Outdoor Advertising Methods, Tactics, and Tips

Tips, Costs, and Examples of Outdoor Media

A blank billboard on a city street corner as pedestrians pass by
••• Travelpix Ltd / Getty Images

You see hundreds of outdoor advertisements every day, and even more if you live in a city like New York or Chicago. But your recall of these ads is probably close to zero. Doing outdoor advertising the right way is imperative, or it's simply a waste. 

Also known as out-of-home (OOH) advertising, outdoor advertising is a broad term that describes any type of campaign that reaches consumers when they're outside their homes. It can be further segregated into more precise segments, but it's all outdoor advertising if it's outside the home.

This is a mass-market medium, just like broadcast, radio, and television. It's best used for broad messages, branding, and support campaigns.

Types of Outdoor Advertising

Outdoor media is a staple because it reaches hundreds of thousands of people by foot, mass transit, or by car. It's usually very quick and impactful. The most common forms of outdoor media include:

  • Billboard advertising
  • Point of sale displays
  • Street furniture, such as bus shelters, kiosks, and telephone booths
  • Transit advertising and wraps, such as on taxis, buses, subways, and trains
  • Mobile billboards
  • Guerrilla advertising, also referred to as ambient media

Outdoor Advertising Comes of Age

It used to be that an outdoor ad was simply a way to achieve brand awareness. It's not possible to convey a complex message on a medium that people will see for only a few seconds, or for a few minutes at most. This type of advertising was seen as support for TV, direct mail, radio, and print campaigns. It kept the product or service front of mind while it let other forms of media do the heavy lifting. 

But with the advent of mobile technology and websites, outdoor advertising can drive people to do something instantly. From QR codes to simple web addresses, or even apps like Snapchat and Instagram, outdoor media can be a way to begin a conversation with the consumer, or to prompt an outdoor campaign to go viral. 

Some outdoor advertising can become the focal point of an entire campaign, especially when it encompasses a stunt or drives interaction with users and their cellphones. Recent examples include the TNT "Push To Add Drama" stunt and the Pepsi Max Unbelievable bus shelter.

Costs Associated With Outdoor Advertising

Reaching hundreds of thousands of consumers isn't cheap, and as competition for billboard spaces increases, so do associated costs.

Cost calculations are based on a system called gross ratings points (GRP), the impressions that are delivered by a media schedule for the outdoor location. This is called the daily effective circulation (DEC), also known as a "showing." One rating point is equal to 1% of the market population. There are many factors involved based on traffic, visibility, location, and size.

This rating gives you a showing score of anywhere from 1% to 100%. Halfway means that at least 50% of the area's population would see one of your boards at least once a day.

You can expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a 50 showing for one month. The price will skyrocket in major areas like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

Tips for Successful Outdoor Advertising Campaigns

Approach your outdoor strategy with careful planning and precision to ensure that you're getting the most bang for your buck. We live in a world that's ruled by smartphones and other portable devices. The average consumer's attention is drawn to a small screen in front of them, not to billboards and transit wraps. You have to break into that valuable attention span.

  • Make your outdoor tactics shareable: Approach your outdoor advertising as something that will create a stir. People will see it, record it, and share it on social media. It's not a good use of your time and money if it doesn't possess this quality.
  • Spend your money on high-traffic sites: You might be tempted to buy cheaper units and more of them, but it's far better to go with one site that will get a million views rather than five sites that will get 800,000. 
  • Look at the competition: Perhaps the best example of this comes from a billboard by Audi. It simply said, "Your move, BMW." Then BMW put up a billboard a week later that said "Checkmate." You don't want to leave yourself open to ridicule, so study the area and select sites that won't pose a problem. 
  • Less is more: Outdoor advertising catches the eye for a second or two—if you're lucky. You don't want to saturate the ad with messages and calls to action. Keep it simple and let a few words and stunning visuals grab consumers' attention. Think of outdoor media as a conversation starter. It's not there to inform, but merely to intrigue. 

The Bottom Line

Remember that an outdoor ad can't do the heavy lifting. Forcing it into this role will usually lead to a very cluttered and confusing message. You're asking an awful lot of the consumer if you put more than 10 words of copy on a billboard.