"This is the most revolutionary development in outdoor since I've been in the industry," said John Connolly, senior VP, Grey Global Group's MediaCom, whose out-of-home career spans two decades.
Nielsen Outdoor, a unit of VNU media measurement and information, plans a phased rollout of a new global-positioning-system-based measurement service to begin in early 2005. New York City will be the next, followed by eight of its largest U.S. designated market areas. The Chicago data analyzes outdoor media audiences according to age group, gender, race, education and income.
Up until now, outdoor has lacked sophisticated measurement tools akin to TV, radio or print, and only captures 2.2%, or $5.1 billion of U.S. ad spending. The industry's dominant measure, historically, has been traffic studies, which estimate gross viewership of billboards by calculating the number of cars that travel a particular road and pass a particular sign on a given day. These don't provide insight into the type of audience or frequency with which a given billboard is viewed in a day.
"It's been a great hardship for us at the agency," said Cynthia Evans, senior VP, Mediaedge:cia's MediaLab, part of WPP Group. "For our clients, it is difficult because there's no accountability."
Led by project manager Lorraine Hadfield, Nielsen recruited 750 people in the city of Chicago and surrounding counties to participate in the first phase over a 10-day period in April. Each participant, selected by demographics as well as for their traffic patterns, carried an Npod, a GPS device that uses proprietary technology.
The Npod tracked the participants' travel patterns from the time they departed their home until they returned. At the end of the 10 days, Nielsen took that data and laid it onto street maps coded with the latitude and longitude coordinates of 12,000 outdoor sites in the Chicago region, provided by the Traffic Audit Bureau. The result: "Specific demographic information about the audience that is viewing outdoor at a much more granular level than was available before," said Nancy Fletcher, CEO, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, the industry trade group.
Taking a tip from the experience of Postar, a joint industry committee in the United Kingdom, Nielsen Outdoor has developed and applied to its data a "visibility adjustment index." This factors in variables such as a viewer's speed of travel, the distance from which the display is first visible, and whether or not the display is illuminated or obstructed. "This is measuring not only the traditional opportunity to see, but also likely to see," said MediaCom's Mr. Connolly. Funding for the Nielsen venture comes from the measurement outfits and media agencies, although the lion's share of backing comes from the major outdoor players' pockets. "We appreciate that the new ratings and measurement for the industry will be very valuable," said Paul Meyer, CEO, Clear Channel Outdoor.
Some in the outdoor industry predict the new data will cause a shift in the type of marketers who buy outdoor. Package-goods companies, said the OAAA's Ms. Fletcher, "use outdoor in a relatively big way but not nearly to the percentages as they use other media. They're also sophisticated marketers who demand credible audience measurement."