OUTDOOR FACES THE FUTURE: Dotcom cash is enabling the sector to invest in its own hi-tech products. Delwyn Swingewood reads the writing on the wall

Outdoor has cleaned up its act. The image of badly pasted posters peeling from sagging billboards is long gone. Today’s sites employ the latest technical wizardry to ensure that the medium improves the message.

Outdoor has cleaned up its act. The image of badly pasted posters

peeling from sagging billboards is long gone. Today’s sites employ the

latest technical wizardry to ensure that the medium improves the


And with internet companies desperate to get their brands in consumers’

faces, the hard cash is beginning to roll in.

Zenith Media estimates gross spend was pounds 585 million last year and

forecasts it could reach pounds 615 million this year. At one stage, the

outdoor sector was anxious about the prospect of losing revenue as

Britain prepared to fall in line with other EU members and ban tobacco

ads. Luckily the dotcom boom seems to have come to the rescue.

Outdoor Connection estimates that dotcom adspend rose from pounds 1

million in 1998 to pounds 13 million last year. The specialist says more

than 70 new internet companies turned to outdoor advertising in 1999.

The biggest spender - online auction house QXL - ploughed pounds 2.2

million into the sector.

The prospects for this year look even better.

Sales people who work in the sector claim outdoor can provide two

services for the price of one. As well as being a mass medium ideal for

building brands, more accurate research means it can fulfil the same

brief as a highly targeted direct-mail campaign.

For the recent London Fashion Week, Ready2Shop.com hijacked the South

Kensington underground walkway, using creative from Bartle Bogle


Commuters were treated to 144 metres of posters depicting Trinny Woodall

and Susannah Constantine naked save for a few strategically placed


Motive media manager Jayne Potter, who bought the tactical campaign

through transport specialist TDI, says outdoor was the ideal medium.

’Kensington is the greatest footfall carrier for people attending the

London Fashion Week shows, and it’s a highly targeted environment,’ she


A decade ago, only 35 of the top 100 advertisers used outdoor. Today

that figure stands at 93. Procter & Gamble increased its outdoor spend

to pounds 2.8 million in the third quarter of last year. In two years,

the fmcg giant has risen from the 24th to the fourth-highest outdoor


For internet companies, which need to build brands almost overnight, the

appeal of outdoor has proved irresistible. It is half the price of radio

and a quarter the cost of TV, and its ability to reach a huge number of

people in a very short space of time is a big bonus. ’In an age of media

fragmentation, with the traditional media chasing smaller audiences,

outdoor can be considered the last of the broadcast media,’ says David

Tallis, joint managing director of Poster Publicity.

’Out of home’ is also regarded as an international medium, because it

gives advertisers the chance to spread a global message rapidly and

cost-effectively. That’s why The Wall Street Journal Europe is using

outdoor as the main plank of its current campaign, which also promotes

its website.

’We needed a high-impact format for WSJ Europe and outdoor is the best,’

says Doug Baxter, the paper’s senior director of marketing.

But outdoor has also built its popularity through innovation, which has

been sparked by the industry’s consolidation. Ten years ago, there were

more than 150 contractors. Today there are 17, four of which control 80

per cent of the market: More Group, part of Clear Channel, has a 23 per

cent share, JC Decaux has 22 per cent, TDI 20 per cent and Maiden 15 per

cent. This concentration means the big four are investing heavily in all

areas, ranging from research and marketing to technology.

Decaux pledged it would pump pounds 50 million into its UK arm,

following last year’s acquisition of the beleaguered Mills & Allen. The

French outdoor giant commissioned Sir Norman Foster to design a

high-quality illuminated scrolling panel to replace its much-criticised

Ultravisions. It is also axing its poor quality sites.

Decaux also plans to introduce timesharing on a trial basis in Paris,

its home turf. Under the scheme, advertisers will be able to buy space

across a whole city, giving them blanket coverage for an agreed number

of hours. If introduced, timesharing could become central to any brand

launch because it will enable advertisers to gain critical mass. Owning

a city, airport or underground system would prove a powerful weapon in

the brand war.

David Pugh, managing director of Maiden Outdoor - the last big outdoor

independent - says his company is investing between pounds 4 million and

pounds 5 million in upgrading its offering.

It has experimented with heat- and light-reactive inks that enable a

poster to display different messages depending on time and temperature.

It has also introduced a website, www.posterinfo.com, which provides

background information on campaigns and links to advertisers. The site

has registered more than 1.2 million page impressions since its launch

12 months ago.

