The term “outdoor” advertising meant billboards in the old days, before advertising became so ubiquitous and increasingly aggressive. People could actually choose to spend a day without encountering some form of advertising.
With the growth of advertising across many media in the past few decades, the term “outdoor” expanded to include many ads other than just billboards. Ads appeared outdoors on beaches, a tear drop banner outside of businesses, in airports, on the sides of trucks, on gas pump handles, and even in restroom toilet stalls. The term “outdoor” became so broad that the meaning was no longer clear.
The Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc. (OAAA) recently addressed the issue of terminology in their weekly Outdoor Outlook.
“A few years ago, the Hecht study showed there was confusion among advertisers in the multiple terms our industry uses to name itself: ‘outdoor,’ ‘out of home,’ ‘nontraditional,’ ‘place-based,’ and ‘ambient,’ to name a few. Many advertisers, the largest worldwide media companies, and Wall Street analysts define “out of home” as media that reaches consumers when they are outside of their homes. Outdoor and radio are dominant “out of home” media forms – yet the term “outdoor” has become the prevailing expression to characterize visual out of home messages while radio represents the audio dimension. The confusion was understandable.”
The OAAA is now using the term “outdoor” to describe one major segment of the broad spectrum of out-of-home ads, but the term is still broader than just standardized billboards. The four major formats covered by the category “Outdoor” are Billboards, Street Furniture, Transit, and Alternative Outdoor media. Two other categories cover the remaining types of media outside the home: Out-of-home, and Non-traditional.
The “Billboard” format includes 8-Sheet Posters, 30-Sheet Posters, Wrapped Posters, Bulletins, Spectaculars, and Wall Murals. All but Wall Murals are the types of signs that most people refer to as billboards. Most of the signs in this segment are aimed primarily at street and highway traffic, although pedestrians and building occupants certainly view the messages too. “Street Furniture” includes bus shelters, bus benches, newsstands & news racks, kiosks, public telephones, shopping malls, and in-store. This is obviously a very broad array of ad media, but they all have certain characteristics in common: they tend to be smaller than billboards and many are seen by pedestrians rather than motor traffic. The title “Transit” includes busses, subway and rail, airports, truckside, and taxis. These media are all focussed on the mobile consumer that is outside the home. The title “Alternative Outdoor” covers a broad range of advertising that does not fit into other categories. This segment includes stadiums, airborne, marine vessels, recreational resorts, rest areas, parking meters, gas pumps and bike racks. The common thread to all of the media now classified as Outdoor is that the target of the message is not at home watching TV, reading magazines or the newspaper, or connected to the Internet.
The new definition for “Out of Home” is intended to specifically include radio and what is referred to as “place-based TV.” Radio has three specifications: drive time, in-office, and in-store. While these distinctions might not have been top of mind for most consumers, the distinctions are intuitive to most advertisers. Place-based TV is a category that includes schools, airports, sports bars, and elevators. This category is a good example of the vast reach of advertising as we begin the Twenty-First Century. Finally, the title “Nontraditional” has been given to a variety of other media including napkins, cup sleeves, cleaner bags, postcards, and wild posting.
This is no longer your father’s “outdoor” industry. And more changes certainly will come. What about radio messages that are narrowcast to cars passing a billboard? What about holographic messages appearing in the air, a la Princess Leja with her message for Obi-Wan Kenobi? No one knows where it all will end because creativity is infinite. Going forward from 2002, at least the industry is establishing terminology that should reduce confusion about existing forms of Outdoor, Out-of-home, and Non-traditional media.