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PONY UP THE DOUGH, AND ENJOY THE PAYOFF

08.07.2010

"Production costs too much!"
We've all heard it. How many terrific out-of-home media plans have fallen short because of this oversimplified statement?
Yet we've also heard, "I love that wall!" or "What this plan needs is more impact." And the favorite words of all OOH planners: "I want to own the streets like the [fill in blank] brand."
As out-of-home plays a bigger part in advertisers' marketing plans, it's time to look at OOH production costs in a different way as a key part of the investment philosophy. Too often production costs get in the way of good campaigns.
Think about it: In OOH media, the medium truly is the message. Production costs are what create the editorial element. A blank billboard is nothing more than a steel pole with a flat face on top, conduit, lights, electrical, etc.
Once we add digitally printed vinyl with an ad message, the billboard comes to life. It draws the attention of passersby. The billboard may ask questions, demand a judgment or a reaction from the public, even if it's as simple as looking away for lack of interest.
In all other media, the inventory fee pays for access to the talent and content; the advertiser either is paying for the DJ to voice a spot or for the ad to run adjacent to a popular TV program. And that cost is the dominant piece of the business model. It's the programming on the radio or TV or in print that the public chooses to devote their time and eyeballs, not the advertising.
With OOH it's more direct; the ad is the editorial and the programming. The public delivers advertising impressions because the message is part of their lifestyle; it's front and center. As the old saying goes, "People will look if you give them something to look at." In the end, production dollars create the content in OOH. Think of it this way: They don't look at the blank pole the same way they look at an advertising message.
Take the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Tunnel of Love, for example. This all started with an empty tunnel and love for a sea horse exhibit. The tunnel, a pedestrian walkway linking San Franciscans from a Market Street escalator to the Powell Street BART Station, was a blank space adorned by 200 feet of white-tiled walls and gray industrial linoleum an antiseptic daily void for thousands of commuters. It was a space consumers walked quickly through on their way to someplace else more exciting.
With the help of a visionary client along with a supportive vendor (Titan) and transit authority the San Francisco-based agency Engine Company One turned a bland, lifeless walkway into a lively branding moment for the public and an OOH media triumph for the client. The walls, floor and ceiling were wrapped in vinyl, picturing the hard-to-resist sea horses in abundance and practically creating an underwater experience. People have had their photos taken in front of the display. They posted the snapshots in social spaces, from Twitter to Facebook and various blogs. The local media covered the phenomenon, providing PR value that money couldn't buy.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium example begs the question: How much is too much for production costs in OOH? It all depends on the specific location, its role in total media plan and the creative opportunities the location presents.
What is constant is the audience daily effective circulation (DEC) and overall CPM. So why not build the production costs into the CPM analysis? After all, the medium is the message. If production is the editorial for OOH, it makes sense that it should be built into the CPM analysis. A $30,000/month wall with a 75.0 DEC delivers a CPM of $13.33. If you include a production-and-install cost of another $30,000 over a three-month term, the same wall delivers a CPM of $17.78, a terrific value either way and significantly lower than other media and a 24/7 presence for your brand.
This is all about embracing OOH as an investment in the medium and not as a peripheral consumer of it treating it as if you were a resident instead of a tourist. In OOH there is a direct proportional relationship between risk and reward. Buy a big wall in Times Square (think Obama Jacket) or own the streets with kiosks, buses, walls and everything else (think Apple's iPod), and your brand will be the talk of the town.
Bottom line, if you risk your production dollars, the medium will reward you with the public's attention. You can't escape it. The medium is the message for out-of-home.

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