Agencies Rediscover Advantages of Outdoor Advertising

Article excerpt

Michael Pearson sculpts larger-than-life objects like bugs, baseball bats and witches. Last month, his company, Atomic Props and Effects Ltd., created eight Amazon-sized swimsuit-clad women, perched on short diving boards, for a billboard in Minneapolis for Dayton Hudson Corp.'s Target store chain that read "Take the Plunge."

"It gets people to look at it a few seconds longer," Pearson said.

Bigger and bolder outdoor ads are undergoing a renaissance. Agencies have rediscovered the medium as a cost effective way to build a broad awareness for a brand.

"Outdoor is what's left, because everyone still drives," said Charles Porter, president of Crispin & Porter Advertising in Miami.

Last year, spending on so-called out-of-home advertisements -- billboards, posters in transit stations and construction sites, on skyscrapers and lifeguard towers -- rose 8.2 percent, to $1.8 billion, from the previous year.

For the second year, more was spent on entertainment and amusement ads than on cigarette ads, says Competitive Media Reports, which tracks ad spending.

Another indicator of industry vigor has been a flurry of acquisitions in the last 12 months. Infinity Broadcasting Corp. paid $300 million for TDI Worldwide Inc.

In private deals, Patrick Media was acquired by Karl Eller, a Phoenix media entrepreneur, and Universal Outdoor Inc. of Chicago merged with Naegele Outdoor of Minneapolis.

As interest in outdoor advertising grows, agencies are increasingly pushing the boundaries of the medium, creating more inventive, multidimensional ads.

Such inventiveness can also generate controversy, as Levi Strauss Associates Inc. discovered in September after the company placed $55 khakis under plastic shields in 40 New York City bus shelters. City officials sharply criticized the ads, which appeared to test the civic virtue of New Yorkers.

The ads were designed so that if the trousers were stolen, an outline of them would remain, revealing a message, "Apparently they were very nice pants."

Gannett Outdoor Advertising agreed to withdraw the ads following protests from the city.

Other outdoor ads have used almost surreal effects to get attention.

The sides of five Phoenix buses, for example, were equipped with Plexiglas cases that contained a free-rolling Corell dinner plate in February. …