Billboards aren’t just background on road trips. Cracker Barrel, a popular Southern-style restaurant, has mastered the art of converting outdoor advertisements into indoor customers.
Cracker Barrel spends 49 percent of its total advertising budget on outdoor ads, per eMarketer. The brand carefully places its restaurants near exits and interstates to target road trippers. Billboards lead weary travelers not only to hot meals, but also to the stores and relaxation areas inside Cracker Barrel restaurants.
Integration of outdoor advertising and restaurant placement, along with the rest of Cracker Barrel’s marketing strategy, continues to work in the digital age. Analysts cited in the Fairfield Current expect the chain to achieve an annual growth rate of 10.4 percent. While many observers dismiss outdoor ads as hard-to-track wastes of budget, Cracker Barrel and other savvy brands are making a killing.
Why billboards still work.
With such a broad spectrum of consumable media for brands to use, outdoor advertising doesn’t immediately emerge as the top option. Digital ads and email campaigns offer much better targeting. TV commercials are more dynamic. What do outdoor ads have that makes them so special?
People spend so much time in front of screens now that real-life advertisements have more power than they used to. Online browsers are masters at ignoring pop-up ads and banners, but when they see a billboard, street sign or other eye-catching object, they take a moment to look. For brands, that moment makes the difference between irrelevance and interest.
According to Nielsen, outdoor advertising is the most effective nondigital medium for generating online activity. Cracker Barrel asks people to take the exit to grab dinner, so they do. Other brands use outdoor ads to encourage online searches, which lead to engagement, purchases and loyalty.
The pathway from outdoor ads to increased revenue is straightforward — but success depends entirely on execution. Brands not only need to expand their presence outside, but also to create memorable experiences that make the most of their ad budgets. These tips reveal how:
1. Borrow from other brands and industries.
Outdoor advertising clearly works for other brands. If they do something right, take that idea and use it for a quick shortcut to successful advertising.
Instacart’s former expansion manager wrote in Adweek about his frustrations with the declining effectiveness of online ads. To remedy the problem, he took inspiration from billboards and subway posters. Even though he struggled to measure the effectiveness of his new collateral, the increase in subscribers (with no other campaigns running) spoke for itself.
Refashion any borrowed content to reflect your brand positioning. Keep the values and voice consistent while infusing new style to maximize the impact of the outdoor content.
2. Create eye-popping, interacting messaging and visuals.
Outdoor advertising exists in an interactive environment. Don’t paste up boring posters and expect customers to come running. Check local municipal regulations, and then think of inventive ways to subvert visual expectations and get viewers engaged with the ads.
Think about how brands stand out in Times Square or on the Las Vegas Strip. Interactive signs come to life for the viewers, moving and using hashtags and cameras to interact with their live audiences. Travelers take selfies with ads because the signs are an attraction all their own. The Times Square District Management Association reports that more than 355,000 people enter the heart of the square every day, so advertisers have plenty of opportunities to engage.
3. Capitalize on travel time.
Whether on a cross-country road trip or a morning commute, Americans spend plenty of time on the go. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America reports that most consumers spend 70 percent of their waking hours away from home. Billboards, subway ads and other signs jockey for the attention of commuters and travelers everywhere they go.
Investor’s Business Daily reports that the biggest digital brands, like Amazon and Netflix, are some of the top spenders in offline advertising. If online titans get that much value from outdoor ads, smaller companies can do the same. Think about the commute and travel behaviors of the target audience, and then optimize your outdoor campaign to meet them on their turf.
4. Blend new tracking with retro appeal.
Outdoor ads naturally lend themselves to retro vibes, but that doesn’t make them outdated. Digitize outdoor ads with dynamic copy, interactive elements and location-specific content to infuse modern effectiveness into a classic medium.
Canva compiled a list of ingenious outdoor ads that made people stop and think. The Economist, for instance, made a lightbulb illuminate when passersby walked underneath its ad. Coca-Cola used retro flair when it combined a billboard with a sample dispenser.
Take advantage of smartphones and tracking tech at every opportunity. Investor’s Business Daily notes that Clear Channel uses mobile data to detect which phones (and phone owners) see their billboards. The smarter the tracking strategy, the more informed the campaign.
One of the best things about outdoor advertising is that consumers expect to see it, even when they don’t expect to see it in a certain place. Gas stations with ads on pump handles, a wall mural at a traffic tunnel entrance, connected scavenger hunt signs in subway stations — for creative brands, the possibilities are endless. Marketers who keep their heads in their computers will lose out as their competitors find new and ingenious ways to turn old-school ads into modern profit.