Is digital advertising better than print? The case for billboards.
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
I am not a techno-phobe, longing for an analogue world. I buy toothpaste and crackers from Amazon prime, I cradle my phone like a baby when I am on the couch, but I constantly see my fellow millennials characterizing anything which is non-digital as old, boring and irrelevant.
Our world is becoming more digital, but I'm not convinced that digital should always win the day.
The Rise of Digital Channels and the Stagnation of Physical Media Channels
Market researchers predict that traditional channels' share-of-advertising is going from being Pacman to Pacman's lunch. eMarketer predicts that the core print categories (magazines and newspapers) will continue to lose market share. OOH (out of home advertising) is projected to grow in line with GDP. Magna Research suggests that digital-out-of-home advertising (DOOH) is what will be responsible for keeping OOH above zero growth, with DOOH growing by 13%.1,2 Online digital advertising’s outlook is rosier, projected to grow by 16% in the coming year, then settling into a lower double-digit growth rate into the next decade. 
I understand that if people are reading fewer physical newspapers and reading more online news, it follows that digital content will grow and paper news will decline. That I am publishing this article digitally and not in a magazine underscores my point. But does this logic hold when comparing all static, physical, traditional to all 'new' digital media? Should out-of-home be grouped with other declining physical advertising channels like newspaper? Is digital advertising actually more effective? Is its effectiveness more easily measured? I will attempt to make the case for good ol' out-of-home advertising, contrasting it to digital alternatives.
The Path to Purchase Case for the Advertiser
I'm a parent with two young kids - a coveted demographic for advertisers to target. Let's use a ‘sample size of me’ to compare digital advertising vs. out-of-home advertising in my daily life.
Your turn digital; Opportunity 1: At lunchtime, I read the news while eating at my desk, and a banner ad displaying "Pampers” flashes across my screen while co-workers walk by. Pampers are just what I want right now. Opportunity 2: Putting my 1-year old to sleep, I cue-up an oldie on YouTube to drown out my atonal singing, when suddenly a video ad blares a Coca-Cola ad. Final opportunity - I walk to the living room and my wife says, "I guess I know what I'm getting for Christmas." I play act and say, "What do you mean?" Google's re-targeting sniper rifle misfired and shot my wife, reminding her to buy that gold bracelet I was looking at for her.
Now it's your turn out-of-home print media. Opportunity 1: Waiting for the bus at the Transit Shelter... Oh look at that life-size image beside me. I didn't know you could get diapers on Amazon, that sounds handy. Opportunity 2: Getting on the subway….repeat 'opportunity 1 by at least 20 times by the time I get off the subway. Sure, I am unlikely to buy the teeny-bopper crops tops advertised at Dundas station, but most ads are relevant and keep me occupied. Opportunity 22 - Getting off the subway to a station where Coca Cola ads dominate my visual landscape. I don't even like Coke but that polar bear certainly looks refreshed.
Which path to purchase is more likely to lead me to a caffeine-fueled diaper purchasing spree?
You're worried about targeting? All those wasted eyeballs paying for teenage school kids to see retirement products. Well, if you want to connect with price-insensitive parents who will spend $30 for a 12-pack of custom-monogrammed diapers, then takeover Yonge-Lawrence station in Toronto. You want to sell coffee to sleep deprived 905 9-to-5ers? Buy space at Union Station on the commuter route.
The Measurement Case for the Advertiser
Apart from the general rise in use of digital media, proponents of the use of digital advertising argue that its effects are easily measurable and trackable. However, I think the case for use of traditional OOH compared to digital advertising has yet to be proven. If you are using digital advertising, how do you really assess whether you are getting good value for the money invested? Can you really be sure you get what you pay for?
How are you so sure that I didn't scroll past your ad image in .0001 milliseconds? Will such a short exposure convince me to buy your product?
Your ‘click ads’ get in my way and force me to click on them to exit. Do you think that click means I want to buy your product?
With respect to the ‘conversion ad’- what makes you think it was your ad which influenced me to buy your product, and not the fact that always buy that brand?
The Call to Action: Give billboards a chance
To all you advertisers: billboards may not be sexy, but they work. And there is way more to out-of-home advertising than just billboards. Print ads in and on transit vehicles and stations in retail spaces and public squares are all great spaces in which to deploy impactful, fun print ads.
C'mon, give billboards a chance. Brendan Howard is a Partner at Ciel Capital and an Operating Executive at Category 5 Imaging.