Commentary: Media for a New World

There are a lot of good reasons for media planners to keep outdoor advertising on their radar screen these days. Our industry continues to fare well despite the economic woes being suffered these days by the media business. The industry finished flat in 2001 — a notable accomplishment at a time when most media segments were posting losses. According to industry estimates, the outdoor advertising category now accounts for approximately $5.5 billion in ad spending per year. And we’re working on a new measurement test with Arbitron that could change how outdoor ad effectiveness is reported.

First, let’s talk about why outdoor ads have retained resilience in tough times. The outdoor medium has kept its ability to adapt national branding campaigns into local promotional messages. It is very pliable, offering general market coverage while at the same time being able to target messages. Outdoor reaches a mass audience effectively, but the real strength of the medium is in its ability strategically to target very specific social and geo-demographic groups. Ultimately, outdoor advertising will have significant impact on target consumers by reaching them in defined neighborhoods or locales. Today, sophisticated mapping systems are used to present accurately a logical plan for reaching virtually any socioeconomic audience with outdoor media. Outdoor communicates a message to consumers all day, every day. Using a wide selection of syndicated data sources, advertisers can pinpoint where consumers spend their time and use outdoor to reach them throughout their daily travels.

Despite all the benefits it can bring to an advertiser’s campaign, outdoor has never really gained the same respect as some other mainstream media. That’s because outdoor data has often been considered suspect and called into question by advertisers, media planners, and researchers alike. But that’s about to change.

Arbitron will work with the outdoor industry through the OAAA on a comprehensive research program whose goal is to create an outdoor audience ratings service. The test, already in progress, will explore methods to enable Arbitron to develop an audience measurement service for the outdoor industry that conforms to existing ratings standards used by radio, TV, magazines, and newspapers. The components envisioned for the new outdoor ratings service would include audience demographics; geographic definitions, such as Metro and DMA; audience estimates, such as reach, frequency, and Gross Ratings Points; and frequent periodic reports. Arbitron is planning to examine several different methodologies this summer to determine which one to use in a more extensive test in Atlanta planned for this fall. The results of this major consumer trial will be released in the first quarter of 2003 and examined for utility, reliability, scalability, and quality of consumer compliance.

Arbitron's decision to explore the development of an outdoor audience ratings service comes in response to the needs expressed by agencies, advertisers, and outdoor media companies.

Currently, the outdoor media industry provides advertisers with Traffic Audit Bureau counts of vehicular traffic. While it’s an excellent starting point, the data details how many are exposed to outdoor advertising but not who is exposed to it. Defining the "who" will make outdoor more accountable.

Steve Freitas is the Chief Marketing Officer of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. Email him at

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