CMOs: It's Time to Bring Back the Big Guns

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: CMOs:  It's Time to Bring Back the Big Guns

Twenty years ago national brands’ budgets were weighted towards mass audience media: newspapers, magazines and, first and foremost, TV.  These were the marketers’ heavy artillery.  They could fire large caliber messages in the right direction and could make a big splash at the right time and place.  There was precious little rifle shot marketing.  For bottom-of-the-sales funnel precision there was direct mail, cold calling and the yellow pages.

Today, we are rich in bottom-of-the- funnel marketing:  search, social, recommendation engines and programmatic online ads.  These are sniper rifles, and automation means precision marketing can be conducted at a scale impractical 20 years ago.  But digital’s capacity for advertising is not limitless and marketers’ once trusted big gun of broadcast media is losing audience.  Only radio (if one includes audio streaming and podcasts) and Out-of-Home (OOH) are seeing growth.

OOH is the only mass market visual medium with a growing audience.  It is growing strongly as more and more signage is deployed at roadside, in cities, in transit and in locations where people gather -- airports, cinemas, office buildings.  Some are large-caliber howitzers like billboards, and some are smaller caliber mortars like a sign in a subway, but it’s mass audience and high impact.  

Some of the most sophisticated marketing organization executives -- from CMO to CEO to CFO -- are fully aware of the value of OOH.  Apple, Netflix, Amazon and Google are the top spenders.

And you know that there is real power to OOH when one of the most canny marketers on the planet buys billboards … actually purchases the billboards as Netflix did in July ... paying $150 million to acquire 35 billboards along L.A.’s sunset strip.  Two weeks later Alibaba, in an act of one-upmanship, acquired Chinese OOH company Focus Media for $2.23 billion.

This new dawn for U.S. OOH is still in its infancy with a spend of only 4% of a typical U.S. advertiser’s budget compared to 8% to 12% in markets like the U.K. and France.  There is plenty of scope for forward-thinking U.S. CMOs to use OOH for competitive advantage.  

How to Buy Out-of-Home in the 21st Century

OOH has been going through an industrial revolution, and chances are that the skill sets for buying outdoor that you have access to predate that revolution.  So here are some tips:

Tip 1:  Technologies Change But OOH at its Core Is Location, Location, Location

Buying OOH is buying real estate, so keep the famous realtor axiom in mind.  Are you looking for high-impact product launch messaging and a big audience?  If so, foot traffic and the demo of that foot traffic is key.  Or are you looking for your audience close to point of sale? 

(Miller Coors advertising to New York City commuters as they pass a pub.)

Tip 2:  Match Your Creative and Content Strategy to the Sign

For large, spectacular signs “less is more."  Note how few words the Calvin Klein/Outfront Media ad in Times Square uses.  Smaller screens, such as GSTV’s screens at gas station pumps leverage video and audio.  This Captivate elevator screen uses Nasdaq and Financial Times headlines to draw attention to a Lincoln ad.

(Calvin Klein promoted on Outfront Media signage in Times Square.)

Smaller screens, such as GSTV’s screens at gas station pumps leverage video and audio.  This Captivate elevator screen uses Nasdaq and Financial Times headlines to draw attention to a Lincoln ad.

(Lincoln MKC in a Captivate elevator.)

Tip 3:  Use Programmatic as Part of Your Buying Strategy

Programmatic enabled screens are a small but growing percentage of OOH signage and an increasingly useful and efficient way to acquire audience at scale.  Recently launched Place Exchange is extremely capable.  There’s also Rubicon Project, Vistar and Hivestack that provide programmatic buying through DSPs such as MediaMath, Amobee, AppNexus and The Trade Desk.

Tip 4:  Ask About Audience Targeting and Attribution Technology

There are increasingly sophisticated location technologies available to provide audience targeting, attribution measurement and mobile retargeting.  Placed, Ninth Decimal and Ground Truth are three geo location leaders.

Tip 5:  Look for OOH to Reinforce Your Social Media Strategy

Billboards and the larger “spectaculars” are high impact, powerful conduits for your messaging.  They also make a photogenic backdrop for a selfie.


(From billboard to pixels:  A young influencer demonstrates the power of Netflix advertising.)

Tip 6:  Demand New, Creative Ideas

OOH is a highly dynamic and innovative medium today with plenty of fresh new ideas.  Neither the powered barge pictured below, nor the Soho House roof deck from which the picture was takem, existed 12 months ago.

(Heineken advertises on a barge platform circling Manhattan as viewed by upscale influencers from Soho House's new DUMBO location, summer 2018.)

Tip 7:  Seek Advice and Do Your Own Research

Chances are that your marketing department closest agency executives have come through the online disciplines.  Be prepared to do background research yourself.  Seek out agency specialists.

In Conclusion...

Out of Home is a 21st century big gun worth learning to use.  Remember where Napoleon learned his trade: the Artillery.

Photo credits:  Matt Kearney

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