ROADSIDE BILLBOARDS, posters on buses and under flyovers as well as ads in airport terminals constitute a type of publicity known as out-of-home or outdoor advertising. This form of advertising was considered to be the dull end in the advertising industry. But all that is now in the past. The falling price and improving quality of flat-screen displays has meant that static posters printed on paper are being replaced by snazzy digital commercials with moving pictures, sound and sometimes interactive features. As some advertising media, especially newspapers, see their audiences fade, streets, airports and other public spaces with more potential viewers than ever are increasingly being adorned with digital billboards.
This is good news to advertisers who constantly talk about wanting to “engage” with consumers. And so, they are taking great interest in the potential for interactivity that digital technology will bring to their marketing efforts. This desire of advertisers, perhaps, explains why the man who runs the international operations of Clear Channel, the American firm which is one of the largest out-of-home ad companies globally, William Eccleshare, thinks that more than 90 per cent of its business will be digital by the decade’s end in some countries.
Interestingly, Eccleshare’s arch-rival, Jean-Charles Decaux, head of France’s JCDecaux, agrees that there will be a significant switch to digital, but mainly inside airports, railway stations, shopping malls and other controlled environments. Ads in bus shelters and other outdoor spots at risk of vandalism will take a lot longer to move away from paper, Decaux submits. On the home front, General Manager of Invent Media, Nigeria’s leading Out-of-Home advertising agency, Mr. Olaseinde Orogun agrees with these views, saying the introduction of digital technology has revitalized the practice of outdoor advertising in the country and made the industry to glow again.
He adds that digital outdoor has generated tremendous positive reaction on the part of clients. “Clients are really buying into this technology because it is just perfect and in tune with driving brand objectives. Campaign can break within minutes; turnaround time for beaming advert is very good when compared to posting of flex as there is no cost of production of flex material, just simple CD or flash drive will do or creative sent via internet. No time wasted waiting for material to be printed, and so on. Clients are now beginning to believe that they are getting value for money spent. So digital outdoor has really made outdoor to be vibrant somehow.”
MagnaGlobal, a media researcher, predicts that worldwide spending on out-of-home advertising will expand faster growth than that seen for other non-digital forms of advertising. Spending on digital billboards and posters is expected to double in the next five years to $5.2 billion, says the researcher. Although reliable data may be hard to come by in Nigeria since many adspend still escape the notice of regulatory authorities and political or personal adverts are rarely captured in ad figures, the growth of digital posters is bound to grow exponentially because they offer enormous potential for making advertisements more effective.
With digital billboards, advertisers can tailor their pitch to the time of day or react to events as they happen. Then there is “gladvertising” and “sadvertising” in which billboards with embedded cameras, linked to face-tracking software, detect the mood of each consumer who passes by, and change the advertising on display to suit it. The technology matches movements of the eyes and mouth to six expression patterns corresponding to happiness, anger, sadness, fear, surprise and disgust. An unhappy-looking person might be rewarded with ads for a sun-drenched beach or a luscious chocolate bar while those wearing an anxious frown might be reassured with an ad for insurance.
Nonetheless, not everybody shares the opinion that digital outdoor is the next big thing. Arguing that because outdoor is advertising that is seen by chance and comprehended only after pausing for a few minutes to appreciate the meaning of the advert, a practitioner who wishes not to be named says the changing of adverts on digital boards confuses people. He adds that, “normally, you do not purposely go out to see billboards and that is the reason it can be categorised as a reminder. For instance, if Coke, Gulder or Airtel adverts are displayed in quick succession on a digital board in one day and tomorrow you also come back to that spot, but instead of seeing Coke, you see Gulder and other adverts changing one after the other. Digital billboard is for a different purpose and I stand to be proved wrong.”
Not done with his criticism of digital outdoor, the practitioner explains that “digital board can be very tricky because when you are watching a 30 seconds advert during a TV programme, you are watching that advert because you are awaiting the continuation of the programme and while you are waiting you will see that advert many times because they want consumers to get to know about the products. Digital billboard is different. When you are on the road, the level of your concentration on an advert on digital board is very low. Then, the percentage of visibility of the advert to you is reduced.
“My idea about it is to take them out from the major highways and mount them in places like departmental stores, national stadium and cinema where people can view them and be engaged for some minutes. That means the digital billboards on the road cannot be effective like those in the places I mentioned. Another area to consider is that it is too dangerous to mount digital board on the roads, and if at all it is going to be on the road, it should be at the junction where people can stop. This is because it can easily distract drivers’ attention and this can lead to accident. Even in China, you do not see digital billboards on expressways. Go to Dubai, they still have static boards on expressways for safety reasons. We agree that digital billboard is a new development in out-of-home but the application in our environment has to be overhauled.”
To make the publication a robust one, MARKETING EDGE spoke to leading practitioners in the outdoor advertising in Nigeria. The interview sessions were educative and entertaining. Practitioners bared their minds on issues relating to the industry and proffered solutions to challenges facing the practice of outdoor advertising in the country. By engaging regulatory authorities through the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), players in the sector are successfully addressing issues of multiple taxation, quackery and indiscriminate entry into the profession. Although this challenge is not peculiar to the sector, with the advent of digital billboards, practitioners now talk about the excessive cost of maintaining the billboards due to poor supply of electricity by the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria.
This concern was also echoed by most of the respondents in a survey carried out by MARKETING EDGE in which we sought to get the views of advertisers and media buyers on whether outdoor advertising is delivering desired value to brands or not. The following pages will reveal more on the views of practitioners and non-practitioners alike.
On the African scene, there are evidences that the Out-of-Home industry is becoming an innovation hub as practitioners are becoming more creative in the business. Essentially, they ensure that brand owners get maximum visibility mileage on their hoardings. Also, they have developed a more revolutionary means of promoting and enhancing the environment through new technologies in the industry.
As the players perfect the acts of making the brands interact more with consumers through the new products on offerings in the out-of-home sector, brand owners on the other hand are leaving no stone unturned in investing heavily in the sector. Nowadays, consumer spending and confidence have improved thereby leading to more businesses for the out-of-home players. The implication is that, brand owners are getting industry value added on out-of-home advertising expenditure.
Consequently, out-of-home advertising players have become more innovative and creative in the production of digital billboards and digital displays. Most exciting and delightful these days are the aesthetic, value added and environmental friendliness of new technologies such as high-definition video displays and the brilliant use of LEDs, by the out-of-home practitioners.