Plenty of other FMCG brands are also using outdoor heavily, such as Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Nestle and GlaxoSmithKline. Outdoor works for FMCG because it builds frequency quickly and it gets across a core message clearly on a poster, Charlton says.
"Advertisers are no longer just saying 'I'll stick a few posters next to the point of purchase', they realise outdoor is about having a genuine connection with a consumer throughout the day," he adds.
"The next big challenge is to show that outdoor not only drives awareness and is good for promoting reassurance, but it can also drive sales and make other media work more effectively."