Outdoor Advertising -- Dealing With Tough Competition

Competition for outdoor advertising has only increased as sign companies continue to devise new and interesting ways to market products outside.

Billboards are still king when it comes to outdoor advertising, says Danny Pouladian, director at Blue Line Media in Los Angeles, both in small cities and large. And although digital billboards are becoming more popular, traditional billboards of all sizes and shapes are still more common.

“It is definitely more cost effective to do billboards. You can change them out more frequently because it is not as expensive,” he says.

Jeff Shumaker, director of operations for Direct Edge Denver, formerly Great Big Color until its acquisition by Direct Edge Media in March, says that from his perspective, the organizational landscape has changed over the last three years from billboards and transit to more high-end retail. Direct Edge Denver went from five 5-meter billboard printers to just one in the past few years.

He blames the downsize on the increase of digital assets in the market that have made the billboard industry more competitive and more challenging for vendors to provide that type of a service, especially when there is not a consistent amount of that product being produced.

“The turnarounds are so short and the demands are so high; pricing has been driven down so greatly, it is a challenge. The direction our group has taken is more of a one-stop shop for higher end products and services and that tends to be more retail,” Shumaker says. “I think more and more pressure is put on it to drive prices down and provide better buys for the client.”

It doesn’t pay to dabble in the billboard market anymore, he says. Now, unless a shop is really committed to the outdoor advertising space, it isn’t worth it to be in that space.

“If you are playing in the billboard market, you want to produce them with one material. All operators are used to finishing a one-size product. If they are having to change and do a lot of paneling, welding and stitching out to mesh it together it gets to be more challenging to be profitable with those types of change outs,” he adds.

Ten years ago, it cost $1.50 per square foot to print a billboard graphic. Now the price ranges between 32 cents and 36 cents per square foot.

Blue Line Media creates many types of outdoor ads, including graphics for buses, bus shelters, benches, convenience stores, airports and subway stations.

One way to make traditional billboards more interesting is to add extensions off the top, bottom or sides which make the ad “larger than the intended size of the billboard. Those are pretty eye catching. Creative is always getting more interesting,” Pouladian says.

He admits that the most rapid change is happening in the digital world. “That’s where most investment is going into converting many of the displays to digital panels so that they are controlled remotely as opposed to changing vinyl all the time,” Pouladian says. “In some places it is not possible to go digital due to zoning or otherwise but digital is the one making the most changes.”

Orbus Exhibit and Display is a supplier and manufacturer of exhibits and display products, from portable, modular, fabric structures to sign systems. It specializes in outdoor displays, things like tents, inflatable signs, flags and umbrellas.

“There’s a lot of different players in the marketplace that provide this type of product, but what differentiates us from them is we have such a broad scope of other products that are display related,” says Natalie Whited, vice president of marketing for Orbus Exhibit & Display Group. “We’ve seen an uptick in demand for these solutions because people are planning events and not just for trade shows.”

Outdoor concerts, fairs and festivals have become more prevalent and everyone wants those types of displays to grab attendees’ attention.

States like California and Nevada that are warm year-round have many outdoor sporting and event venues where outdoor advertising is the norm. Because of their year-round sunshine, many of these venues can be leveraged for advertising nine out of 12 months a year, she says.

The price for printed fabric tents has gone way down. Now for $50, a person can purchase a basic tent. It adds extra to cover it with custom graphics, but it is still reasonable. These tents are also easy to set up so they don’t take more than one person to operate, which adds to their increased use as well, she adds.

There also is a big demand for inflatable structures, ones that are simple to use and are inflated with a portable blower.

Orbus just recently started offering an inflatable tube that has a customizable canvas flap.

“We’ve seen a multitude of different shapes out there, and I think we are just dipping our toe in the water to see how it goes by offering such a system. We will expand our product line if demand continues,” she says.

The company received many requests for its Stowaway lightweight outdoor displays last year. They look a lot like popup tents that are printed on two sides. A person only has to twist them, sometimes multiple times, to pack them neatly into a nylon bag with a zipper the size of a Frisbee. They are used in real estate, sporting and other outdoor events. The smallest is 5 feet wide but they go up to 9 feet wide, she says.

“All kinds of industries are interested in outdoor advertising, mostly because they realize it gets people while they are driving around on the street as opposed to when people are watching television or listening to the radio. Outdoor is harder to turn off. It is more attractive for that reason,” Pouladian says.

Even with all of the innovation and creative use of fabrics outdoors, Pouladian says that plain old directional billboards are still very effective, meaning they advertise the location of a store or restaurant.

“They are not too expensive to print. Production costs on those have come down a lot,” he says. It also is fairly inexpensive to advertise on buses and taxi cabs.

Another cool thing a lot of advertisers have done is fully wrap bus shelters and include some four-dimensional touches. One advertiser made a bus shelter look like a ski lodge and included a heater inside to make the inside cozy like a fire-warmed cabin.

Big brands are the ones attracted to this concept because they are very expensive, he says.