When it comes to marketing drugs, few companies are as savvy or as influential as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. So when the brand team for Nicorette, a chewing gum that helps people quit smoking, wanted to come up with a strategy for reaching young, urban African-American smokers, it eschewed traditional media outlets TV, radio, and magazines, and advertised where those people were most likely to be reached: outside.
Specifically, on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Cortelyou Rd. in Brooklyn, N.Y., where a graffiti artist known as Slang spent the better part of a day last fall painting a mural on the side of a building. The mural, one of five painted in similar locations in four other urban areas by graffiti artists, recognized that the people Nicorette most wanted to reach are active, mobile, and unlikely to sit in front of a magazine or TV ad in their home or office.
That's something many marketers and agencies are beginning to realize, especially those interested in reaching younger, urban, and more active consumers. But it's also true that the general public is spending a far greater percentage of its time outdoors than any previous generation. When Martin Sorrell, the head of WPP Group, one of the world's biggest ad agency holding companies, wanted to impress Wall Street analysts on WPP's prospects for the future during a meeting last December, he began his presentation with a slide showing the percentage of time people spend neither at home nor at work. That percentage has grown from about 8 percent in 1960 to about 18 percent today, indicating that if marketers want to effectively reach people they're going to have to do it in more out-of-home and out-of-office locations.
That includes conventional out-of-home media like outdoor billboards and terrestrial radio, but it also includes an explosion of new media options ranging from iPods to PSPs and Vcast-enabled cell phones, from satellite radio and an array of new digital location-based media networks to what is perhaps the most powerful medium of all -- human beings. A big component of the new out-of-home media boom is so-called experiential marketing that ranges from "street teams" -- swarms of professional street hucksters who promote a brand or product to fellow pedestrians -- to nontraditional forms like GlaxoSmith-Kline's urban graffiti sprawls.
"It can be anything and everything," says Francois de Gaspe Beaubien, chairman and chief coaching officer at Zoom Media, the out-of-home media company that developed the graffiti program for GlaxoSmithKline and its media shop, MediaCom. "Our job is to find out where people are going and figure out how to reach them there."
So when fast-food giant McDonald's needed a way to reach consumers with healthy lifestyles to promote a new line of better-for-you menu items, it knew it didn't want to reach couch potatoes glued in front of TV commercials. It went to where people engage in healthy lifestyles: it placed posters featuring the foods in gyms.
"Every day it seems like there is a new opportunity to talk to our consumers in a place that we didn't think of talking to them before," marvels Norm Chait, vice president/director of out-of-home at MediaVest, who includes a new network of digital screens placed in front of patrons in hair and nail salons as the latest surprise in the place-based media frontier. "It used to be just emery boards. Now you have a captive audience sitting in front of a screen for a half an hour at a time."
Place-based media networks, in fact, are showing up just about everywhere -- at airports, in shopping malls, in elevators, even in public restrooms. The shift toward more mobile consumer lifestyle patterns has not escaped the attention of the world's largest media companies. Newspaper publishing giant Gannett recently acquired Captivate, which installs video screens in the elevators of high-rise office buildings, and two major agency holding companies -- Martin Sorrell's WPP and the Aegis Group -- have consolidated their out-of-home media buying operations into separate, giant outdoor media networks. Why? Because, as Sorrell noted to investors last December, it is one of the fastest-growing segments of media, just behind the Internet and certain high-growth developing markets like China.
That growth is not just in place-based or experiential media, but in traditional outdoor advertising, as well. Changing lifestyle patterns, coupled with the fact that marketers are losing some confidence in the effectiveness of traditional in-home or at-work media, have fueled demand for all forms of public media, which can be the most personal of all media. The emergence of new portable media platforms such as audio and video iPods, Sony's PSPs, hand-held satellite radio receivers, and a range of increasingly smarter phones capable of sending and receiving high-quality audio and video programming, are fueling a boom in personal, migratory media that worries some marketers and agencies. The smart ones, of course, aren't worrying so much as hurrying into the public square.