Web companies fuel outdoor boom

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When marketing executives at Quepasa.com needed to get the fledgling dot-com's message out quickly, ads plastered on more than 2,500 billboards each month in 23 high-density Hispanic communities nationwide let passersby know "What's happening" with the latest dot-com targeting U.S. Hispanics.

In the six months since the site launched, upward of 30% of Quepasa.com's budget has gone to outdoor, says Barbara Sargenti, VP-marketing and sales with the Phoenix-based company. Emblazoned with the brand, colorful art of character El Profesor, a logo and a simple positioning statement, the boards "drive home that message that `Quepasa is Internet in English and Spanish.' "


"For us it was a way to get on the map quickly," says Ms. Sargenti, whose in-house creative was placed on everything from outdoor boards to bus shelters, inside subway cars and on walls.

The buy put Quepasa.com No. 4 among dot-com outdoor advertisers--behind three well-established Web players--according to Advertising Age's first-half '99 ranking based on Competitive Media Reporting data.

At a time when cigarette outdoor ads are being snuffed out, the dot-coms are smokin'.

Dot-coms and outdoor work well together, says Diane Cimine, exec VP-marketing with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. With a flood of new Web sites, dot-com marketers face the challenge of cutting through the clutter, she says.

"The bottom line is they have to get noticed to get visited," Ms. Cimine says. "Outdoor is the perfect marriage with the Internet. You're reaching people who don't have time to sit in front of a TV or read magazines. It's sort of the push-pull that you need when you have a Web site."


For the first six months of 1999, tobacco outdoor ads were down 38% from the same period in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting. (Tobacco companies agreed to remove boards as part of a November 1998 settlement with states that had sued to recover money spent on treatment of smokers.) In contrast, the computer and software category, which includes Internet and Web-site advertising, was clicking--up more than 168.2% during the same time period, CMR reported.

A review of dot-com and online service brands by Ad Age showed measured spending for outdoor ads of $5.9 million in the first half of 1999, double that for all of 1998, according to CMR. On a measured basis, outdoor is still a small medium for dot-coms; these marketers had total measured spending of $515 million in the first half of 1999.

The first-half results were a prelude to a boom in dot-coms' outdoor ads.

"Though the loss of tobacco was anticipated with some concern, in truth the combination of prime space availability and increased demand by new advertisers fueled the industry's continued growth," the Outdoor Advertising Association of America wrote in a recent report.


Dot-coms are using outdoor to hit otherwise hard-to-reach viewers, experts say. Microsoft Corp. has used outdoor to reach commuters headed to work, where they can tap faster corporate Internet connections to surf the Web. Headhunter.net used outdoor boards, bus wraps and other out-of-home ads in its campaign to hit workers headed to and from the workplace.

"We're after job seekers," says Judy Hackett, senior VP-marketing with the Atlanta-based company. "What better way to get them than when they're on their way to work or their way home from work--when they're hating their job the most."

What Headhunter.net and Quepasa.com discovered is what outdoor does best: build brands, says Sean McCaffrey, director-e-business development with Eller Media Co., Chicago, a division of radio and outdoor company Clear Channel Communications.

"Brand-building is their buzzword, and that's one of the things we do very well," he says.


Drive down the stretch of U.S. 101 from San Francisco into the heart of Silicon Valley in San Jose, and dot-com billboards are as common as IPOs and venture capitalists, says Fred Siegel, senior VP-marketing with [email protected] The Excite portal has a board on the route, which it sees as a powerful way to target the right demographics and psychographics with a simple, clear message, he says.

This medium comes at a price, Mr. Siegel says. Boards along the stretch fetch between $25,000 and $100,000 a month, with outdoor companies able to lock up multiyear commitments, he says. Sure, a premium's being paid, but the region is densely populated with Internet staffers and affluent consumers, with households and businesses wired for Internet connections--and venture capitalists stuck in traffic.

"The demos are quite good," he says. "If you're a dot-com, you're actually being quite efficient in reaching people like this. It's more expensive than it had once been, but when you boil it down, it's not a bad deal."


When two of the some 100 boards along U.S. 101 went up on Adauction.com recently, executives were not surprised when the bidding got feverish, says Matt Rogers, VP-general manager for out-of-home for the media auction site.

Prices this year are double those of last year, he says. Hot outdoor markets are emerging not only in expected places such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but also in hot wired markets such as Austin, Texas; Boston; Seattle; and Washington.

Prime locations had long been held by tobacco companies.

"Now that the best inventory has become available, people want in," Ms. Cimine says. "And they are used to paying for premium spots and locations."

This is no temporary windfall, outdoor ad executives contend. As society shifts toward the Internet as a business and lifestyle tool, they argue, the need will only grow to have more messages placed to promote the dot-coms. The market could calm down if the dot-com launch phenomenon goes soft in 2000. But for now, sites have their sights set on outdoor.

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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