The Sell: The Writing's on the Wall
In the ruins of Pompeii, archeologists have discovered graffiti that could very well be the beginning of advertising. Early politicians supposedly paid people to write on the city walls, things like Vatiam aed furunculi rog. According to ancient writings the slogan went something like, "The petty thieves support Vatia for the aedileship [magistrate]!" (Catchy.) Graffiti? Or a groundbreaking way of stretching ad dollars.
One great thing about outdoor advertising is the free impressions. Nobody bothers to take down a billboard until they have a replacement ready. This results in long-term placements generating additional exposure for free. Just this week I saw a billboard promoting the theatrical release of The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which came and went during the heady summer blockbuster days. This intrigues me because this week also marks the release of that movie on DVD. Clearly that placement has earned thousands of extra impressions at no cost.
Recently, while walking through Brooklyn, I saw a bumper sticker supporting Kerry-Edwards. A full four years have passed since that election, yet the message remains, probably because the owner was too lazy to remove it. Clearly, the Democrats gain some exposure from those impressions, though they are probably not very persuasive. In Vatia's case, his political ad has earned thousands of free impressions over the last two millennia - longer than your average bumper sticker might last. Of course, some of that time it was spent buried under hot ash and dirt, but the idea remains valid.
Today's digital billboards take the fun out of the game. Companies like Dorna USA are creating high-tech LCD billboards. These are full color, vivid electronic ads more like TV than standard billboards. They can be seen now in sports stadiums around the country. With the touch of a button these companies can post the newest ad copy. The downside of this technological upgrade is that ads will come down sooner, too. No more centuries of unpaid exposure. Instead, billboards will last just their stipulated lengths of time and not a nanosecond longer.
It will be interesting to watch as outdoor advertising companies eliminate their posting fees. Electronic delivery means they won't need armies of workers to physically put up the ads. Nobody in their right mind would pay a company an additional fee to simply press a button to upload a digital file. That should be a no-brainer, but it isn't. The broadcast TV networks continue to charge hundreds of dollars for "integration fees." Decades ago, TV stations needed to manually insert commercials into their broadcast signal. Technology has replaced that physical effort, yet those fees remain an unwarranted legacy foisted upon the advertising community. We need to get rid of those fees; doing so would save each campaign thousands of dollars.
Print campaigns can also stretch marketing dollars. I once ran a magazine campaign that utilized unique bonus codes. We assigned a separate discount code to each advertisement. We tracked the number of sales that each magazine's code produced. It was fascinating to see that even years later those codes were still being used. A magazine that sits in the corner of a doctor's office continues to produce impressions for many months. Indeed, one magazine went out of business but its old copies still produce sales. Magazines have a short shelf life on the newsstands, but on our bed stands and coffee tables they sit for a lot longer.
Four years ago, I worked on the HBO series launch of Carnivàle. We built an online tarot game as part of our Web strategy. Until quite recently, the microsite and game were still live. Site traffic naturally tapers off for old shows, but even a few visitors per day are gravy to shows now sold on DVD. Typically, nobody bothers to take down old sites. Instead, the owners just stop paying the bills and eventually the site goes dark. There are scores of abandoned Web sites that still receive low-volume traffic. The traffic value is minute to be sure, but there is some nonetheless.
For sure, no one is getting rich exploiting these nooks and crannies of advertising. These techniques are a bit like rolling up the toothpaste tube. It extracts pennies, not dollars, of savings. Still, it is exhilarating to know that, like Vatia's election, some ad campaigns live forever. Perhaps the petty thieves will take a position in this year's heated political race, too.
Andrew Ettinger is the director of Interactive media at RJ Palmer Media Services. (email@example.com)