Most people understand what is meant by the word “billboard”: a wood or metal structure with an advertising message on the face or faces, usually located next to a roadway. In the last several years two new terms in this industry have become popular, but they are less well understood. These terms are “outdoor” and “out-of-home” advertising. Both terms probably conjure up the image of billboards to many people. However, they have much broader meaning than just billboards and the out-of-home advertising industry has been refining definitions and encouraging standardized terminology.
The term “outdoor” advertising is not favored by most of the industry because it is not sufficiently broad. It obviously implies that an ad is outside of a home or building. Instead, the term “out-of-home” is favored because it captures advertisements that are outside of the home, but not outdoors. A new taxonomy has been developed that breaks down out-of-home into four major categories: Billboards, Street Furniture, Transit, and Alternative Outdoor.
Billboards include three main categories of standardized signs. Bulletins are the largest at 14×48 feet, 30-Sheet Posters are next largest at 12×25, and 8-Sheet Posters are the smallest at 6×12 feet. Billboards are seen in many locations, usually along higher traffic roadways. Billboards are estimated to generate about 60% of all out-of-home ad spending.
Street Furniture is a much newer advertising medium that spread quickly in the 1990s. This may be the most diverse category that includes much more than the title implies. The most obvious segment is bus shelters and benches, shelter-size displays on sidewalks, and telephone or street kiosks. This is intuitively street furniture. But the other segments get further from the concept implied by the title. This category of out-of-home advertising includes an estimated 1,200 displays in shopping malls. While not technically on the street, or furniture, these ads are viewed by potential customers out of their homes. The category Street Furniture also includes displays at convenience stores and some 34,000 faces inside of other stores. Due to the nature of the store displays (as contrasted with bus shelters), the industry may need to move to a fifth category of out-of-home advertising possibly called Retail Sites or something similar. Most store ads do not fit easily into the category of Street Furniture. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) estimates that Street Furniture generates about 17% of all out-of-home ad dollars.
Transit is a category that includes busses, commuter rail, subways, and airports. The bus segment covers advertisements inside the bus and outside the bus. Bus “sides” are print ads usually held in frames on the side of the bus. Bus “wraps” are a relatively new type of advertising that grew out of the variety of uses created for vinyl mesh material used as a substrate. The vinyl is literally wrapped around the entire bus. Commuter rail and subways are the ads displayed inside the transit cars. Airport ads include a variety of displays, but they are primarily back-lit posters on walls and kiosks. The market for Transit is about the same size as Street Furniture, generating some 17% of total out-of-home spending.
Alternative Outdoor is a very broad category that includes everything not specifically covered in the other three areas. Also referred to as Supplemental Outdoor, this segment includes ads in restrooms, air-banner towing, ski advertising, gas pumps, shopping carts, and on-plane advertising. This segment also includes the rapidly growing medium of advertising at sports stadiums and arenas. One look at major new facilities like Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, home of the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks, indicates the growing use of this type of media. Some ads are even inserted electronically on surfaces at stadiums by television technology. These messages are not actually at the sports facility, but appear to be on the walls when viewed on television.
Three of the four main category titles of out-of-home advertising are likely to go through additional stages of refinement. While the category of Billboards does not have much room for improvement, the other categories could certainly use some help. As mentioned, Street Furniture does not logically include segments such as convenience stores. Additional questions arise in the Alternative Outdoor category. Truck-side advertising has grown rapidly in just the past few years and it might be categorized best in the Transit category rather than Alternative. The same could be true for mobile displays, which are billboards pulled around town on trailers. Further refinement is likely since the categories have only come into being in the past several years.
The list of leading companies in the out-of-home advertising business changed dramatically in the 1990s. Mergers and acquisitions transformed the landscape of the industry. The top out-of-home ad companies in 2001 according to OAAA were:
- Viacom Outdoor Group (includes the former Outdoor Systems billboard company)
- Clear Channel Outdoor (includes the former Eller Media)
- Lamar Advertising Company
- AK Media (scheduled to be acquired by Clear Channel by June 2002)
- JCDecaux / Skysites
- Adams Outdoor Advertising
- Tri-State Outdoor Media Group
- Fairway Outdoor Advertising
- Van Wagner Communications
- Reagan Outdoor