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Outdoor Advertising App


Description of Idea: The shortcomings of billboards as an advertising vehicle are well documented. They’re basically the crudest form of advertising that still exists. A billboard placed on the side of the road is equivalent to a caveman swinging a club in a crowded room hoping to hit something – and then not knowing what he hit. Don Draper would never condone such a lack of imagination.

Forgive me for paraphrasing, but I imagine a conversation in the marketing department of a large corporation going something like this:

CMO: “We have a quarter million dollars to spend. Any ideas?”

Marketing Director: “We could place a big bright sign right in the path of where people have to travel every day.”

CMO: “I love it! Have them invoice me.”

The Problem Being Solved: Companies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to have their ad ‘impressed’ upon people while our cities are visually polluted with their presence. But gauging a billboard’s true effectiveness is impossible and amounts to guessing. Basic questions like: Who saw the ad? What, if any action did the viewer take because of the ad? What is the ROI? are nearly impossible to answer. Meanwhile, online advertising continues to refine and improve their delivery of ads and their ability to monitor and tweak the ad for optimal performance.

One of the fundamentals of online advertising is having a strong call to action in the ad. As an advertiser you want to grab the user’s attention and then direct them to take action immediately, whether that means submitting their email address, taking a survey, following you on Twitter or purchasing something. Online ads are ideal for follow through. Unlike a TV commercial, magazine ad, or billboard, it is easy for the consumer to take an immediate action directly after viewing the ad.

Lap Band Billboard

How am I supposed to do that with a billboard? I’m driving on the freeway at 75 MPH and I see an ad for the Samsung Galaxy S3, the new Batman movie or a tattoo convention, and even if I’m interested, what can I realistically do? The ad caught my eye and seemed intriguing enough for it to register but the phone number and/or website were left behind. Even if the website or phone number is easy to remember like the infamous Lap Band’s 1800 GET-SLIM number, am I really expected to write it down as I’m driving or call to inquire about a weight loss surgery on my way to work?

The nature of a billboard means that I am likely viewing the ad at an inopportune time and do not have the means to follow through. And 2 miles down the road I’ve likely forgotten it. Yet that doesn’t negate that billboards are great for exposure. If you can afford one, a billboard is a prime way to forcibly place your ad in front of thousands of people.

Billboards aren’t going anywhere. The logic behind them is too simple. But instead of clogging our skylines with dumb ads that do little other than build awareness at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, let’s make them more effective.

The Solution: I want a mobile app that is voice-directed that will email me more information (at my request) about an ad I saw. The app detects my location and then uses my rough description of the ad to text or email me an optimized page about that product/service. I can choose to add in some basic demographic information when I install the app as well.

As much as I hate billboards, there are times when I want to know more about the product or service being advertised. I’m curious about the Samsung Galaxy S3. I don’t always remember that I’m curious about it. A billboard is a good reminder. That doesn’t mean I want to learn more about it while I’m driving. I want to tell my phone, “Send me info about the Galaxy S3” or “Send me the trailer for the new Batman movie” and have information sent to me that I can view at my leisure.

The app would log the conversion rate of impressions versus “information requests.” The email being sent would track the open rate and click-through rate. The app would have the location of requests and whatever demographic information the user decided to provide. For the first time an advertiser could tell who was most interested in their ad, where they were, the time of day, etc. and send them more information to extend their line of communication. They also now have a direct line of communication with a prospect versus using the shotgun approach.

The obvious challenge is getting consumers to download and adopt an app that delivers more ads to them. If effective though, this platform could be extended to other forms of advertising like radio or print. Clear Channel is one of the nation’s major providers of outdoor advertising space and also the largest owner of AM/FM radio stations.

To be honest, I find billboards completely obnoxious. I grew up in LA and you don’t realize how bombarded you are by them until visiting a city like Portland or San Francisco that has strict ordinances against their proliferation. I know billboards aren’t going away but that doesn’t mean a crude instrument can’t be made more effective. The only advancements to billboards in the last 50 years have been LED displays which increase the amount of ads that can be displayed in the same space. Now instead of having one static picture, I have to look at 5 blinking, rotating ones. The intention of this app is to build value for both the consumer and the advertiser. At its best, a well-timed, well-placed ad is a source of information. At worst, it’s an intrusion. If an app can help an otherwise obtrusive sign become a convenient source of information for consumers and advertisers can use the data that’s collected to improve their effectiveness, I’m all for it.

Author: Emil Gallardo


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