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February 12, 2003
New Technology Leads Outdoor Industry Astray From What It Was Designed to Do

When Cable TV opened their doors in 1980, the advertising industry saw the Big 4: ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC scramble to compete on Cable TV's next level. What is meant by Cable TV's next level? Cable TV was designed to reach targeted, narrowed groups of people by age and sex as well as by lifestyles, hobbies and interests. The medium was designed to work much like radio, reaching small groups of people with frequency. This strategy is juxtaposed to what the television stations were designed to do. It was and still is, the job of television stations to reach the masses during their leisure time, touching emotional heartstrings within a broader geography than radio- the DMA versus the MSA. Because the Big 4 thought they had the need to compete with the new medium of Cable TV, the programming executives began steering away from family viewing and began producing programs that appealed to a very limited target audience, just as Cable TV networks were doing. Consequently, in the 2000s the television networks are paying the price for trying to compete where they didn't belong and are trying to recoup the audiences that they lost to Cable TV.

Today, because of production technology, the outdoor industry is facing another major problem that affects what outdoor billboards were designed to do. Now, advertisers can send a photograph to the production house, and receive back that same photograph, enlarged to fit on a 14"x48" outdoor bulletin. This technology is called a "vinyl wrap." It is attached to the outdoor board with bungee cords fastened behind the board. They are particularly good for creative that involves using humans. It was very difficult for outdoor artists to capture a warm, friendly look on human faces on outdoor billboards because of their size. Some hand-painted people looked as if they ate nails for breakfast. That problem, however, has been resolved, and it is a fact now that many outdoor bulletins are beginning to look like aesthetically appealing magazine ads. Wait. Stop. Something is not right. Magazine ads are supposed to be aesthetically appealing. They are image builders! Outdoor, on the other hand, needs ads that are attention-grabbers-something that will grab the attention of the passer-by in a memorable way. Outdoor ads are supposed to be funny, sometimes absurd. Memorable and should be screaming, "Look at me!" They should not be aesthetically appealing magazine type ads!

Outdoor is used as a reminder medium, which can be used for branding or to introduce a new product (the picture of a Nike athletic shoe with no words on the board, only the picture of the shoe with the Nike swoosh on the side of the shoe, silently saying, "Hey! If you are interested in athletic shoes, don't forget about Nike, and by the way, here is our latest shoe,") or used as a directional, pointing to a place of business-"McDonalds-EZ on EZ off! Exit Now!"

Messages are short in outdoor. The average passer-by has but 3 to 5 seconds to read the board. Ten words or less is the general rule of thumb. Ads should be bold, colorful, memorable, contain strong selling points, be creative and have creative that "jumps off the board."

Outdoor billboard ads that look like magazine ads will most likely not be noticed or remembered.

Media buyers need to remind their creative counterparts what each medium is being used for, and what part of the creative product plays in the success of the medium.

Take a minute and try to think of an outdoor billboard you remember. It might be one from many years ago. It might be one you have just seen recently. It doesn't matter when you saw it-the fact remains that the billboard creative was memorable. Neon colors work great! Many radio stations use them on their billboards. Yellow on black works great. Red on yellow works great. The picture of the beautiful cruise ship with the soft rolling waters of the Atlantic Ocean as background will probably no grab the attention of too many folks. In fact, it's likely to put them to sleep.

Don't forget what the medium was designed to do-grab the attention of passers-by!

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"Seize the Daypart." The best way to get schooled in today's media landscape is to learn from Lee Morrow. Lee is the CEO of the Media Buying Academy, an intense, four-day "Boot Camp" on media buying. Lee's "real-world," "this-is-how-you-do-it" curriculum is taught all over the United States in major cities throughout the year. 

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