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One of the last bastions of media where ROI is hard to measure is outdoor (billboards, posters, subway ads).

Most of us LOOK at them — the good ones get our attention for 30 seconds, the rest 99% of them receive a scan of the eye at best (unless you are like me and look at ads for the simple fact of evaluating them, rather than interest in the product/service they are promoting).

Toronto Subway ad

Government of Ontario's Flu Vaccine ad -- Toronto Subway

Recently, I saw a subway ad for Ontario Governments H1N1 flu vaccination that led me to question what makes subway/outdoor ad effective. Especially in a scenario like a subway, where you have a captive audience, with little else to draw their attention and a long ride home (I am one of those), a marketers dream. This ad had a comment  scribbled on it (some call it graffiti), that started a debate in my head of what is right vs. what’s hype.

Analyzing it I thought–WOW this particular ad had much more of my attention than the same creative I had seen a dozen times on other rides. So why don’t brands allow people to debate openly on subway ads like they do on Facebook or YouTube. A simple idea to make subway ads more fun — Make them interactive.

By interactive I do not  imply to stick a LCD screen and post the TV ads (aka minority report). Thats not helpful, it will be too distracting with all the moving images without sound (assuming sound is really a no-no in a subway).

That got me thinking as tho what are other ways that marketers can leverage to outdoor media to make them more engaging.

Here are a few way I think we can make outdoor media more engaging:

  • Tearing a page from the blog world, allow people to leave comments. I had seen these Flu shot ads multiple times, but this particular one drew my attention. Someone who did not agree with the notion that everyone should get a flu shot had “commented” on ad itself. This showed two opposing views and I started pondering the pros and cons of each side. Thought about what side of the argument I stood and why–there I just spent a whole 5 mins think about the flu vaccine. Thats 4 mins and 50 seconds more than any other rendering of the same creative I had already previously seen. A simple comment did more than all the other thousands of media dollars.
Kid playing with a life size outdoor display in a mall

M&M interactive ad @ Fairview Mall, Toronto

  • Let people create their own ad, run a contest for the best slogan or tag line and allow users to put their ideas on the posters. Let other viewers rate some of the best tag lines. This way not only are you just dispensing information you are actually getting them to participate and integrate your brand & message into their daily boring ride.
  • Let people play with the creative. If you are making it visual — allow people to touch, feel and have fun with it. I saw this installation for M&M’s(on the right) recently at the Fairview Mall in Toronto. Being a bright digital display it was attracting everyone’s attention but also all the kids were just waiting to play with it (including me). Very simple concept the you could move the M&M’s would move around the display with your hands.
  • Encourage them to follow the story in another channel. Posters give info and then just direct people to where to buy, but if it its one of the first interaction there is very little information on a poster, therefore there is a need for the customer to learn more before making a decision. Marketers should leverage this medium to lead them into a place where they can get the bigger/more detailed story – e.g. online, sign-up for email or lead to a community (e.g. facebook).

I think outdoor media in general is due for a revolution. Now that internet has taken a chunk of time spent and also more importantly changed the way consumers engage with brands—-outdoor media has to adapt. There are some unbelievable opportunities especially with captive audiences in subways, cinemas and other places, that could really use better ads than a slide shows.

Seen any cool outdoor media executions lately ? Send me a pic, I’ll post it here.

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