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Inside Outdoor Advertising's Digital Makeover

Old Billboard Medium Embraces Technology, Creativity

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This First Bank billboard won best in show.
This First Bank billboard won best in show.
NEW YORK ( -- Want a glimpse of the future? We suggest you take a look at the campaigns that grace the 60 pages of our print edition, and the sampling of them here. They are, in short order: post digital, hyper local and incredible incubators of word-of-mouth and social-media buzz.

We're talking about out of home.

Art and Science of Outdoor
Art and Science of Outdoor

Technology is transforming this old-as-the-ages ad channel into something far more interactive, whether it's billboards that change color or shift shapes, or bus shelters that interact with the mobile phone in your hands. In some cases, it's the simple placement of a URL to drive eyes from a poster to a Twitter stream or Facebook fan page. In others, it's whiz-bang interactivity, like the button-enhanced augmented-reality ads Wieden & Kennedy created to push "Coraline," or the truly stop-quick, glance-twice choose-your-own-storyline video installations BBDO created for HBO.

But technology is also changing how outdoor is bought, sold and measured. Consider the Traffic Audit Bureau's "Eyes On" initiative, which for the first time allows advertisers to understand how many people actually saw their ad, vs. how many people simply had the opportunity to see it.

We've also got a decent number of what you might call plain old static billboards -- but don't let their simplicity fool you. The humble poster, as these pages prove, can be a canvas for some inspiring creativity and mind-bending 3-D.

Speaking of 3-D, while "Avatar" might have you thinking the medium involves funny glasses and blurry screens, in outdoor it means a fiber-glass Mini Cooper mounted on an Albuquerque board with real, flashing headlights, or the climbing wall dotted with 3-D mannequins that GSD&M built to show off the activities available on Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Then there's the local part. At a time when everyone's starting to talk about hyper-local marketing, billboards have always been that way -- you can target down to the block, after all. Even as many of the small companies who sell ad space on those boards have been swept up in a wave of consolidation, smart marketers know that geographic targeting is one of outdoor's not-so-secret strengths.

Consider the campaign that took home "Best in Show" in the Outdoor Advertisers Association of America's annual Obie competition. FirstBank wanted to tout its services for small businesses, so it went really small, and really local. It plastered rates and contact information for actual entrepreneurs in micro businesses such as babysitting, dog walking, math tutoring and wedding crooning. Want a babysitter? Call Abbey (no, not this Abbey) at 303-999-3928.

Outdoor, just like any other channel, be it TV, radio, print or digital, is also a way to drive sales. Consider the plight of Chang Soda in Thailand, which only had a single digital billboard to launch its new fizzy drink. Its agency, JEH Bangkok, took a page from the stunt-marketing playbook and built onto the board a giant bubbling bottle, pictured here, to illustrate its carbonation. That one execution translated into a bevy of word-of-mouth and quintupled bottle sales from 200,000 to 1 million.

We think what you're about to see will your change your perception of a medium long accused of missing out on the digital revolution. When creativity and technology combine, the results are inspiring. We hope you enjoy it.

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