Billboards Are Made for Mobile

By Kevin Tynan

The growth in billboard advertising may be puzzling to bank marketers who are shifting their budgets away from traditional media to digital channels. Last year, out-of-home advertising (OOH)—of which billboards are a part—outperformed the US economy, in some quarters actually tripling GDP growth.

The nation’s biggest billboard advertisers are McDonalds, Apple, Anheuser-Busch, GEICO, Sprint, and Coca-Cola. No surprise there. But you might wonder why some of the world’s largest digital-based firms like Amazon and Google more than doubled their OOH expenditures last year.

The answer is that out-of-home advertising is a perfect complement for digital. Before delving into why, let’s look at what falls under the out-of-home umbrella. It’s much more than just billboards.

Roadside billboards are the predominant form of OOH advertising. They take in 66% of total annual OOH revenue. Almost three quarters of ads displayed are local, 18% national, and 9% public service messages.

But OOH also includes street furniture such as bus shelters, news racks, mall kiosks, and public seating. Bus and cab signs, airport and subway advertising also fall into the out-of-home category.

The segment that’s largely responsible for the sector’s growth is digital out-of-home.

These electronic billboards deliver powerful, animated graphics for eight or so advertisers and can rotate messages every 10 seconds. Attractively priced for advertisers, digital billboards can generate owners ten times more revenue than their static predecessors.

OOH is an ideal partner for mobile because we spend 70% of our time outside the home dashing from one place to another and billboards are there to reinforce the messages we see online.   You can’t miss billboards.  Nor can you delete, delay or skip them.  And, they reach buyers.  In the 30 minutes prior to going online, out-of-home reaches 42% of mobile shoppers and 32% of mobile search according to Rosen and Minsky in their book The Activation Imperative.  In other words, OOH gives consumers a critical nudge when they need it most – as they are about to buy.

If you think billboards are still sleepy, think again.

An industry once dominated by flat posters is now vibrant with signage that emits sound, scent, and video, or billboards that can even “read” the grille of a passing Ford Fusion and deliver a customized message.

Billboards and street furniture are employing geofencing to send pop-up mobile ads to consumers waiting for a bus or passing by a store. When the consumer crosses a specific geographic parameter, the advertiser automatically uses a bluetooth beacon to send a sale message or highlight a product.

OOH ads can also change based on current temperature, time of day, and weather conditions—or even the outcome of local sporting events. For instance, banks could celebrate local sports team victories to underscore their community focus. It is a great way to ensure messages stay current and relevant.

Leading edge innovation and customized messaging combined for a General Motors campaign last year in Baton Rouge, La. Posterscope USA tested electronic billboards that can see what kind of car you’re driving—then try to sell you a new one. Using a high-resolution video camera, they identified the make and model of an oncoming car by looking at its grille. If the vehicle was not a GM car, the image on the electronic billboard switches to a General Motors’ Chevrolet Malibu, accompanied by a customized sales pitch: “The Malibu has more available safety features than your Hyundai Sonata.”

At a time when traditional media is losing readership, billboards are gaining ground. That’s because marketing success doesn’t depend on just one channel, it requires an integrated media approach to reach every consumer lifestyle.

OOH has proved its staying power by being innovative and adapting to a new environment. It’s an old channel that remade itself. Maybe that’s a lesson bankers should take to heart.

Kevin Tynan is senior vice president marketing at Liberty Bank for Savings in Chicago. Email: ktynan@libertybank.com. Twitter.

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