OUTDOOR MEDIA: Poster persuasion - The turnaround in the fortunes of the outdoor sector has been dramatic. Andy Fry looks at why it is attracting greater ad spend than ever before

It isn’t that many years since the outdoor industry was regarded with thinly-disguised disdain by clients and agencies. Despite its claim to be popular with creatives, it was widely dismissed as a bucket and paste industry reliant on booze and fags.

It isn’t that many years since the outdoor industry was regarded

with thinly-disguised disdain by clients and agencies. Despite its claim

to be popular with creatives, it was widely dismissed as a bucket and

paste industry reliant on booze and fags.

But in the second half of this decade, the range of clients using the

medium has expanded significantly. Since 1995, outdoor revenues have

grown by 56% and are expected to total pounds 528m for 1998.

Looking ahead to 1999, the industry is anticipating double-digit growth

for the fourth year running.

A wide variety of factors have contributed to the rising popularity of

outdoor. The first, and most obvious, has been increased professionalism

and innovation from media owners.

Carole Kerman, managing director of poster buying specialist Outdoor

Connection, says: ’There is no doubt that the medium has got itself in

shape. There has been a lot of investment by media owners in the quality

of their plant and the industry measurement system, POSTAR.’

Alex Ward, Maiden group sales director, believes that part of the

improvement has been down to ’consolidation in the medium. As some

smaller players disappeared, the quality of the sites was brought up to

the standards of major players such as ourselves, More O’ Ferrall and

Mills & Allen.’

Foreign influence

Another important development was the arrival of foreign companies like

JC Decaux and TDI, which sparked a period of innovation and


Spencer Berwin, JC Decaux marketing director, says: ’Six years ago, we

had 34 panels in the UK. By the end of this year, we will have 10,000.

Before we arrived, our rivals had a monopoly in this market and didn’t

have to prove themselves.’

Berwin claims Decaux has encouraged a variety of client benefits since

its arrival. Among these are faster posting of campaigns, greater

emphasis on design and a policy of ’never saying no to a client. We try

to find solutions to problems they never knew they had.’

An example of this, according to Berwin, was Decaux’s work with Mars

Confectionery. ’Mars needed more vending outlets. So we devised a way to

incorporate them into our advertising columns.’

Other Decaux innovations have included sound panels in bus shelters

which react to movement and fragrance diffusers which produce the aromas

of coffee, chocolate, bread and perfume. In one campaign, Levi’s

introduced denim seats at a few selected bus shelters. In another, more

strategic development, it has become possible to print posters which

contain different messages by day and by night. Guinness has run an

execution which shows a glass which is alternately full then empty.

TDI’s impact on buses and the London Underground has been equally


Robert Thurner , TDI marketing manager, says: ’We are more responsive

than ever to the demands of clients. The result is that a dormant medium

has experienced great sales growth.’

TDI-inspired activities have included liveried Tube trains and

illuminated bus sides for Yellow Pages, branded Tube stations for

Capital Radio and Citroen, a branded trav-o-lator at Bank station for

American Airlines, branded Tube strap handles for an Elida Faberge

deodorant and ads directly beneath ’No Smoking’ signs for Nicotinel.

On the buses, new paint techniques have enabled brands like Persil to

wrap buses completely in an ad or dominate the whole of the rear


Illuminated bus-sides have allowed clients like Vodaphone Retail to

create highly visible national campaigns, even in winter. The result is

that the value of bus and Tube advertising has risen from pounds 58m to

pounds 100m since 1995.

Decaux and TDI’s investments have, generally, been matched by the

existing players. Maiden, which is strong in roadside 48-sheets,

transport and point-of-sale is typical of this. According to Ward,

Maiden is engaged in a multi-million-pound scheme aimed at improving the

quality of its sites. ’About 45% of our 48-sheets are now illuminated,

and I think that has been a key factor in encouraging new categories of

clients into the market.’

Against the tide

Despite these efforts to improve sites, the industry’s growth still

seems to fly in the face of prevailing media wisdom. As clients become

increasingly focused on eradicating media wastage, outdoor’s seemingly

random relationship with the public might appear to be an industry


Outdoor is armed with a variety of responses. At one level, it promotes

itself as the last true broadcast medium. Nigel Mansell, managing

director of specialist poster buyer Concord, believes that ’as

television and radio audiences fragment, posters will stand out as the

best way of achieving cost-effective exposure’.

However, outdoor offers targeted packages. The More Group’s six-sheet

market leader Adshel, for example, offers packages of sites to FMCG

advertisers which are designed to target upmarket shoppers.

Maiden, too, has packages aimed at sub-groups such as retail and

confectionery, tobacco and newsagent (CTN) advertisers. In a new

development, it has set aside a pool of 2000 panels with the intention

of introducing greater flexibility into poster planning. ’The aim is to

attract big regional advertisers or national advertisers looking for

regional retail support,’ says Ward. ’We will have very specific data

identifying which individual panels are demographic hotspots.’

Meanwhile, in the bus market, mapping techniques mean audiences can be

targeted from a national level down to individual bus depots.

In addition to targeted packages, Mansell points out that the major

growth in outdoor has come in areas such as ambient, buses and

six-sheets where posters are able to track consumers to the point of


The introduction of six-sheet posters on supermarket sites, by companies

like Maiden, Adshel and Decaux, has helped drive a 126% increase in the

market’s value to pounds 142.9m since 1995. Six-sheets have also been

used to target consumers in places such as nightclubs and leisure

centres. Six-sheet market leader Adshel claims that 75% of the top 100

advertisers in the UK have now used the medium.

On top of these sales claims, outdoor rejects the notion that outdoor

audiences are random. TDI marketing director Mike Baker says: ’People

outdoors are younger, more upmarket and economically active. Many have

just bought something and can be propelled into further buying action.’

