Stephen Freitas

Article Summary:

A look at the globalization of outdoor advertising.

The Globalization of Outdoor Advertising

The notion of globalization has become a fashionable concept in recent years with most people viewing it as a beneficial approach to future world economic development, inevitable and irreversible. Many see it as a primarily economic phenomenon, involving the increasing integration of economic systems through the growth in international trade, investment and capital flows.

In his popular book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century,  Thomas L. Friedman writes that "the lowering of trade and political barriers and the exponential technical advances of the digital revolution have made it possible to do business, or almost anything else, instantaneously with billions of other people across the planet." What Friedman really means by flat is connected.

The rapid and sustained consolidation of media properties over the last decade, particularly within the outdoor segment, is leading toward simplified buying for advertisers across multi-media platforms. An infusion of capital into the outdoor industry has fostered the propagation of vital marketing studies, pioneered the research & development of new outdoor formats and has encouraged savvy entrepreneurs to explore new approaches to the world's oldest medium. Multi-national media companies are investing serious dollars into the outdoor industry and the investments are beginning to pay off in spades with improved infrastructure and expanded services for advertisers.

The outdoor advertising industry has been among the first media channels to successfully craft a global footprint to connect people with concepts. The far-reaching conductivity of companies like Clear Channel, JCDecaux, and Viacom is evident. But, the "flattening" of the outdoor medium worldwide has even broader implications as global buying groups emerge, consistent measurement systems and standards are developed, and common cultural brands become a part of everyday life.

At the 2005 AAAA Media Conference in New Orleans, David Verklin, the Chairman of Carat North America, suggested that outdoor will be the first globally bought and sold medium. His prediction has been proven true with WPP's Kinetic business unit emerging as the first global outdoor buying group, matching the international scope of outdoor operators already consolidated.

The fusion of both global outdoor buying and selling units requires common currencies of evaluation and consistent business standards. Industry leaders from around the world are searching for the best approaches for developing a measurement currency for the global outdoor industry. The annual WAM (Worldwide Audience Measurement) research conference provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the enormous strides being made in outdoor measurement. The meeting also underscores the critical need for the development of consistent systems worldwide. The ability to execute global outdoor campaigns will necessitate a widespread business language.

Outdoor advertising is ideally suited to global communications since the medium conveys ideas through visual expression. Outdoor is less encumbered with the translation of languages, compared to television and radio which rely heavily on verbal communications or print which requires written translation. It's often said 'a picture is worth a thousand words.' It can also be said that the Coca-Cola brand is elegant on any billboard, in any country.

While the notion of a truly global industry is intriguing, the intrinsic local nature of the outdoor business is inescapable. Anyone who has visited Tokyo or Hong Kong, Zurich or Buenos Aires, New York or San Francisco will attest to the fact that every market has unique geographic and demographic characteristics. The composition of outdoor plants found in those places is as different and diverse as snowflakes. The challenge for the outdoor industry is to think globally, but act locally.

Most evolutionary changes occur slowly over many years, so it's almost impossible to see these changes coming. But in the evolving arena of global outdoor advertising, changes are coming swiftly.

Upgraded infrastructure and the innovation of new outdoor formats is changing the industry before our eyes. Many global outdoor companies have begun investing heavily in the development of high-style products and hi-tech display technologies leading to completely integrated product packages across countries and continents. Likewise, cities are partnering with outdoor companies to incorporate impressive outdoor districts into massive reclamation and urban renewal projects, such as the Hollywood and Highland project in Southern California or similar projects in Asia.

Media fragmentation has had a profound impact on the way media is consumed in the United States and the fallout will undoubtedly reach its distant shores in the years-ahead. Over the last twenty year the proliferation of new television and cable options, radio stations, magazine titles and the birth of the Internet has permanently reshaped the US media landscape. Include the development of on-demand technology, and the mounting challenges faced by advertisers trying to reach their audiences, becomes crystal clear. There are too many media choices.

Outdoor offers a means to cut through the clutter of daily life by reinforcing messages that intercept consumers consistently throughout the course of daily routines. Outdoor impacts time-stressed consumers with targeted reach, frequency and continuity when other media struggle for an audience. Outdoor reaches beyond the front door of homes to provide a constant reminder that a brand is a good choice when consumers are mobile and most receptive to advertising messages.

From roadside signs that spackled the American highways at the dawn of the automobile revolution, to the promise of hi-tech channels of communications, the outdoor industry has continued to evolve over more than a century. The commitment that the outdoor business offers advertisers is now and has always been powerful presence in a marketplace. The times may change and the methods employed to reach consumers may evolve, but the fundamental principles of outdoor advertising remain the same: a simple idea can cut through the clutter and deliver a message that is powerful and relevant. That is the sustaining power of outdoor advertising and why outdoor is the global medium of the 21st century.

Stephen Freitas has been the Chief Marketing Officer for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), Inc. since 1999. In his role, Mr. Freitas is an industry spokesman who advances the business of outdoor advertising with education and advocacy throughout corporate America. Stephen Freitas joined OAAA after spending 10 years developing high profile marketing programs for Clear Channel Communications and Eller Media Company. As senior vice-president of marketing, Mr. Freitas was responsible for branding, advertising, research, and corporate communications, in addition to being heavily involved with business development initiatives.

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