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The Bloom is Not Yet Off This Rose

With all the gloom and doom surrounding the economy, can outdoor advertising survive?

By Diane Cimine

The naysayers are having a field day with all the talk about advertising spending being in the tubes. Seems like the party is over and only absolutely essential marketing dollars are going to get placed and you know what that means for outdoor advertising. Worried? Well, you shouldn’t be because it can be outdoors’ day in the sun, if it’s played right.

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  • For one thing, the big scare ­ the softening of the marketplace ­ was completely predictable. The same pattern has been in place for the past 30 plus years. The year of presidential elections always coincide with the surge in sponsor support behind the Olympics and so… ad dollars go way up. Then guess what? What goes up must come down. Of course, in addition, dot-com spending also has wavered, making for a double whammy, though wavering does not portend death, merely sensible leveling. Don’t despair! What you really need right now are some fresh strategies because outdoor is anything but tapped out, and frankly, now would be the time to put some new thinking into high gear.

    Five BIG Ideas for a Healthy and Happy Year: Outdoor advertising really can work in so many different ways, we like to think of it as the Big Idea! Big on value, big on impact, big on results. Few would argue, though finding new angles to sell through the big idea can be a challenge. Try these on for size:

    1. A focus on target markets. Outdoor offers a myriad of ways to provide focused and relevant messaging and can do so at exceptional efficiencies, though this obvious option is rarely employed. Take for example the Latino marketplace. Long known to be highly receptive to Spanish language advertising and very brand loyal, Hispanic brands have only sporadically used outdoor, relying heavily on television and print instead. Given the continued growth of this market, and the need for targeted venues, outdoor should step up to the plate and show what it can do. TDI has recently launched their own Latino division to respond to this growing demand, and the OAAA as well will be on the road to 8 major markets this year, speaking with agencies in the AHAA network. (AHAA is the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies and can be reached via

    2. Changeable messages. Traditionally, outdoor ads have been posted for a one or two month window. But suppose you could (and you can!) use outdoor to deliver fresh messages across the month or throughout a day? Feature coffee in the morning, switch over to beer in the evening? Alert customers to daily rate changes ­ be as topical as radio, with the visual impact and reach only outdoor can offer. Such use of outdoor is prevalent in most European markets, but used here only rarely. The advantages are plentiful, especially to corporations with multiple products and to all manner of retailers. Now might be the time to explore the available technologies to put such strategies into place, many of which are time-activated, not requiring manual change-outs. Bus shelters, mall posters, airport kiosks, even billboards can be fitted with enabling devices.

    3. Interactive outdoor. More and more outdoor advertising can be the centerpiece of a campaign that links to a radio signal or even the Internet for more detailed product information. Five years ago, the Beverly Center won Best of Show for its Do Tune In creative which alerted consumers to turn on the radio and hear a custom message. Fun and effective! Today, the links are as often to the Internet or your cell phone. TDI just recently launched its StreetBeam product, which enables custom information to be downloaded into a Palm Pilot device by simply pointing and clicking. In addition, several companies are now offering special cell phones that are multifunctional, providing linkages to coded ads that allow the recipient to skip the part about searching the net and have the net be brought to you.

    4. Small market support for big clients. Perhaps the most basic of all applications (and still surprisingly underutilized) is the use of outdoor locally to shore up network television underdelivery of nationally advertised brands. Surely there are two parts to this equation, one of which you don’t always have influence over and that is the marketing strategies of a given brand. However, it’s critical that all outdoor sales staff know what the local delivery of network shows are in their market so they can properly represent the (considerable!) efficiencies that can be realized by choosing outdoor over spot television to fill in advertising gaps. If you aren’t sure about how your market performs, OAAA’s marketing services group would be happy to help you!

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    5. Unusual places and spaces. Outdoor advertising today is everywhere you want it to be, offering tremendous diversity in application and location. This interesting arena of alternative outdoor advertising is growing rapidly, each type suiting a special need and lending depth and breath to an outdoor program. Here is where the lifestyle differences among various consumer groups can be addressed in outdoor enabling added emphasis to target groups. And new printing networks make the production aspects of this strategy pain-free!

    Finally, some caveats: it might seem that with all outdoor advertising has going for it, simply being up there would be enough but that’s a dangerous assumption. Creative is key ­ outstanding creative, show-stopping creative. Suddenly, the world is watching and this is one media where production qualities or a high profile spokesperson can’t mask a poor concept or an overwrought design. Do it right and you’ll have people buzzing all over town, and the press taking notice. Ignore this warning and you might not get a second chance because being OUT there is the yin and yang of the medium. This is a public art gallery and you should be ready for your close up before you post the work. Sad case in point are the many pharmaceuticals smartly embracing outdoor to launch new products or create awareness for existing ones. Problem is a print ad transposed onto a transit poster, for example, just won’t cut it, so professional advice from a creative expert may be just what the doctor should prescribe!

    But don’t run headlong out the door for fear of not measuring up. Creative assistance is a click away at, where you’ll find a primer of basic guidelines and a library of illustrations of what works ­ and what doesn’t. Also many companies have creative directors on staff more than willing to take your brand and make it pop.

    So, 2001 should well be a very good year…provided you keep your thinking cap on!

    Diane Cimine is the Executive Vice President of Marketing for Outdoor Advertising Association of America

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