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