Not only that, says Baker, but outdoor, in particular the Tube, is the

only place the dreaded ad avoider can’t escape.

Claims about outdoor have been bolstered by the growing maturity of

research currency POSTAR, and by TDI’s own research models BUSADS and

TRAC. These are reinforced by clients’ studies.

One compelling case study comes from Young & Rubicam, which uses large

poster sites to protect Colgate from the threat of own-brand toothpaste.

Since 1995, Young & Rubicam has targeted 25- to 44-year-old mums and

shoppers with the proposition that more dentists’ families use Colgate

than any other toothpaste.

Y&R evaluation research claims that ’the poster campaign achieved

recognition scores of 49% and communicated strategic brand messages’.

The agency asserts that ’the brand campaign increased the consumer

predisposition toward Colgate in the UK which resulted in higher product

sales. It didn’t just create a short-term blip as promotions do, it

changed the shape of the sales curve.’

Nigel Turner, Switch director of marketing communications at Switch, is

another big user of outdoor: ’We have done a lot of work on

effectiveness and can prove that our advertising generated 200 million

extra transactions - or 20% of our business.’

Seeking improvement

However, Turner stresses that more work needs to be done if clients are

to wholly accept the outdoor proposition. ’Outdoor has come a long way

thanks to competition and consolidation,’ says Turner, ’but we are still

waiting for POSTAR to finish the reclassification of its poster sites.

There is also a need for more research.’

Turner wants to see a more unified marketing approach from media


’Outdoor should view itself as a single medium not a group of owners

offering different things. Advertisers should be able to use a variety

of suppliers from transport and roadside at the same time. I’m generally

pleased but won’t be totally content until there is full


Part of the perceived problem with outdoor is that POSTAR is limited in

its coverage to roadside advertising. Outside TDI’s research measures,

transport is hard to measure. Concord’s Mansell points out that even in

the fast growing point-of-sale market, ’there are no audience


Advertisers are working from a gut feeling that such campaigns will add


Ward admits that ’there are many situations where we can’t give

individual case studies because of the sensitivity of the client

information. But we can prove that companies in sectors such as cereals

and washing powder have experienced significant sales swings as a

results of poster activity. That is encouraging more and more clients to

spend 5-10% of their television budget on trying the medium.’

The industry recognises that more sophisticated planning will become

crucial for outdoor. Concord has launched a division called Quantum

which will ’look for ways to sharpen up planning. We want to uncover

patterns which help us minimise wastage.’

Outdoor Connection’s Kerman adds that there is also a need for

’barcoding of posters to provide verification that they have been posted

at the right time. This is a key issue in building client


Arguably, Maiden put a dampener on outdoor’s prospects when it sent out

a profit warning this autumn. That was largely attributable to the

decision by entertainment and media companies to avoid 48-sheets during

the World Cup. However, Mansell is not convinced by its findings.

’All of our clients are saying they will be advertising the same again

or more. Even if there is a recession, I think cost-effective media like

outdoor may benefit at the expense of television.’

Top outdoor spenders

Sector                      1995(%)   1996(%)   1997(%)   *1998(%)

Motors                         17.5      21.5      17.3       19.2

Entertainment and media        13.6      17.1      17.7       12.1

Food (inc. confectionery)      10.2       8.1       9.9        9.4

Business and industrial         8.1       7.2       9.4        8.9

Finance                        11.6       8.8       7.1        7.3

Retail                          5.2       6.6       7.3        6.4

Travel and transport            5         3.6       4.5        6.2

Drink                          13.4       9.2       6.9        6

Cosmetics and toiletries        2.1       1.9       5.5        4.7

Others                         13.3      16        14.4       19.8

*Shows year to date figures (Jan-Sept 98)

Source: MMS 1998. Figures exclude tobacco and Labour Party expenditure

and transport data


While much of the growth in outdoor revenues can be attributed to better

media owner practice, the decisive factor in whether a campaign works or

not is its creativity. But the consensus seems to be that agencies are

failing to deliver consistently.

Trevor Beattie, TBWA GGT Simons Palmer creative director, says: ’People

are definitely more up for posters than five years ago. But just because

we have new technology and clients are spending more on posters, we

mustn’t fool ourselves that the creative work is good. A lot of it is


Beattie, whose reputation has been enhanced by campaigns for Wonderbra

and French Connection, believes the problem lies with both clients and

agencies. ’Clients still try to say too much in an ad while agencies

don’t give posters respect as a potential lead medium. All the most

talked about campaigns of recent years - Club 18-30, Nike, Benetton,

Benson & Hedges - were posters.’

Of his own work, Beattie professes to be ’most proud of French

Connection which went from being just another fashion retailer to having

a genuine identity and attitude.’ One of the worst faults in the sector,

he believes, are posters where ’you don’t know who is bringing the

message. With campaigns such as fcuk, Pretty Polly and Wonderbra you

can’t think of the poster without thinking of the brand.’

Of work from other agencies, Beattie singles out Lowe Howard-Spink’s

long-running work on Smirnoff and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s Economist

strategy as campaigns that cut through. This is backed by Andy McKay,

LH-S art director, who says: ’The Economist has such a strong

intelligent tone and a very clear graphic signature. Everyone jumps when

they see it.’

BMP DDB’s recent work for Sony, Volkswagen and London Underground have

all been applauded. The key, according to creative director Dave Dye, is

’saying something simple which is right for the target audience.’

He stresses that this can be more difficult than it sounds. ’There are

always account people, planners or clients who come up with a reason why

there should be another photo or a longer headline. But it is important

to keep things to the bare bones.’


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