Why digital posters cost more to reach fewer people

Following our interview with Roy Jeans of Rapport about digital outdoor (among other things) we received the following piece from a correspondent we’ll call ‘disgruntledatoutdoor.’ It makes a contrary and interesting read.

For many years luminaries of the outdoor advertising industry have been extolling the virtues of digital outdoor advertising – largely based on the visionary work of Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Blade Runner.

Now that technology is catching up with this vision – there is no doubt that the “Science” element is being achieved – however perhaps the more crucial word should be “Fiction”, as this vision of advertising was based entirely on what would look good on screen – and it is doubtful whether he considered the true advertising benefits for the end user (the client) beyond his futuristic vision).

With the proliferation of digital outdoor signage continuing to grow – it is important to remember this fictional element and to consider what the true benefits are, in order to be able to make a value judgement as to the worth of digital posters.

The perceived benefits can be clear to see;

Quality: they look good, and in the right environment and with the right dwell time they can enhance the environment and deliver a strong audience.

In the wrong location they limit coverage, frequency and all things that outdoor can deliver.

Flexibility: shorter term campaign periods and day parts are a fantastic addition to advertiser’s options. Reaching the right audience at the right time with the right message can attract a new tranche of clients to outdoor and grow the medium.

This can be somewhat negated by suppliers’ inability to adapt their sales strategy accordingly and most insisting on huge premiums for day part advertising which makes such campaigns too expensive.

Creativity: digital has the potential to make even the dullest creative slightly more interesting, with even basic movement being more eye-catching, and potential for regularly changing copy.

But again with digital screens drawing 30 per cent more eyeballs (if that is to be believed), but each advertiser is on display for approximately 17 per cent of the time – those sums do not add up – even if there was a bouncing Eva Herzigova on display.

The biggest advantage not mentioned above is the absolute minimal costs of displaying the ads. A fantastic benefit to the media owner, with no more physical print, no more bill posters and no more despatch costs to consider. This surely offers significant savings to clients, and with suppliers able to sell exactly the same location to up to six advertisers at a time – the actual media cost must surely be at an all time low? Unfortunately not.

The above information raises two important questions: Why is digital outdoor so expensive and is it value for money?

I’m guessing you have already worked out my leaning on this point but let me just jot down a few points just to make sure I am being clear on this;

Digital outdoor is expensive because suppliers and to an extent advertisers have bought into this Blade Runner myth –“it looks great, its the way forward, Ridley Scott predicted it” – so may I draw your attention back to the fiction element of this science fiction film.

I think I missed the meeting where clients were asked “what do you want in the future for outdoor advertising?” and they said “less visibility and to pay an awful lot more”. That is the digital effect. Clients are paying almost three times as much as they did for static panels, getting less than 20 per cent of the space. It makes no sense for advertisers, but a hell of a lot of sense for the suppliers – who can now achieve up to 18 times the price they received for exactly the same static locations.

The ‘beauty’ of this is not only does the supplier get a lot more money, and the client gets a whole lot less space, the fact of the matter is it goes against all traditional outdoor planning values.

Outdoor works on a combination of coverage, frequency, creativity and location. It works best when all 4 elements are combined.

It is commonly held that – excluding absolutely stunning creative – frequency is a key driver for successful outdoor campaign. Outdoor is generally viewed transiently – and repeat viewings drive the message home. People do not stand and stare at posters (whether they are moving or not). That is not to question the benefits outdoor delivers, we are naturally a nation of ad avoiders, whether it is not giving a poster your full concentration or Sky Plussing your way through Jeremy Kyle. Nobody really likes advertising – so if it is seen at all it is best for it to be seen a lot of times to get the point across (part of the reason two week displays are still the norm with posters).

As mentioned earlier digital severely restricts coverage, people do not stand and watch the reel of advertisers, and therefore coverage becomes more of a scattergun approach – reliant on the right people glancing at the right ad, at the right time. There are locations that do maintain an audience’s attention for longer periods, but the only screens that can really manage this are either in your living room or on the underground (if only XTP was any good!!). By the very nature of coverage being reduced – frequency must suffer – so its “the perfect storm” for advertisers – less people seeing your advertising less often – but costing nearly 3 times as much.

Digital also offers the opportunity to run lazy creative – I am sure I saw an ad for the Sun saying “Buy the paper today” – which probably wouldn’t have got too far on a standard outdoor pitch – but it was on digital outdoor so it was ‘sexy’ and possibly extremely ironic. The fact that this was seen on a digital screen on Platform 14 of Paddington station is also a bit ridiculous (yes there is a Platform 14 – but no it does not warrant an expensive digital ad – only visible to those rushing off the train to get into work from the Western reaches of London).


So in answer to the two questions earlier – digital outdoor is so expensive because suppliers are hyping the market and people still remember Blade Runner – but that doesn’t make it value for money.

Given the current economic environment – Advertisers need to be careful with their money – and unfortunately digital outdoor is extravagant in the extreme. Whist there are some great locations (the A4 in London springs to mind) – outdoor still works best on a coverage basis.

There is no point having the best quality display if not very many people see it, and the best way for people to see a campaign is to maximise on locations and the variety of formats that people are exposed to. While the number of opportunities to use digital is increasing, having a limited time on each location defeats the variety available, and the costs charged, defeat the value and efficiency of the medium.

Digital outdoor does have its advantages, and does have its place – locations where people are stationary is a good start – while waiting for a train, a plane or perhaps waiting rooms. This logic is wasted when taken outdoors as whilst you can argue that people waiting for a bus fall into this stationery category – roadside posters’ primary audience is drivers, and few advertising briefs are aimed directly at bus passengers.

In summary digital outdoor needs to be carefully considered – when considering outdoor campaigns. If your brief is purely about novelty and has no requirements for the traditional benefits of coverage and frequency – them perhaps digital is for you. If you want to deliver tangible results – maximise awareness and ensure that people know about your product – paper and paste still have a vital role to play.

When digital outdoor prices come down to reflect the benefits it delivers, and the share of voice an advertiser gets, then perhaps that would be the time to develop more panels – but will that ever happen?

With the market dominated by three major suppliers, and four major specialists, all of whom make considerably more money out of digital posters than their more traditional counterparts, I don’t think so. So it is up to agencies and clients to remember the values of outdoor advertising.

Unfortunately the outdoor industry seems to have forgotten these.

One Comment

  1. Why not publish ‘disgruntledoutdoor’s name rather than publish this pap and afford him/her anonimity?
    “Nobody really likes advertising “….wow, that’s a sweeper !
    Suggest some basic lazy research such as Statt 1977 or Martin 2003

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