An Out of Home Experience

BillboardThere are bolder, sexier media that Out of Home constantly hugging the limelight. But is there any more dependable? Not dependable in an accountability sense — among the dedicated outdoor agencies in Australia, there’s considerable disagreement on the best system to measure results.

But the last decade has seen the media transformed more so than in the entire 20th century put together. Once upon a time newspapers changed the world, then cinema, radio and TV respectively.

Sure, we laugh at the early pundits who said the Internet would kill off all the other media, but there was a time when, if you wanted to reach teenagers (for example), you put your ads on TV in evening prime time and in a select few magazines. As all media planners know, it’s a very different landscape nowadays, with brands straddling several media and showing solid returns as a result.

But here’s the thing; Out of Home (which includes large format outdoor, small format, transit, and the newer tricks coming from over east and overseas such as scrollers) is on the rise. According to the CEASA, Out of Home has risen for the last ten consecutive quarters — 19 percent in the last quarter of 2003 — making it one of the fastest growing sectors.

In a statement from Adshel, the Out of Home field sits at around 4 percent. So compared to the average of 9 or 12 percent in most European markets, that means there’s huge potential for further growth.

We asked four leading thinkers in Perth Out of Home media why they think that is, what we can do to capitalise on it, and what it means for the sector.

Zane Barry, director of Evoke Media, thinks it cuts through the increased noise that’s characterised the more personal media.

‘It’s increasing because of the ability for Out of Home to reach an increasingly fragmented and mobile market/audience,’ he thinks. ‘There’s more advertising clutter and advertisers obviously want a cutting edge from their competitors. Out of Home is a great option in which to achieve a memorable impact.’

Terry Carmichael, state sales manager of Eyecorp, adds some more theories. ‘There’s no doubt this growth is reflective of a strong advertising market, globally and domestically. Some sources indicate Out of Home is experiencing an overflow from strong TV growth, and operators like ourselves have driven the sector to new heights.

‘Another school of thought suggests Out of Home is one of the last broadcast media enjoying good times as other media fragments, like subscription TV from free-to-air and digital TV, new magazine titles, new radio licences and so on. Out of Home is 24/7, you can’t turn it off and you can’t turn it down.’

Of course, some of the growth is accounted by increasing numbers of people spending time outdoors and out of home.

‘Certainly more and more people — particularly here in Perth — spend a tremendous amount of time outside,’ says Peter Battams, Adshel’s WA sales manager, ‘leisure time seems to be one of those areas that we’re grasping greatly, and we’re subliminally taking in messages that appear outside. When we’re at home, we have to choice to switch off — we can turn the TV off if we don’t want to watch it.’

‘Perth has a very outgoing and mobile lifestyle,’ Evoke’s Barry agrees, ‘and due to the lack of an extensive public transport system, great weather and many places to go and things to do, there are fantastic opportunities and benefits to use Out of Home.

‘Perth’s audience is similar to the rest of Australia, but take for example 24 sheet (3×6 meter) Mobile Trailer advertising. In Sydney an advertiser would need to use about three or four units whereas Perth would require only one to cover a proportionate segment of the target market. Also, as operating costs are lower in the West, we tend to be able to pass these savings on to advertisers.’

Of course, believing Out of Home is a great use of your clients’ advertising budget isn’t worth much unless you have the numbers to back it up, and that’s where the new accountability comes in; systems like ROAM (Road Outdoor Audience measurement) have for the most part been all that Out of Home operators have had to choose from, but it has it’s downsides, and many in the industry are keen to address them.

Adshel’s Battams explains the weakness that’s seen Adshel become one of the most vocal players calling for a new system. ‘It’s extremely important, and we’ve been attempting to address it for a period of years now,’ he says. ‘Unfortunately ROAM hasn’t addressed the issues of street furniture or mobile media. Trains are very hard to measure at any stage and street furniture has not been given the attention through the ROAM system that we believe it should.’

