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Do Billboards Work?

Understanding the role of traditional media in a new marketing environment.

Grant Leishman




I was asked this question the other day by a friend of mine who has recently started his own business and was thus exploring the many avenues available to him to market and advertise his services.

Just one of many channels

My answer, in short, was “yes” and “no,” but the question does not permit a ‘short’ answer.

I expanded as follows:

There is no one macro media type that is better than another. All media works for someone; if it didn’t, market forces would soon ensure that it no longer existed. Billboards are just one micro media channel within the outdoor macro.

The challenge is making the most out of your limited resources and ensuring that you get the best bang for your buck. For instance, a TV campaign for a company with a small target audience located in a local geographic location would clearly be a waste of money, whereas an advert in the local community newspaper might serve the purpose.

What your product needs

The question is not necessarily if any media platform works better over another, but rather to work out for your product and your target market what combination of media will have the biggest impact on your sales.

Understanding who your target market is (the target market is never ‘everyone’) and how they consume media in their daily lives will be a major drive in the media selection. Which media should be used for brand building and which for a direct call to action? The integration of all of these marketing elements is the difference between mediocre or an exceptional return on investment on your marketing funds.

Like most things in the modern world the tools exist to allow you to do most things yourself. Any business owner or marketing manager can develop a campaign using tools that are freely available on the internet or worse – based on the advice of a media sales rep. The question is – “Would you go on the Internet to find a DIY solution instead of visiting the doctor?”

Making a strategy work

The operative word here is strategy. If you want your marketing campaign to work, whichever media you use, you need to ensure it’s selected according to your identified target market. The strategy should be achieved by using the appropriate message, at the right time and with the right frequency.

In my opinion too many companies, especially small ones, buy their media on an ad hoc basis based on gut feel, rather than on a well thought through strategy with objectives and measurements. A wise man once said, “How do you know when you get there if you don’t know where ‘there’ is?” The same logic applies to marketing and advertising.  Once objectives are in place, some form of measurement needs to be applied.

By way of illustration: in certain industries and markets, especially business to business, a direct digital or call centre campaign may be most cost effective. That said, a company with good brand recognition tends to have much better direct campaign results.

It may therefore be appropriate in such a case to place some strategic advertising with the goal of increasing brand awareness in the target market prior to the launching of the direct campaign. The effectiveness of each touch point is increased by each complementary touch point, resulting in a combined return that is greater than the sum of each of the parts.

Answering market needs

The answer to the question, whether referring to billboards, TV, social and online or any other media is that each work, and each serves a purpose in an integrated campaign; the art is found in putting them together in the most appropriate way for that product at that time which will answer to a specific market need.

Grant Leishman is a founding member and CEO of Penquin, a full service agency. He has experienced all facets of marketing and advertising and believes that if you want a different result, you need to do things differently. He takes a creative approach to solving business problems. From the outset, Penquin’s strategy has been to offer 360°, integrated and innovative marketing solutions that delivers value to clients.


Consumers Don’t Have An Attention Problem. It’s Just That Your Advertising Isn’t Very Good

With so much media available to consume, quality matters more than ever for ads.

Brendan Gahan




If a brand releases an ad and no one sees it, is it still called “advertising”?

People have more tools than ever before to skip out on ads entirely. More than three-fourths of the people in North America engage in automated ad-blocking, and 10 percent of them block ads across four kinds of media or more, according to Deloitte. Much like the question of trees falling in forests, what good is a brand’s message at a time when people generally don’t want to hear its sound?

Ad units are shrinking in the wake of ad-blocking technology, but human attention span remains unchanged. Today’s consumers are surely more distracted than any previous generation, so they guard their attention spans more mercilessly. When advertisers can successfully command that attention for a minute or two, it means the consumer is watching an ad for the same reason he or she binge-watches Stranger Things on Netflix: The ad has managed to present itself as relevant or vital to the viewer. It wins every time.

Just 10 years ago, Gillette dominated the razor blade market. Its ads were comfortable, predictable 30-second units that reminded everyone of something they already knew: You need razor blades on the regular, so you might as well buy Gillette.

