January 24, 2010

Outdoor: The only ad platform that survives social media

David SparkI was thinking about how my media consumption has changed recently. Much has been written about the subject, and I’ve definitely changed my media consumption over the years. Here’s what has drastically changed:

Podcasts, not radio: I am a heavy podcast consumer (see my podcast listening lineup for 2010). I rarely listen to the radio, even though I appear on it sometimes.

All news online and via mobile: My main news channels are RSS feeds via Google Reader. Ads rarely get through and when I go to a blog, I mentally block out all ads. I can’t recall a single banner ad I’ve ever seen. I’ve never consciously clicked on an online ad. I can’t remember the last time I purchased a print newspaper.

TiVo is my friend: I never watch TV live. I always watch pre-recorded shows and zip through commercials. The only live TV I watch is sports, but that’s starting to time shift as I’m watching the Colts and Jets play right now but I’m about 20 minutes behind so I can zip through most of the commercials.

I’m sure most of you reading this blog have similar stories of shifts in media consumption. And it got me to start thinking, if a company does want to reach me and people like me through traditional media, where can they go? What is the one area of traditional advertising that hasn’t been affected by the Internet and social media? The only answer I could come up with is outdoor.

Unlike other forms of interstitial advertising, there’s no way to avoid outdoor ads

As I’m waiting for the bus, driving my car, or sitting on public transit, I can’t not look at the advertising. It’s actually something to do. I can’t look at the people. You know what happens if you make direct eye contact with anyone on the bus? They’ll think you’re coming on to them or you’re a psychotic killer. Isn’t that everyone who rides the bus?

Cryptic Zynga billboard from RyanSpoon.com

Cryptic Zynga billboard from RyanSpoon.com

Zynga, the online and mobile app developers, has purchased a whole series of billboards up and down 101 from San Francisco to San Jose. Initially to promote their applications, but now they’re being used billboards as a hiring tool, promoting the web address zynga.com/jobs on the giant billboards.

There is a seemingly endless inventory with all other forms of advertising: print, radio, TV, and online. Conversely, there are a limited number of roads. And more to that point, we have the Highway Beautification Act which prevents highways from being overloaded with billboards. It’s an important law that prevents our roads looking like a NASCAR event or the end of the movie “Brazil.” There’s a reason there’s only one Times Square and only one Las Vegas. We don’t want to be swimming in ads.

What traditional advertising options are left for brands?

Effective easy to buy traditional advertising options are starting to get slimmer and slimmer. What’s left?

  • Beyond outdoor, are there any other avenues?
  • How can advertisers make the most of outdoor? Is it implementing web addresses, social networking addresses, or QR codes (2D barcodes) into outdoor ads?
  • What are effective means to initiate a relationship through outdoor and then continue it online? Outdoor and online both have their pluses and minuses. How can their strengths and weaknesses play together?

Ultimately, I see outdoor’s place as being the only unaffected traditional media outlet that can effectively launch social media conversations.

Photo by stuckincustoms published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 licenseDavid Spark, a partner in Socialmedia.biz, helps businesses grow by developing thought leadership through storytelling and covering live events. Contact David by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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  • tom

    8 Moeglichkeiten Twitter zu nutzen
    Immer wieder werde ich gefragt, wozu man Twitter im Marketing verwenden soll. Der erste Blick auf Twitter entt

  • Deborah

    You are assuming that everyone consumes media just like you do. There are some people (gasp) in America who still watch the evening news on TELEVISION and some other old timers who read the PRINTED NEWSPAPER. You are correct that social media users cannot avoid outdoor, but it is a fallacy to assume that the other mass media are dead.

    • I don't believe mass media is dead, but you missed my critical line at the beginning: “if a com

  • You're right. Most all outbound marketing channels have ways of blocking ads. Caller ID, DVR, etc. But billboards are mostly unavoidable.

  • Sky

    Good analysis David. Outdoor ads are one version of integrated advertising, just larger versions of hood ornaments and logo’d clothing. In the virtual sapce, we already see lots of product placement, e.g. 007 drives the BMW which subsequently sells BMWs. Probably the most effective way to keep people from tuning out ads altogether will be to make them part of the story.

