Moving Targets

By Published on .

The on-the-go consumer drives in new forms of outdoor marketing.

Wherever Mark Fernandez goes, people stop and stare. Some greet him with smiles, others wave, a few just shake their heads. The 38-year-old comedian and self-described "attention horse" from southern California loves all the fawning, but it isn't his sense of humor that has the masses turning their heads. It's his car.

"You cannot help but look at this thing," says Fernandez of his 2000 Volkswagen Beetle GLS, which is currently shrink-wrapped in a bright purple advertisement for Jamba Juice, a fruit-smoothie chain. Fernandez, a driver for Los Angeles-based FreeCar Media, willingly turned his wheels into a rolling billboard for two years in exchange for $350 a month, meant to cover his insurance and car payments. Jamba Juice execs specifically chose him because he matched their target consumer: young, active, energetic, and health-conscious. And since birds of a feather tend to, you know, the company is confident that when Fernandez drives his average 1,300 miles a month to his favorite hangouts, their message reaches similar-minded folks. The "edgy" medium offers highly targeted product placement unavailable through other means, says Michael Keller, vice president of marketing for Jamba Juice. "We can pretty much choose the exact neighborhoods we want to be in. Sure, you can do that with a billboard, but a billboard is very static and it doesn't have much personality."

As consumers become more mobile and less attentive to traditional ad vehicles, companies such as FreeCar Media - collectively known as "alternative media" - are redefining the outdoor/out-of-home category. Outdoor advertising has always been considered the ultimate mass medium, reaching everyone with side-of-the-road billboards and ads on bus shelters, telephone kiosks, and truck exteriors. But over the past year, the alternative segment has recast outdoor as a niche marketing tool, offering businesses more creative ways to reach specific types of on-the-go consumers.

Wrapped cars are just the beginning. Ads inside buses, on airplane overhead bins, elevators, gas pumps, public rest-rooms, even imprinted on beaches, have all crept onto advertisers' media plans. While the alternative segment only garners about $100 million to $200 million of the current $4.8 billion outdoor ad industry, it's quickly gaining ground, so much so that this spring the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) launched an Alternative Media Council. The council already boasts 25 members, with at least as many applications currently under review.

"There is a growing need among marketers to minimize waste and hone in on their audience," says Diane Cimine, executive vice president of marketing for the OAAA. "Alternative media is how we take the outdoor medium and target it to consumer segments the way other media do, putting it in places that suit the lifestyles of the people who marketers' are trying to reach. People are on the go so much today that you now have to go to them with your messages, rather than wait for them to come to you."

Consumers are in fact becoming more restless. The number of trips Americans take per year (whether by plane, train, automobile, feet, or some other means) has risen from 145 billion to 379 billion since 1969, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In that same period, the number of vehicles on the road increased at an annual rate of almost 1 1/2 times that of the population; today there is one car for every licensed driver. Air travel is also on the rise, up 5 percent since 1998, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.

At the same time, use of most traditional advertising media is declining. According to media merchant bank Veronis Suhler, daily hours spent with newspapers, magazines, and television (except cable and satellite), will have negative compounded annual growth rates through 2004. Radio is the only traditional medium expected to grow - but slowly - by about 90 minutes per person per year. (See "Radio-Active" on p. 28) In contrast, time spent online will grow by 18.4 hours per person annually, reaching 228 hours in 2004. Increased time on the Internet - a medium that is highly targeted to user tastes - may cause consumers to expect similar customization from all media.

Such trends will drive the alternative segment, says Chip Fisher, president of Park Place Media, a New York-based company that places ads on parking meters and parking garage tickets. He anticipates total spending on alternative media will grow by as much as $500 million over the next few years. As the number of ad-driven outlets proliferates - the average U.S. household today receives 63 television stations compared with 10 in 1980, for example - attention-grabbing via traditional methods will become increasingly difficult. "People on the move are actually easier targets because they are free from all other mediums," says Fisher. "Outdoor is finally being rediscovered."

Marck de Letour certainly hopes so. His company, Advent Advertising, based in Kansas City, Missouri, adheres brand logos on aircraft overhead bins. "AirAds" officially launched in June on Vanguard Airlines, a small Midwestern carrier with about 1.5 million passengers annually. "The average domestic flight is between 90 minutes and 2 hours long, and for much of that time passengers are sitting idle, staring at the walls," he says. "That's wasted time, from an advertiser's point of view." At press time, no advertisers, save Vanguard's own internal marketing division, and no major airlines, had come on board. But when the Internet becomes available on aircraft - Boeing announced it will begin installing in-flight online access by next year - airplane walls will become a must-buy, insists de Letour. "For 2 hours, a passenger might be typing away and look up to see an ad for They'll make their reservations right there, before they touch down."

