Branding The Great Outdoors


Cable networks are increasingly turning to the great outdoors to get their messages across. Whether on billboards or spectaculars, street furniture or various modes of transportation, cable networks are putting their branding and tune-in ads on an array of outdoor media.

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, outdoor advertising expenditures edged up 0.8% in 2002, to about $5.23 billion. Local services and amusements remained the leading category, posting 6% growth last year to $693.9 million. Ranked No. 4, the media and advertising sector was off 1%, to $463.9 million in 2002.

Gotta do it

Those numbers fly in the face of comments from executives contacted for this story.

"If you're a packaged-goods company, outdoor is a secondary medium," said Showtime vice president of media George DeBolt. "Given its consumer reach and the trade buzz it creates, you can't have an entertainment plan without outdoor."

Buzz is why cable networks and other entertainment concerns often take outdoor ads bicoastal.

"You want to touch the creative community in Los Angeles, so rotaries are very important there," said DeBolt. "We get calls all the time, 'So and so saw [himself or herself] all over L.A.' You get a lot of mileage from outdoor that way."

In New York, networks have run ads on strategically located bus shelters or phone kiosks positioned along Madison Avenue, hoping to strike a chord with media buyers and planners. Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.-owned networks AMC and WE: Women's Entertainment are among the services that have taken matters inside, securing time on placed-based "elevator networks" in midtown Manhattan buildings, where agencies are situated.

Gauging results

While outdoor media companies provide rate cards replete with measurement numbers, the reality is that it's hard to calculate how many people walk or drive by a sign or phone kiosk.

Some of the executives interviewed for this story talked about gauging recognition of outdoor media during focus groups. But most mentioned anecdotal reactions.

"The responses you get from people at parties, the e-mails and phone calls you receive — it's a lot about personal reactions," said Oxygen president of programming Debbie Bece.

Dave Howe, senior vice president of marketing for Sci Fi Channel, emphasizes that outdoor "can't be done in drips and drabs. You have to take ownership of certain areas," as Sci Fi did with its "domination" of Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal for last December's miniseries Taken, its highest-rated show ever.

"We had all the corridors in Grand Central," he said, noting that lenticular posters lined the walls. These ads use special lenses, or "lenticules," to give off the effect of movement within the Taken

"It was built into the [wall posters]. It was the first time this [technique] was used in Grand Central."

Raising awareness through frequency in markets comes with a price, though. "The CPMs for outdoor are relatively low, but out-of-pocket is high if you want reach and frequency. Production costs are expensive as well," said AMC senior vice president of marketing Isabel Miller.

Volume discounts can help lower the costs of individual campaigns, said Tom Hanft, senior vice president of marketing for Lifetime Television.

Lifetime is an outdoor proponent that regularly deploys billboards, phone kiosks, bus shelters and bus kings (or sides) to trumpet its original series.

The network's movie franchise has also benefited from such exposure over the years, with the recent Homeless to Harvard
drawing attention, via an image of star Thora Birch that ran on bus sides, as well as a spectacular near the DoubleTree Hotel in Times Square.

Speaking of the giant outdoor showcases, Showtime regularly makes use of Trivision (or three-in-one) boards near the Lowes EWalk Movie Theatres at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue in New York.

Showtime has maintained this heavily trafficked location, near the Port Authority bus terminal, over the past three years, through a lease with sister company Viacom Outdoor.

DeBolt said that in addition to touting Showtime series, movies and specials, the LED readout on the board's bottom has plugged CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the top-rated show on broadcast sibling CBS.

In addition to bus shelters, phone kiosks, subway entrances and billboards, Turner Network Television also likes to go the "spectacular" route in New York. It leases a 29-foot-high, 125-foot-long board on Broadway, north of Times Square, on an annual basis.

The dual-faced board currently features an image of Alec Baldwin in the TNT Original movie Second Nature, which bows June 22, accompanied on the other panel by brand-building copy reading: "Plot Thickens, Pulse Quickens," playing off the network's promo theme, "We Know Drama."

Oxygen turned to outdoor for the first time this spring, running ads on phone kiosks, bus shelters and subway panels in New York, Chicago and Detroit, plugging mostly original fare like the Isaac Mizrahi Show
and Talk Sex With Sue Johanson. The women's-targeted network also rolled out shrink-wrapped buses in New York, featuring off-network acquisition Xena, Warrior Princess
and star Lucy Lawless.

"It was big, bold, fun. There was good emotion and the buses said, 'Look at me,' " said Bece.

For its part, Sundance Channel jumped into the outdoor fray as part of its first national marketing campaign during last winter's "10 Days of Sundance" effort, and then put an outdoor spotlight on its "DocDays" programming. Currently, Sundance is targeting gay communities in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco with notices for its "OutLoud" gay film festival, via the tag line, "Live Life Out Loud: Where Film Is Going Every Day in June."