Related: Advertising Consulting Business Plan

But, the market had to reorganise itself with the appearance of Dollar Shave Club and its distinctly off-the-wall messaging. The notorious startup used quirky 90-second ads to spread its word online, presenting itself as unignorable by comparison to the competition. Even though we live in a time when people can skip ads, block ads and avoid ads, Dollar Shave Club’s marketing won major viral attention. It didn’t exactly kill Gillette’s Goliath, but it sure made Goliath sweat.

The lesson here is that people don’t hate all ads, they just hate the crappy ones. The bar for perceived quality in advertising is so low these days that many choose not to engage with anything on principle alone. People even close web pages they want to visit when the page auto-plays a video ad. When job number one of the advertiser is to interest consumers, it’s never been easier to annoy them.

Far from the rise of the six-second ad unit, there’s strong evidence that people generally want long-form content.

Ooyala reports that long-form video content consumption is up 30 percent from last year. Instagram used to be all about sharing individual photos and short videos, but now with the launch of IGTV supports 60-minute videos. The most widely subscribed YouTuber, PewDiePie, regularly posts 20-minute-long videos to a community of millions of fans. Joe Rogan’s podcast blends comedy, politics and philosophy for two to three hours at a stretch, and is one of the most popular podcasts on the internet.

People can, of course, handle stories and follow them over time. It’s one of the defining characteristics of humanity. But, there are so many stories competing for our attention nowadays that we are extremely selective about which ones we let into our lives. If any of these opt-in narratives will come from advertising, those ads must first run the ad-blocking gauntlet, then be immediately relevant and spectacular to the consumer upon arrival. The bar for perceived quality in advertising these days is actually quite high.

Related: 9 Strategies For Memorable Advertising When Your Audience Is Chronically Distracted

But, there is meaningful assistance on your way to clearing it. Social listening tools trawl the internet to learn what’s being said about and around different brands. With help from a company specialising in consumer insights and some Nielsen data, brands can better learn who their customers are, what they love and what they don’t love. This is key information in designing a vital, relevant message. In simplest terms, a brand must know its audience. The marketing needs to reflect what the audience is interested in, not what company leadership is interested in.

From there it’s only a matter of iterating and optimising. The great thing about digital advertising is that you get feedback instantly. You can iterate a campaign to make it better. Simple tweaks in copy, reframing key ideas and A/B testing can help make your campaign truly great.

Otherwise you run the risk of a mediocre campaign and a wasted media spend. No one wants to hear that sound.

This article was originally posted here on

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6 False Advertising Scandals You Can Learn From

Don’t stretch the truth the way Volkswagen, New Balance, Airborne, Splenda, Rice Krispies and Red Bull did.

Jayson Demers



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New entrepreneurs are often tempted to exaggerate what new products or services are capable of. No wonder: Presented to a powerful investor, a stretch of the truth just might help land that series A funding.

And, less seriously, a bit of marketing flair or showmanship, in many cases, will help an entrepreneur accomplish his or her without many repercussions.

But, in other cases, if you’re that entrepreneur who is caught deliberately misleading investors or consumers, you could face false advertising charges – and the ruin of your brand’s reputation. Consider these six examples:

  1. Airborne
  2. Splenda
  3. New Balance
  4. Rice Krispies
  5. Volkswagen
  6. Red Bull
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Forget Everything You’ve Heard — Fear Doesn’t Sell

If consumers associate your product with fear, they may not have a strong connection to your brand.

Scott Brown



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Sixty percent of Subaru owners have dogs. So in 2008, when the company decided to sponsor Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, it made a major break from previous advertising campaigns — ones that showed drivers with other cars getting stuck in the snow, for example. Alongside a pledge to donate $250 to charity for every car sold, the company began to understand how to appeal to its core audience through their own interests — and how those tied together in a Subaru.

Since 2008, the company has been running a campaign called “Love,” one that brings together all the attributes that Subaru is known for — including safety and reliability. Instead of talking to customers by telling them all the bad things that will happen if they don’t drive a Subaru (e.g., getting stuck in the snow), the company began speaking in a more positive language — including bringing furry friends along on drives.

For many, the instinctive approach toward marketing is to tell an audience why they have to buy your product. Bad things will happen otherwise, and yours is the best in market. The others won’t help you reach your goal. The problem with that logic is that it doesn’t take into account the impact of brand image on product marketing. Sure, you might skid in the snow without a Subaru, but you need to think positively of the company as a whole if you’re going to be drawn to its products in the first place.

Related: How do I know that my product is market-ready?

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