Advertising in the friendly skies helped's business get off the ground. When the Calgary-based online travel agency launched in May, execs wanted to spark excitement among their active, computer savvy 25- to 39-year-old targets. "These are very mobile people who are light TV viewers," says Melanie James, advertising coordinator for "We needed to be where people didn't expect us, to be sure they'd remember us." The company included several alternative venues in its media mix, including 135 full color posters on the backs of airplane tray tables on West Jet Airlines, a regional Canadian carrier. In a more grounded effort, it ran TV commercials on screens installed in elevators in downtown high-rise buildings. In terms of consumer response to the campaign, James says that anecdotal feedback shows the ads have been incredibly effective in fueling the company's "cutting-edge" reputation, as well as differentiating it from competitors.

Alternative media's ability to break through the glut of advertising and get the right messages to the right audience at the right time, makes it an attractive buy, says Michael DiFranza, president and CEO of Captivate Network, which offers the elevator medium in 50 high-profile office towers in the U.S. By June 2001, DiFranza says, 500 buildings nationwide will be outfitted, potentially reaching 1.5 million 25- to 54-year-old business professionals with average incomes of $90,000 to $100,000 everyday. So far, advertisers include luxury automobiles, travel destinations, and local businesses. "In the morning people listen to the radio, on the commute they see billboards or read the paper on the train, but once they go through the doors of their office, advertisers are out of touch," he says. "We've expanded the time that they can talk to their target."

And then there's cost. While alternative media companies are as varied in their pricing as they are in approach, they are generally considered cheaper than most traditional competitors, such as TV and magazines - but more expensive than other outdoor vehicles, such as billboards, since they are more readily targetable. Jack Gallagher, vice president of sales and marketing for BusTV Advertising, an Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey company, boasts of his company's ability to deliver 1.7 million highly coveted over-50 consumers a year, for pennies a head. For $2,700 a month, advertisers can air two 15-second commercials on satellite TV during Coach USA bus trips between New York and Atlantic City. Since 68 percent of the more than 2 million annual day-trippers to the gambling mecca are seniors, pharmaceutical companies, assisted-living complexes, and elder estate planning firms are lining up.

However, Peter Riordan, vice president, director of out-of-home and non-traditional media for BBDO, takes a more cautious approach. "Our clients pay us to kick the tires to see if this stuff is any good. If we put their money into something that's a huge flop, they would blame us, and rightly so." One of the greatest difficulties with alternative media - in addition to the wide variety of production requirements - is the lack of audience measurement, especially with media that's mobile (wrapped cars) or has video components (elevator ads), because you don't really know who's seeing the messages and when. There are also equipment failure risks. "The out-of-pocket costs for many of these things may be low, but many companies overestimate their audience and underestimate their cost of operations," he says.

For some marketers, though, the attraction to alternative has less to do with cost, and more with image. Over the past year, Joan Monte, media director for beverage company Snapple, has been experimenting with non-traditional media - wild postings, ATM-wraps, postcards - in an effort to bring a local flavor to the national brand. For the past two summers the company literally made its mark in the sand at two beaches on the New Jersey shore. For between $18,000 and $30,000 a month, Beach N'Billboard, based in East Rutherford, New Jersey, imprints about 5,000 ad messages per sponsor daily. "It's reaching our consumers during their highest consumption period [summer]," says Monte. "We may not know exactly how many people we're reaching, but we're confident that it is adding another layer of awareness and getting those people who aren't stuck inside watching TV." While TV and radio will always be major media components, Monte expects alternative to play an increasingly bigger role. "Who knows where we'll be next? Taxicab tops? On the bottom of your shoe? We're open to it all," Monte says.

Snapple isn't alone. Jack Sullivan, vice president and out-of-home media director for Starcom Worldwide, says that some of his clients (he won't name names) have put half their budgets into alternative. "Advertisers are really going crazy about it," says the 20-year advertising veteran. "These out-of-the-ordinary mediums burn in people's minds. Not every client cares about CPMs when it makes an impact."

Still, isn't there such a thing as advertising overkill? Perhaps, says Park Place Media's Fisher, but that doesn't mean that alternative in-your-face tactics aren't effective. On the contrary: "If, as an advertiser, you have a chance to get to mega-brand status by being everywhere, you've got to go for it. Sure, there is a saturation point, but we haven't reached it - yet."

Most Popular