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Out-Of-Home But Not Out-Of-Place: Millward Brown examines how advertisers are putting renewed emphasis on reaching people when they're away from home

Out-Of-Home But Not Out-Of-Place

Outdoor advertising is getting a great deal of attention from marketers these days. While accounting for only a small proportion of overall ad spending, outdoor advertising, also known as "out-of-home," is gaining share rapidly in both established and developing economies. Only online advertising is growing faster.

Advertisers have good reason for revisiting out-of-home communication. The combined effects of a number of trends have made consumers more mobile. Urbanization is increasing around the globe, and commutes between home and workplace are longer than ever, in terms of both time and distance. With TV audiences now fragmented across dozens of channels, television is not the preeminent reach vehicle it once was. Therefore, marketers who need to reach large numbers of people efficiently are reconsidering out-of-home opportunities.

Emboldened by these developments, out-of-home media companies trumpet the value of omnipresent out-of-home advertising. Paul Meyer, the president of Clear Channel Outdoor, proclaims, "We are the one unavoidable medium. There is no mute button, no off switch. You can't change the channel. We're there." Stephen Freitas, the CMO of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, describes out-of-home this way: "It's a medium that isn't controlled by consumers. You can't zap it or TiVo it."

Clearly, this is a message that advertisers are happy to hear. But in emphasizing the pervasive, "always-on" aspect of outdoor advertising, the vendors may be doing their customers a disservice. Is outdoor truly an "unavoidable" medium? Is it enough to simply broadcast your message 24/7? Or is there another critical issue that a successful out-of-home strategy must address?

It's Always On. So What?

While it's true that there's no "off" switch for outdoor advertising, that fact is simply a by-product of a more fundamental truth: that there is no content associated with outdoor advertising. Outdoor advertising has no program to interrupt, no story to accompany. You can't turn it off, or turn the page, because no programming or editorial content led you to it in the first place. Likewise, the notion that the medium is not controlled by consumers is somewhat misleading. Consumers can't control the medium, but they can and do control something much more important - their attention. Yes, you can put ads out there, and people's eyes will fall on them. But that's like leading a horse to water. The horse decides if he drinks.

The fact is that people only engage with out-of-home advertising when and if they feel like it. Therefore, if you want them to pay attention to your out-of-home ad, you must motivate them to do so.

You must offer them something in exchange for their attention. It may be a simple and seemingly trivial gift, like the color a poster adds to a drab bus shelter, or the amusement a clever billboard provides to someone waiting to cross the street. But an ad that offers nothing is likely to get nothing in return, save for a fleeting glance or a blank stare.

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About the author

Dede Fitch
Global Analyst

Millward Brown