    • Good point and virtual product placement is actually another “outdoor” possibiltiy for digital media.

  • The only problem is that more and more, people are gazing down at their mobile device, actively texting, or studying the screen of their GPS systems. Then there are people like me who work from home and rarely leave the house. Wondering how effective billboard will be down the road (no pun intended).

    • I work out of home as well, and I still see plenty of billboards because I leave the home, take public transit, and drive. As for mobile device, yep, that's me. I stare at it all the time. But when I'm walking to the bus stop or I'm on the bus I have to look where I'm going. And where I'm going usually directs me to a billboard.

  • You make an interesting point, and I can think of one other avenue that would continue to work, and that is a marketing program delivered on the lid of a hot or cold fountain drink. These lids hold CDs, DVDs, coupon books, gift cards, flash drives, etc., essentially becoming personal billboards that lead you on to a full marketing experience. They stare you in the face when you drink from the cup and can have massive distribution through fast food restaurants, theaters, or event venues. They cut through the clutter and can deliver an interactive online, mobile, and social experience.

    Yes, I am associated with the company, but they work precisely because they do on a personal scale what billboards do on a larger scale – compel you to look at them. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lidworks.com

  • David. I see your point that traditional media continue to be circumvented and marginalized by selected target groups, but I like what Larry Brauner says about the impact of outdoor advertising on texters, gamers, etc. as well as its effect on connected workers at home. Outdoor, in my mind, has always been a good reinforcer of other media, not a principal generator of awareness beyond brand name. Maybe I missed your point, but I'm not sure how it functions as a social media conversation starter today or tomorrow.

    • Don, you're right, outdoor really can only bring awareness. But if you put a directive on that outdoor message, such as “check out this website,” or “follow us on Twitter,” or “Take a picture of this QR code,” then you've just initiated more messaging, directing to a story, or a relationship. And it all started through traditional media for an audience that has tuned out most traditional media.

  • Interesting piece.
    I have two comments to make:
    1. It is only time before outdoor becomes extremely interactive. Like as you are passing a board or staring at one, it prompts you to have your own fun, using some app on your iPhone that connects with it. Like a set of fast changing words there, which you have to simultaneously find on your iPhone as well, etc. The day's not far.. !

    2. This is just a funny rejoinder. I once blogged about an app that we had created for a client, which made social media look like a billboard. So a different kind of convergence happened there. Check it out: http://blog.socialwavelength.com/2009/09/06/billb

  • first, i have to say that you have a great blog. keep it up :)

    i have to agree with you thatlwe can not totally eliminate traditional media such as an outdoor ad.. in my business, an ad campaign was ran by Prova which includes traditional media and i have to say it was really effective… old school media + new forms of media = a successful business…

  • margaret

    personally I think billboards are sign pollution and while I may glance at them as I pass by, I most certainly never remember one or have had one leave an impression on me. Unless, of course, it's: Billboards are sigh pollution.

    • BillboardsROCK

      Margaret is with Scenic America – Scenic Texas and her agenda is to seek out anyone who puts anything positive about outdoor on the internet or otherwise and try to blast it for her own gain.

  • Tom

    Nielsen: Social Media Usage has increased by 82% in 2009
    http://wp.me/pIvrn-39

  • In-store marketing and particularly product packaging for all traditional, physical products you see is an example of another “ad platform” that you cannot avoid.

    • Ah, very good point. That is marketing I can't avoid. It could loosely be put in the same realm as outdoor as you have to be physically out of the house to see it, but actually not. Have a tube of Crest toothpaste at home keeps reinforcing my decision to purchase another tube when I go out to the drugstore.

  • Mobile ad's through applications are a further area.
    How much time do I spend on the iphone, too much my girlfriend would argue!

    This is where I also encounter ad's which are normally targeted at the demographic of the user.

    Interesting article, good thoughts!

  • David – Thanks for bringing to my consciousness something that until now I'd thought only subconsciously: that I've been noticing billboards more. For me, at least, in large part that's because of the technological advances of the delivery system; the human eye is trained to notice movement.

    I must politely challenge your conclusion about radio not surviving Social Media.

    As another reader has pointed out, it is a mistake to generalize to the rest of the world your own lack of interest in radio listening.

