MEDIA's Agency of the Year 2010: Out-Of-Home: Posterscope

Out-of-home ads get 21st-century makeover

PosterscopeIf Madison Avenue has had a stepchild medium, it has surely been out-of-home. With the exception of the occasional attention-getting spectacular, out-of-home media planning and buying has typically been relegated to a back-office specialty department often seen as tactical and far removed from the strategic planning process that shapes the underlying communications plan of most consumer brands.

Connie Garrido has spent most of her career trying to change that, and for the past year, as CEO of Aegis' Posterscope unit, she finally has the clout, resources and team in place to make it happen.

At first glance, Garrido may seem an improbable change agent. Standing not much more than five feet, the Colombia-born American transplant has somehow managed to break through Aegis' old boys club, to make Posterscope a core asset on a par with Carat, Isobar and the rest of its media services portfolio; in the process, she has gone a long way toward changing the ad industry's thinking about the value of out-of-home.

And the timing couldn't be better. As the universe of media in homes, offices and online continue to fragment and lose control to consumers, out-of-home represents an opportunity to captivate consumer attention in places that may be highly relevant to a brand experience. And with new creative tools, including a rapidly expanding base of digital out-of-home screen options; mobile, online and augmented reality tie-ins; and the imagination of some of the most creative people in the business, out-of-home has become a strategic imperative for many marketers and at least one big agency holding company. All of these reasons account for making Posterscope one of our agencies of the year.

The year began with Garrido and long-time partner Ray Rotolo, making the leap from Chrysalis, a creative and strategically driven out-of-home and experiential marketing agency they created in partnership with Havas' MPG in 2009. Well, they didn't completely leap. Garrido figured out a way to structure a deal that would combine the strategic thinking of Chrysalis with the scale and buying clout of Aegis' Posterscope in a collaboration that is rare among big agency holding companies (see related story in this issue).

After years of overseeing strategy or running small, strategically focused out-of-home media boutiques within other big agency holding companies - most notably WPP - Garrido finally had the resources to transform out-of-home on a major - indeed a global - scale. And one of the first things she did was to get her team to map the globe, creating Prism, a proprietary media planning and buying system that has databased every facet of digital out-of-home advertising in the world, including rates, data and a variety of qualitative factors, giving the agency and its clients the ability to think globally, but activate locally.

The benefit of the system, Garrido says, is that it standardizes much of the audience data around established, in-house metrics that the Posterscope planners can use to build their strategies, giving them more time to plan and wasting little or no time gathering information on audience composition, reach and cost.

The goal, says Garrido, is to develop systems that automate and routinize many of the most time-consuming aspects of constructing out-of-home media buys, allowing the Posterscope team more time to think about creating unique messages for clients that take advantage of the proximity and propinquity of out-of-home locations.

Typically, the Posterscope team utilizes conventional outdoor media to do that, but more often than not, they are leveraging elements that go beyond billboards and screens. That might include creating an event or experience in an out-of-home location that either creates a buzz on its own, or creates a multiplying effect for an out-of-home media buy surrounding it.

The key, Garrido says, is not to simply think about out-of-home as media buys, but as consumer experiences with brands in public places. That's true for traditional billboards, as well as some of the newest digital out-of-home media technologies. A good example is the growing prevalence of augmented reality and so-called QR, or 2-D codes that can be used to launch handheld screen experiences linked to location-based media. One of the problems, Posterscope found, was that while industry insiders may understand the connection with 2-D codes, many consumers do not, resulting in extremely low use of what could be a very promising medium.

In an effort to learn how codes could become a more integrated part of out-of-home media campaigns, Posterscope conducted a test with client Nokia, using the mobile phone marketer's Point & Find augmented reality codes. To find out what would happen if the codes became a ubiquitous part of out-of-home environments, Posterscope took over the city of Colchester in southeast England for four weeks, incorporating Nokia's Point & Find codes into virtually every out-of-home media location available in the market. Utilizing cameras in their phones, local residents were able to hyperlink to content that was related to the billboard, and even to download apps utilizing a combination of image-recognition and GPS technology.

"The purpose," says James Davies, Posterscope's chief strategy officer, "was to test just how interested ordinary citizens might be in using their smartphone cameras to interact with poster sites and to gain insights regarding content types, user profile and usage patterns."

The experiment tested ads in four general consumer categories - movies, music, candy and leisure activities - offered in the local market. Posterscope gleaned two important insights from the test. One is that when properly informed on how to download and use the codes, a significant percentage of consumers will do so. About 3 percent of the entire population in Colchester downloaded them. And equally significantly, that a significant percentage of people who download the readers will interact with campaigns utilizing them. The average number of app users interacting with any one of five campaigns using the codes during the test was 23 percent.

Davies says the test yielded other important insights about the behavior of consumers, what they are most prone to use codes for (video content and Facebook links were among the most popular links), and when and where it was most likely to influence their behavior.

Davies says more testing needs to be done to understand the wear-out and long-term potential of the codes, especially if a big public awareness campaign was conducted alongside them to help consumers understand their value. Posterscope is considering a larger scale version of the test this year, possibly in the United States.

The Nokia test is part of a broader commitment Posterscope has made toward understanding consumer mindsets with out-of-home media and in various locations, including the Out-of-Home Consumer Study, or OCS, which enables Posterscope's planners to analyze how different types of consumers will react to different forms of media - posters, billboards, digital screens, mobile, experiential - in different locations.

The approach is working, and is transforming not just the way Posterscope handles out-of-home planning and buying, but the way Aegis and other agencies and clients that Posterscope works with think about out-of-home as a strategic element in their marketing mix.

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