Task force aims to tout outdoor's creative punch

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The outdoor advertising industry is hoping to grab a bigger slice of the advertising pie-from dot.coms to autos-with the help of a new industry task force focusing on creative.

The multi-agency task forcelikely will be a loose group of volunteers who promote the medium on a project-by-project basis instead of the benefits of specific outdoor markets, said Rob Jackson, creative director at Adams Outdoor, Kalamazoo, Mich.

"Agencies, marketers, clients and media buyers don't always know what is possible," Mr. Jackson said. The idea also is to pitch outdoor as a media alternative, according to Joe Applegate, director of corporate sales for Adams Outdoor, Charlotte, N.C.

GETTING COMFORTABLE

"Ad agencies are often focused on the next TV commercial and don't go the extra mile," he said. "That's what we want this creative task force to do: Get them comfortable with doing [outdoor]."

Outdoor traditionally receives approximately 3% of the $200 billion in national media outlays annually, but the Outdoor Advertising Association of America estimates that figure will rise to 5% by 2005. Although the industry lost a major chunk of its revenue when tobacco advertising disappeared from the medium, a number of major advertisers have stepped up their commitments.

Ford Motor Co., for example, anted up to $70 million in new outdoor buys last year and is considering committing funds to a study valuing outdoor advertising's effectiveness. Kellogg Co. has hiked its outdoor expenditure from $400,000 last year to $4 million through September of this year. And dot-coms have become the third-largest category for the industry, following automotive and entertainment companies.

"So much has changed. There's a lot that's happening, and we want to be there and be a part of it," Mr. Applegate said. "If we're not in there asking for it, someone else is."

The industry's challenge, said David Bernstein, a former agency creative director and now president of British consultancy Kelland Communications Management, is to present the medium in a new way.

A BRAND LEADER

"Outdoor needs to act like a brand leader," Mr. Bernstein said. "For years, out-of-home was a support or ancillary medium. It is a support-as the platform, not as a supporting player."

The battle to promote creative outdoor already is being waged by a handful of creative directors at adclubs, conventions, universities and in client meetings.

"Before, we were here to make sure the disc was right and the letters were straight on what we received from the agencies," said Rick Robinson, Outdoor Systems' Los Angeles-based national creative director. "We rarely did anything ourselves, and what we did do was very pedestrian."

WINNING CONVERTS

Some converts already have been won over. Connie Garrido, director of nontraditional media at Ogilvy & Mather, New York, said that shop's creative directors are viewing billboards more positively.

"It's such a big canvas for them, especially with wallscapes and [large] postings," she said. "A lot of advertisers are now beginning to see [outdoor] as more than just an outdoor sign. They see that it can actually be part of a campaign."

Outdoor Systems' Mr. Robinson said the time to act is when momentum is on outdoor's side.

"Now that our industry is so strong . . . it's not time to pat ourselves on the back but to strap on our helmets and hit harder."

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