On a recent trip to Chicago, the volume of transit advertising dedicated to causes caught my attention as I traveled from the airport to the downtown area. I was intrigued by the ways these organizations creatively communicated their message in these particular ads. The message supporting polio eradication from Rotary International was difficult to read, especially while rushing along an automated walkway in O’Hare airport. The World Wildlife Foundation creative had an arresting visual, bold headline, legible logo and clear call-to-action. Yet holding two pieces of luggage did not motivate me to fumble for my Smartphone in order to find out more about how I could help WWF.
Certainly, outdoor advertising can have tremendous value in terms of building brand awareness and brand recognition. Out-of-home advertising is a great medium for communicating an organization’s cause to a captive audience (who hasn’t sat waiting restlessly for some mode of public transportation?). However, outdoor advertising is viewed mostly by people who are traveling quickly or multi-tasking (www.AdCouncil.org).
As a brand manager in consumer packaged goods, I always needed to know how to answer the question “what do we want our target audience to think/feel/believe/do with regards to our brand as a result of this message?” and “will it move the needle to help reach our goals?” While some outdoor advertising placement is pro bono, money is still spent on developing compelling and impactful creative. How can causes maximize outdoor placement for more effective advertising? Here are 5 things to keep in mind:
1. Single-minded objectives
Establish expectations and goals upfront. One advantage of transit advertising is the size of the unit. However, an “oversized” message doesn’t necessarily mean more people will view it or take action.
- Determine the top 1-2 goals to achieve. Increased awareness, more web traffic, and/or higher engagement?
- Think about whether those set goals are reasonable given the nature of this medium
- Tailor your main message in the context of outdoor viewing to achieve your goals
According to The Ad Council, “mobility limits the potential viewing time of an outdoor message to only a few seconds, depending on the unit.” The Outdoor Advertising Association of America has specific creative guidelines that help ensure the most effective use of their media. The Ad Council complies with these guidelines for PSAs:
- The main message should be no more than 7 words
- Limit number of visual elements to three
- Use only one call-to-action; either URL, 800# or TEXTing
The Chicago Food Bank does really important work for the community. With a very long headline based on a confusing play-on-words, its transit advertising message gets muddled. Focus on the core message you want to communicate to this target audience.
- Express the most important idea about your cause precisely and succinctly
- Use visuals and copy that best connect with intended audience, such as the harried leisure traveler or executive business traveler
As the saying “first impressions count” reminds us, it is essential that your message is easy to register.
- Choose contrasting colors in both hue and value
- Rely on imagery over words; ensure that one large visual element is the key focus
- Consider presenting the cause in a bold, provocative and/or thought-provoking way
In the Rotary International ad above, the large celebrity image draws attention but the message has too much body copy with no call-to-action and a small logo. In this advertising, the service club misses an opportunity to strengthen association with a core program, enhance positive perceptions and increase support.
- Clearly put the cause front and center
- Emphasize uniqueness of your organization
- Understand where the best location is for logos based on unit orientation (e.g. bottom right for horizontal and top half for vertical)
So what might a successful transit cause campaign look like? We can take a page out of the playbook of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. They used location-based fund-raising via Foursquare in their San Francisco transit ads. By “checking in” at a physical billboard, EarthJustice encouraged a mobile audience to become engaged with the ads and support their messages.
What is your experience in implementing effective transit advertising?
What have you found the challenges and opportunities of promoting cause through transit ads to be?