Steve McCarthy, CEO of Adshel, elaborates on what steps Adshel and others are taking; ‘There are issues in audience measurement in Out of Home that make it’s creation very complex. ROAM currently addresses only large outdoor formats. With the formation of the Outdoor Marketing Group (OMG) which includes the CEO’s of key oudoor players [Adshel, APN Outdoor, Eye Corp, JC Decaux, Network Outdoor] the formation of an industry wide system is now firmly on the agenda.’

So if we know Out of Home and Outdoor media perform so well (and are getting bigger), what do we do about it?

‘It’s creatively driven,’ says Adshel’s Battams, ‘We’ve seen that on a number of occasions where people aren’t just taking up the space they’ve got, they’re getting innovative with the way they use it. We’ve seen in with Road Safety and Lotto and we’re now seeing it with ECU. There’s some very innovative ways you can draw attention — unless you use it correctly you’ve just wasted your money.’

Eyecorp’s Carmichael also thinks it’s the creative qualities and potential of the medium that will see Out of Home pick up more momentum.

‘The innovation that has been adopted by the Out of Home sector is key to our growth,’ he says. ‘At Eye, that incorporates our new formats — the world’s largest scroller, our shopping centre initiatives, combos and scrolling eyelites, the deployment of our business first packages in airport lounges, the short notice development of the Jetstar site at Essendon Airport for their May ’04 launch, Forrest Place in Perth with creative executions like the Mini, as well as satellite wall wraps, floor decals, baggage carousels and promotional zones in our airports.’

Adshel’s Battams confirms that the ‘new media’ of the Out of Home sector is getting more exciting. ‘There’s always new innovative ways of doing it — we’re looking at scrollers now that we’ve never had in Perth (but they have in Sydney), particularly along the coast; Scarborough, Cottesloe, Fremantle, places of high pedestrian flow where scrollers would work particularly well.’

According to Eyecorp’s Carmichael, it also works as a support medium, although is maturing beyond even that. ‘The most interesting aspect of Out of Home is that it’s a complementary medium to TV and radio and a great support and extension media to print and magazines,’ he observes, ‘but due to the geographical spread and now the flexibility, it can stand on its own.

‘Out of Home’s key strength as a medium is the ability to build brand awareness, specifically to launch a brand. There’s no reason — in this day and age with our ability to do copy changes every week or two — that Out of Home can’t be used tactically or as a retail medium.’

So are we likely to see a brave new direction by Perth agencies in the near future? After some eye catching techniques such as attaching a mini to the side of a building, is Perth as a market ready to take the Out of Home ball and run the whole distance with it?

‘A few agencies in particular have picked up on it and a creative message is going out there,’ Battams says. ‘What I also think we could do to improve that is come up with an awards system that has some merit in it.’

‘Perth agencies are increasingly on the uptake with Out of Home media,’ Evoke’s Barry agrees. ‘It’s great seeing some of the creative talent in WA being successfully applied to Out of Home recently. It’s generally been underestimated — in most countries they have a far larger use and acceptance of Out of Home.

‘We also notice many advertisers using other media with particular messages and think it would have worked brilliantly and being better executed using Out of Home media opportunities. But as agencies further improve the Out of Home media products and services available, we’ll see continued growth for many years to come.’

Figures, anecdotal evidence and the views of industry leaders all point in one direction; as TV, online, digital and mobile phone advertising and content formats continue to converge and borders across all media sectors continue to blur, outdoor is a great place to spend your clients’ money.

‘We’ll never have 10,000 panels in Perth like they have in London, but none of us want to see that king of saturation, it nullifies the whole medium,’ Adshel’s Battams believes.

‘But there’s still huge growth here. We’re losing a lot of 24 sheeters through natural attrition and various other means, but that opens the door to a lot of streetside advertising and large format in strategic spots, so I think there’s growth there for all sectors of the outdoor market.

‘We’re getting to the stage now from time to time where we’re full; that’s something we’ve never seen in Perth, and that means we actually need growth.’

So the message seems to be this; since there’s only so much space out there, everybody needs to be more creative with what they’ve got. And get in quick, because the figures are enviable, and your competitors are watching them as closely as you are.