News Column

Outside Influence

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"Out-of-home" advertising such as billboards and transit system posters may lack the glamour of television and magazines, but it delivers customers at the door. And it's especially effective with the Hispanic market, insiders say.

At least one study finds that Hispanics "are far more likely to be influenced by outdoor advertising than non-Hispanics," according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), which sponsored the research. The study, which involved freeway-traveling car passengers wearing eye-tracking "glasses," found that while Hispanic subjects noticed and read billboards with the same frequency as non-Hispanics, 96 percent of Hispanics reported liking outdoor advertising, compared with 87 percent of non-Hispanics.

Even more importantly, 76 percent of Hispanics said they would be influenced by outdoor ads, compared with only 41 percent of non-Hispanics.

"The implication is that Hispanics pay attention to out-of-home advertising and they are likely to be receptive to and motivated by out-of-home communication," the report states. Why that is, however, is open to speculation. Pedro Milian Jr., vice-president of multicultural sales at Clear Channel, says he segments the Hispanic market into foreign-born and U.S.-born, attributing the higher statistical receptiveness of U.S. Hispanics to the powerful presence outdoor advertising has in Latin America. Foreign-born Hispanics bring that awareness with them to the U.S. market.

Outdoor Players Do the Numbers
The other factor at work is that "many outdoor advertising companies recognize the growing prominence of this demographic group and the enormous spending power Hispanic consumers represent," says Stephen Feitas, the OAAA's chief marketing officer.

Several of the largest billboard companies now have special divisions or sales teams for the Hispanic market. They include Viacom Outdoor Latino, Clear Channel Outdoor, and Entravision Communications. Clear Channel's "big focus is the Hispanic market, because that's where the business has been," attests Mr. Milian. "We are sold out on Hispanic space every month. People are buying six, seven, eight months in advance. There is a limited inventory, and people want to place their message before these [Hispanic] consumers."

Certainly the geographical concentration of Hispanics works to outdoor's advantage. "Outdoor is all about location, location, location," and "boards in Hispanic neighborhoods are more effective," says Chris Young, president of Vista Media, a subsidiary of Entravision. "We have inventory in place for decades in neighborhoods that have evolved over time to become Hispanic."

Mr. Young says most of his 11,000 billboards are in Los Angeles and New York, and other companies have similar clusters of boards in heavily Hispanic cities. "Out-door advertising reaches consumers when they are in the marketplace, near the point of sale, and at times when they are more inclined to make purchase decisions," says the OAAA's Mr. Freitas.

Who's Doing the Advertising?
Mr. Young says national buys account for about two-thirds of Vista Media's revenues, with the other third from local advertisers.

Large corporate accounts usually buy boards in batches of 20 or more. Growth sectors include healthcare, banks, fast food, theme parks, and airlines. Mr. Milian mentions automotive, telecommunications, consumer goods, mortgage companies, and the military.

Brands with a natural link to the Hispanic market, such as Banco Popular or Corona beer, utilize outdoor ads for branding. Besides the viewership study, the OAAA offers case studies illustrating how to reach Hispanics, using campaigns from advertisers such as SBC Communications, Wrangler, and the National Pork Board.

For major advertisers, the outdoor venue provides a public, physical presence for their message rather than the relatively private messages delivered in the home via broadcast and print media. "It's a clear way for a Fortune 500 corporation to say: "We want your business,' " says Mr. Milian.

Small and mid-size companies buy outdoor because of cost and efficiency. A typical cost to reach 1,000 people, or CPM, runs in the single digits, compared with the teens for print, Mr. Young says. That means the most visible boards on a busy freeway in Los Angeles may sell for $20,000 to $25,000 per month, while "an 8-sheet at the corner parking lot" might go for $200 per month.

Billboards come in standard sizes: 8-sheets (5 by 11 feet), 30-sheets (10 by 22 feet), and massive "bulletin" boards (14 by 48 feet) on major freeways. Other key components of the outdoor category are wall murals, painted buses, and billboards inside airports and sports stadiums. Contracts can run as short as four weeks or as long as a year.

"It's still one of the most affordable media, in CPM, compared to TV or radio," says Mr. Milian. Also, for "medium-sized business like car dealerships they don't want to sell just to Hispanics, but to the general market. They have used outdoor for that in a cost-effective way."

Growth in Emerging Markets, Smaller Advertisers
Mr. Milian reports that "when it comes to Hispanic-owned business, our sales people are talking to them. That's where most markets are seeing their growth." Most large corporations buy the top 10 cities, but advertising growth in emerging markets like Tampa, Orlando, and Philadelphia comes from regional and local companies, he says.

The outdoor industry relies on the Traffic Audit Bureau to measure its audience. The nonprofit organization uses Department of Transportation statistics and a database of nearly 500,000 sign locations to determine how many people pass a message per day.

Outdoor companies have additional census data on the demographics of neighborhoods. A typical advertiser tells the billboard company its target demographic, and maybe the addresses of retail outlets.

"We put it in the database and that gives us a map of where the boards are," Mr. Young explains.

Advertisers can mix broadcast or print exposure with their outdoor campaign, often with the same company. Of the major players, Clear Channel owns 20 radio stations targeting bilingual Hispanics with reggaeton "cultural polyglot" music, plus 40 TV stations. Entravision includes about 60 radio stations and 22 Univision TV affiliates. Viacom controls Infinity Broadcasting and 40 TV stations, plus the CBS and UPN networks.

In recent years, the outdoor medium has become more creative, with interesting shapes, lighting effects, and colors. The future promises even more originality. "New technology will transform the outdoor advertising industry over the next five years," predicts Mr. Freitas of OAAA. "High-impact digital displays will change the way outdoor is purchased, while advances in data collection and the way information is channeled will make the industry more accessible to advertisers."

A Big Little Segment
U.S. outdoor ad spending reached $1.35 billion for the first quarter of 2005, a 2.9 percent increase over first quarter 2004, and the sector is projected to post 5.5 percent growth for 2005 faster than newspapers, network TV, and radio, according to TNS Media Intelligence estimates.

Cities nationwide, eager for revenue sharing opportunities, are fueling that growth via major long-term contracts for control of advertising on their "street furniture," from an estimated $1 billion, 20-year deal encompassing bus shelter ads in New York to campaigns utilizing manhole covers in Chicago.

Innovations are further firing growth, with some urban center ads such as a 23-story digital billboard in Times Square that lets viewers interact using cell phones that rival Web sites for viewer involvement.

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