Senior vice president of marketing Kirk Iwanowski said Sundance is advertising on phone kiosks and the sides of buildings in the Chelsea and West Village sections of New York, and on billboards in Hollywood and Santa Monica, Calif. A pair of "hot pink" buses are on the route past San Francisco's Castro Street.

Lifetime uses outdoor advertising to target Latinos. "We've been able to pinpoint certain neighborhoods in cities with large Hispanic [populations] with billboards, which we produce in Spanish-language," said Hanft.

Building sites

AMC's Miller said the network has used outdoor extensively since October as part of its rebranding campaign, with the tagline, "TV For Movie People: All You Movie People Get With The Programs." Billboards and bus sides played a key role in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, Boston and Dallas.

In the Big Apple, AMC has also used scaffolding on some construction sites.

"These sites come up quickly, so you have to be ready," said Miller.

TLC general manager Roger Marmet also cited the appeal of construction-site ads.

"It's nothing long-term, but [scaffolding] does become available for six months or less. That's a form that's a lot less cluttered than running billboards in, say, Times Square."

In addition to scaffolding, TLC will use painted buses and billboards in New York and Los Angeles to flag Trading Spaces, showcasing colorful cast shots, including host Paige Davis rolling red paint across the crew. "We're proclaiming our dominance in the room-transformation genre," said Marmet.

Creative rules

The rule of thumb when it comes to creative for outdoor advertising is a bold image and quick-hitting copy, with many observers adhering to the "seven words or less" principle.

Trio is now bucking that trend in New York for its "Uncensored Comedy" programming stunt. Part of a broad outdoor Big Apple media plan, Trio is running copy for its 90-minute original show Uncensored Comedy: That's Not Funny, which deals with the fine line between what's funny and unacceptable under the headline: "We'd Formally Like To Apologize To." It then lists 67 different groups.

"You want to be bold and aggressive with ads that make people take notice," said Universal Television vice president of marketing, Jason Klarman. "Sometimes five or even three words can be too many, if they're not the right ones."

To support the launch of its "Sunday Night Buzz" programming franchise on June 15, Game Show Network is using phone kiosks, taxi tops and commuter-rail ads in New York as part of a broader media schedule.

Game Show senior vice president of marketing Dena Kaplan talked about creative for ads for reality show Chuck Woolery: Naturally Stoned
— the game show host has a funny look while sporting a badge saying, "I'm Hi, Chuck" — and hybrid gamer National Lampoon's Funny Money,
in which a guy has wet his pants underneath the copy "It can't be that funny."

Both underline the notion that "these are not your traditional game-show formats."

But sometimes creative can pose obstacles. IFC senior vice president of marketing Caroline Bock said last summer's campaign for the network's "BaadAssss Cinema" movie festival — featuring a black woman in "groovy 1970s clothing and a bare midriff" — proved too provocative in Sacramento, Calif. Its rejection by a billboard vendor there prompted an article in the Sacramento Bee. "That's a sign of success, if you're deemed to be too out-there," said Bock.

This summer, IFC will employ subway, billboard and bus-side ads in such major markets as New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Seattle, touting its specials A Decade Under The Influence, which bows Aug. 20 to 23.

Getting attention

Trio's Klarman said outdoor needs to turn up in surprising places. That's why National Show attendees will likely see two street blimps hovering around McCormick Place and convention hotels, delivering brand-building messages.

Last year, Trio created a stir for such shows as TV's Most Censored Moments, Art and Outrage
and The History of Pornography
with a 35-foot-high billboard in Times Square, where Michelangelo's David looked down on 47th Street in all his naked glory.

But Viacom Outdoor rejected the art because of David's nudity, however, forcing Trio to put a censored sign over his "private parts."

Trio also paid four near-naked models to pose as "Davids" and hand out copies of the First Amendment on New York streets — its tongue-in-cheek way of protesting that it had been censored.

During the summer months, Showtime has handed out fans bearing the Soul Food
moniker in churches down south. To support its upcoming series L Word, scheduled to launch in first-quarter 2004, the premium network will dole out tiaras at lesbian community events.

The faux crowns will feature such "l" words as lipstick, luscious and look.

Viper on board?

"We might not be able to own all outdoor media, but we can own venues like churches and gay bars," said Showtime senior vice president of marketing and promotions Stephanie Gibbons.

Game Show raised some eyebrows last year by placing fake manhole covers on New York sidewalks for Russian Roulette. "It was perfect because we dropped contestants through holes like that on the show," Kaplan said.

And in a case of outdoor-worldly experience, Sci Fi's Howe said the network is negotiating to land a replica of the Viper — one of the spaceships to be featured in the miniseries Battlestar Galactica
this December — aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, the World War II boat-turned-museum moored in New York's Hudson River.

"When it comes to outdoor, it's not just about billboards and posters," said Howe.