    And I have to ask: You mention both in this posting and in your bio that you often appear on radio as a guest. I'm guessing you think those radio stations have listeners. Why else would you invest your time & energy there?

    To everyone's surprise, radio has proven to be the most effective form of mass media to drive targeted traffic to a website.

    In hindsight, the reason is obvious: While few people watch television while working at their computers and few people read the newspaper in front of their computers, many millions of people listen to radio while at the computer.

    Any business website owner who has mastered radio advertising will tell you that as soon as the first commercial airs, their Web traffic leaps. (Naturally, I'm referring to well crafted campaigns. The typical, “we don't know anything about radio advertising so let's try to be funny and/or to say as many different things as possible” campaign will, of course, fail.)

    At least one other party disagrees with your conclusion about Social Media killing radio: Social Media. When Facebook decided to throw a big (real, not virtual) party in Houston, how did they promote it? With a big, effective radio advertising campaign.

    • Good point and it's actually why I listen to podcasts. I can listen to them while I'm doing something else. But again my premise was this wasn't “all people” but rather people like me. And I know there are definitely audiences on radio and I also know there are people not like me in their media consumption.

      Social media has one massive fallibility and that's the ability to knowingly purchase reach. You can do it with traditional media, but you can't with social. So that's why people PAY for media rather than EARN media through social. You purchase radio or any other media and you get access to those audiences. I'm not claiming there are no audiences. I'm claiming that audiences like me are shrinking. How can you reach me?

  • I would also say that content targeted advertising is on the rise, and you will continue to see more advertising that sits on top of tv programs (no breaks, but full sponsorships or partial sponsorships) and advertising on hulu.com, youtube.com and other social media outlets where you are viewing free content and to watch it for free you need to watch advertising from single or sponsors. Same is true of online news outlet content. It’s a win/win for the sponsor and the audience, but I think it needs to be done right and more disruptively than it has been in the past.

  • Philip Gabbard

    thanks Dan O'Day for your tremendous insight. Personal opinion and personal media consumption does not qualify as valid research. My hope is that Mr. Spark is not guiding too many advertisers with that type of subjective focus. Results based media (direct-response), thrives in Radio, Broadcast TV and Outdoor too. This objective fact says that we (as media consultants) can track results for every dollar that an advertiser spends within selected mass-mediums and prove it's worthiness. We don't guess Mr. Sparks. All media works, when you know how to work it.

  • Teresa

    Margaret, you may notice that yours was the only truly negative comment about billboards. They are a part of our country's growth & prosperity and are far from being pollution. Not only are they affordable and efficient, they are sometimes more than memorable–they're iconic. They have even been replicated & used in print ads, television, & movies to illustrate our evolving culture. They continue to be an interesting, creative form of advertising, even as technology advances and our habits follow.

  • I agree with you for the most part, particularly regarding outdoor advertising as a means to promote start-up social media companies and for traditional advertisers to engage a social media audience.

    That said, I do believe that the notion that the internet is an ineffective means of branding is false. Observe the Facebook, Twitter and other buttons located directly beneath this comment form. Those are there for a reason.

    I have been active on a social media site called Mixx since shortly after its inception. Mixx grew rapidly and quickly developed partnerships with large, mainstream media organizations who placed the 'Add to Mixx' and 'Mixx it' buttons on all their stories. These include the NYT, CNN, LA Times and I believe USA Today and even a few others. Almost every time I have mentioned Mixx in conversation with people whom to the best of my knowledge had never heard of the site, those with whom I was conversing said that they had indeed seen heard of Mixx and could recall seeing the logo on multiple occasions.

    There is definitely a significant benefit in terms of sheer credibility on this already huge and ever-growing web associated with effective online branding campaigns.

    It won't be long before the Coca-Cola's and the Home Depot's start figuring out that brand repitition is brand repetition regardless of the media type on which it occurs. Online advertising right now is a bargain for companies with medium-large budgets seeking branding-based ad campaigns.

  • As a traveling billboard owner operator I must agree. Traveling billboards are big bold and hard to ignore. The beauty of traveling billboards is its ability to reach your targeted audience and then move to the next targeted area, thereby saving the cost of multiple buys and production costs