The outdoor sellers are also trying to improve their service to


TDI and Clear Channel have introduced barcoding on their outdoor sites,

enabling them to inform buyers which sites have been posted. This paves

the way for real-time trading.

Nick Maddison, buying director at Blade, welcomes these moves but is

sceptical about whether they or any similar systems will be


’There’s a great wariness of letting buyers know what’s actually

available. The contractors think if we had those details real-time, it

might push down the price.’

Audience measurement system Postar has been another factor in helping

outdoor change its image. The system, introduced in 1995, is still

evolving but there is a determination to market it more effectively as

the industry-wide standard.

In addition, contractors are commissioning their own research. Clear

Channel has launched a pan-European project to try to identify what

advertisers and agencies expect.

’Our approach is to identify their perceptions of the medium’s strengths

and weaknesses, then respond with improvements which add value to their

campaign,’ says Clear Channel’s group marketing manager Robert


The first findings are expected by April.

The jury is still out on whether industry-wide consolidation will enable

contractors to exploit the link between outdoor and other media,

particularly radio. Clear Channel and Scottish Radio Holdings, which

acquired More Group and Score Outdoor respectively, both have extensive

broadcast interests.

Cross-media packages such as CBS Plus are a reality in the US, but would

they work over here?

Peter Smyth, the former managing director of More Group UK and now Clear

Channel’s regional director for Northern Europe, takes the view that

’outdoor and radio can be complementary’, but feels such packages are

’some way off’ becoming a reality.

Tallis is more outspoken. He says companies need to change their

structures radically before they can contemplate such moves.

’Cross-media selling is still an urban myth,’ he states.

Whatever happens in the future, the outdoor industry realises it cannot

afford to be complacent - even when high-spending dotcoms are adding to

its coffers (they are expected to account for an estimated 15 per cent

of spending this year).

As Smyth points out: ’There will be fallout. Of 100 internet start-ups,

only ten may survive. Our most important task is to market the medium

and encourage other new advertisers to embrace the sector.’


David Pugh, managing director of Maiden, says the failure of John

Prescott’s transport policy is a boon for outdoor. ’There are more cars

on the road going more slowly, which means outdoor is getting more

exposure,’ he explains.

Similarly, advertisers have a captive audience on London’s Underground

as more travellers struggle on to the overcrowded system; what’s bad

news for Joe Public is good news for American-owned transport specialist


And the Tube’s frequent breakdowns benefit Taxi Media, the UK’s largest

taxi ad contractor.

The explosion in the dotcom sector means Taxi Media is experiencing a

record first quarter, with web-related products backing up continuing

support from traditional advertisers such as airlines Continental,

United and Delta. Marketing manager Adelle Springer says activity

crosses the product range - Easy-Everything has bought double doors and

Excite has booked fully liveried cabs.

Springer points out that because company directors frequently use taxis,

the vehicles provide exposure to the stock market and potential business

partners. The Wall Street Journal is using 300 sets of taxi double

panels in its latest campaign.

TDI’s marketing director Mike Baker says bus and Tube advertising, like

taxis, have benefited from dotcom spend. He is also witnessing

increasing interest from finance companies, with brands such as Norwich

Union, Prudential and CGU using the sector for the first time in the

past 12 months.

Unlike the Underground itself, TDI is at the cutting edge of


Since the King’s Cross fire, Tube posters have been restricted to paper,

rather than more durable but flammable materials. But the introduction

of fireproof vinyl should allow for experimentation that will make the

medium even more versatile. The company is also experimenting with

crosstrack rail projection, working with Scandinavian company DHJ -

which pioneered the system in Sweden - and electronics company Racal.The

system allows still or moving images to be shown on the wall facing the

platform. The film stops as the train enters the station.

’A limited number of stations - probably about 100 - have crosstrack

capabilities,’ says Baker, who believes projections could be in use in

the next two years. In the longer term, TDI is looking at flat-screen

technology for escalators.

How long it will be before electronic signs replace paper and paste is a

moot point. Some think a few years; others maintain decades. Baker says

the advent of digital technology has already driven down production

costs, which means trains and buses can be painted or fully wrapped.

Bus advertising is also exploiting new technology. Last year,

advertisers began using lenticular panels on London’s buses. The panels

create a giant optical illusion as the bus moves - when Fila put

footballer Ian Wright on one of them, he appeared to change out of a

suit and into to his football kit.

There is, however, a downside. The double-decker bus fleet is being

reduced, especially outside London. Sheer cost means minibuses or

single-deckers are servicing city centres and small towns. David Tallis,

joint managing director of Poster Publicity, points out that smaller

buses don’t give advertisers the same impact as double-deckers and this

will eventually affect the sector.


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