By David H. Martin

Television advertising grabs attention and motivates action through its unique combination of pictures, sound and motion. But as the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Radio commercials combined with outdoor advertising can also deliver effective reach and frequency while offering similar audio and visual synergy of spot TV ads. What’s more, according to a 2003 study by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), a combination of radio and outdoor ads can be more cost effective than local TV ads.

Outdoor billboard ads
For many, the term “billboard” is synonymous with outdoor advertising. For the first 100 years of its history, the humble billboard itself changed little, other than to adopt a standard poster-size around its inception. Today, there are many options for major advertisers including three-dimensional, animated displays with computerized lighting effects. But smaller advertisers, including many water treatment dealers, are limited by budgets that dictate the conventional 30-sheet outdoor poster.

Outdoor advertising’s cost-per-thousand (CPM) is significantly lower than that of any other advertising medium, in some cases by a factor of 10 or even 20. To be effective on posters that are passed by racing vehicles at often high speeds requires both a brief message and simple visual concept. Some of the best billboards are provocative—that is, they tease the viewer and generate curiosity.

Outdoor posters command attention and their large poster size, color visual and illumination (at night) is missed by only one-third of all who drive by, according to a recent OAAA study. While morning and evening drive-time exposures are greatest, outdoor advertising, much like a website posting, is a “24/7” medium.

Billboards can be used as “direction-als” by pointing out your business location. And, better than other media, they’re a cost-effective way to promote your company website.

This is not to mention that outdoor advertising is the most cost-effective way to establish logo recognition. If your budget permits, you may choose to place your posters along the most heavily traveled highways for maximum reach. Or, if you have a showroom or water store, you might pick strategic sign locations along roads that border your store.

Outdoor limitations
While billboards have impact, your message is limited to eight to 12 words, making it difficult (if not impossible) to communicate product details, competitive advantages or specific benefits. Availability of prime outdoor advertising locations may be limited as the best locations are often controlled by large, long-term advertisers.

Recall of outdoor advertising messages is relatively low as commuters behind the wheel as well as their passengers are exposed only very briefly to your message, minimizing message retention. Adverse conditions such as heavy traffic or bad weather can also limit message impact and recall.

Sign locations are limited in many markets. Because of growing environmental and aesthetic concerns, many cities and towns have eliminated, reduced or curbed the volume and placement of outdoor advertising.
Outdoor advertising is less flexible than either radio or TV schedules, which can often be canceled or changed on short notice. Once a billboard is up, it generally stays up through the duration of the contract, even if the advertiser’s needs have changed. In other words, outdoor ads must be purchased an average of 28 days prior to each showing, allowing time for production and placement, which prohibits any corrections or additions that may result from changing business conditions.

Radio ad support
An outdoor advertising message can be seen only where it’s displayed. Radio commercials, on the other hand, allow your message to travel with your customers wherever they go—at home, the office, or in the car. By combining radio spots with outdoor advertising, you can build your message’s range and frequency while reaching more of your customers more often.

While a billboard can grab your customers’ attention, radio can give them the details of specific offers. By combining these complementary marketing tools, radio can deliver all the information on products and services your customers need to make intelligent purchasing decisions. To be effective, billboard messages must be brief. Add radio to enhance and expand on the message displayed on your billboard showing.

The most desirable dayparts—segments of time when listening audiences peak—in radio advertising are morning drive time (6-10 a.m.) and afternoon drive time (3-7 p.m.). In large metropolitan areas, these high-listener periods when people are driving to and home from work have been expanded by an hour or more, thus expanding drive time from four to five hours. According to the U.S. Labor Department, Americans are working an average of 53 hours per week. The longer work week stretches drive time. Car-bound listeners are projected to be listening to radio 20 hours per week vs. less than 15 hours per week spent watching network TV, according to the Veronis Suhler Communications Industry Forecast.

While bad weather and adverse traffic conditions can decrease outdoor ad exposure, radio listening actually increases under these circumstances. That’s because people depend on their car radios for weather and traffic reports. Is it any wonder billboards and radio make an especially effective drive time combination?

Localized cost comparison
Last year, the OAAA sponsored a study comparing 2003 media rates in the top 50 U.S. markets. The study revealed why radio/outdoor combination buys are cost effective when compared with TV schedules.

Based on other research, radio spots tend to have about 80 percent of the recall power of average TV spots, with local rates ranging from 50 percent to 80 percent of corresponding TV prices (see Table 1).

Using a combination of radio and outdoor ads can be a cost-efficient alternative to local spot TV advertising. Why not try it between TV flights? You might find you will reach more prospects for the same money or less.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: [email protected] or website:



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