Having discussed press advertising in my recent posts, let’s now turn to a related medium with similar traditional roots – outdoor. How can you ensure that this ‘high impact’ medium is working as effectively as possible?

Outdoor media brings an immediacy that is useful for announcing new product launches, enabling you to reach a large percentage of your target audience on the first day of your campaign. However, keep in mind that outdoor posters can’t be expected to generate sales on their own since they can usually only contain messaging of up to around eight words. This is especially so for billboards aimed at drivers, which only have around two seconds to communicate their message.

Outdoor media is generally more concerned with capturing attention, interest and desire rather than focusing on building conviction and stimulating immediate action. However, for outdoor environments with a captive audience and longer ‘dwell-times’ – for example on public transport – you can expand your messaging in order to aid conviction, together with a compelling call to action. In these scenarios, the creative team may wish to use puzzles or witty copy in order to engage the captive audience, drawing them in to the brand communication.

This need for immediacy requires bold, eye-catching creative that delivers a simple, single-minded proposition quickly and powerfully – as mentioned above most billboards only have around two seconds to deliver their message. The creative must therefore capture the imagination of your prospect in a very direct and engaging way. One way to test whether it is working quickly enough is to show the initial worked-up visuals to colleagues for just two seconds, and to then check whether they picked up both the brand and the proposition.

In order to be read 100 feet away, copy must be at least 12 inches high, ideally using primary colours and bold typefaces with high contrast against the background. It is particularly important that your brand name/ logo is clearly recognisable from this distance. Outdoor companies have devices that will simulate what your artwork looks like from 100 feet away so that you can check it is generating sufficient impact.

Images and logos are generally more important than words in outdoor creative, however every word must be chosen carefully in order to convey the essence of your proposition in a direct and compelling way. Bold, simple images work well, often focusing on either the entire product, a person using the product or on a clearly-identifiable part of the product in order to create visual impact.

Although outdoor is not primarily a direct-response medium (ie not tasked with generating immediate sales), you should still include a prominent response mechanism for those prospects that are already sufficiently interested to want to find out more. Just be sure to keep the response mechanism extremely simple and memorable, for example an easy to remember telephone number or campaign URL.

Since outdoor must work quickly and powerfully in order to generate impact, it is often the hardest format to produce in a campaign. For this reason, some creative agencies prefer to start a new campaign project by working on the outdoor materials first, which is often the best medium to highlight any inherent weaknesses in the big creative idea.

A final point worth mentioning: don’t be constrained by thinking only of ‘traditional’ outdoor media such as billboards and public transport – have you considered incorporating ‘virtual’ billboards into online games such as football or driving simulations? I’ll cover this more in my next post when I’ll look at the future of outdoor media and the rise of digital outdoor advertising.

If you’re interested in exploring this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…

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