By Gabriela Barkho.

For years, startup brands have used out-of-home advertising campaigns in major cities to get people talking about them.

From Thinx’s provocative subway ads to Casper’s Broadway-inspired billboard campaigns, the goal for many out-of-home campaigns has long been to get more people to remember their brand, share photos of the activations in social media, and, hopefully, ink some sales down the line.

That is largely still in place for many new brand advertisers. However, as profitability has become a bigger concern and marketing budgets have shrunk, more brands are weighing whether the money spent on splashy billboards is worth it. Increasingly, outdoor advertising is viewed as more than just a top-of-funnel channel. Now, companies are using it to target particular groups of shoppers, and help drive sales by running OOH campaigns in areas that are close to where products are stocked.

Brands like Saint James, Dagne Dover and Coterie, for example, are using OOH to not only build brand awareness but also to drive sales at particular events, promote new product launches and change people’s perceptions of their brand.

Kevani founder Kevin Bartanian, whose out-of-home media company specializes in localized advertising, said, “Traditionally, back in the late 1800s, out-of-home started out directional and had a clear call to action.” But when DTC brands began embracing the channel years ago, they saw it as an opportunity to create clever or provocative campaigns. By virtue of being venture capital-backed, these brands had the cash to buy out big billboard placements. Particularly for DTC brands, they viewed an OOH campaign as a significant company milestone, as it was a way to bring their presence offline and into the real world.

But in recent years, the goals of OOH campaigns have gotten more granular.

“Here in the real world, we have real-life ‘cookies’ that can be leveraged,” Bartanian said. For example, he said, brands can use digital, AI-powered displays that can be programmed to target local demographics in each city — and promote a nearby retailer where customers can purchase the product.

Venturing off Instagram and into the real world  

Indeed, digitally-native brands testing the out-of-home waters are trying to be more intentional with their investment in this channel.

One example is Coterie — a diaper brand that launched in 2019 — which is using its first major OOH campaign to establish brand awareness with the help of Coterie investor and brand ambassador Karlie Kloss.

More specifically, the goal of the test is to target areas that are frequented by children and their high-income parents who may be interested in Coterie’s diapers. Starting February 5, Coterie kicked off a four-week run of the out-of-home campaign in its key markets of New York City and Los Angeles, which featured Kloss and several babies wearing Coterie.

The company’s director of brand marketing, Brittany Deems, told Modern Retail the idea was to utilize storytelling to showcase modern parenting. Deems said featuring Kloss, who has appeared on countless billboards throughout her career promoting fashion brands, is a way to spark enough interest for passersby to at least look up the brand she’s promoting.

“Karlie has been on a lot of billboards, but you’ve never seen her on a billboard with babies,” Deems said. “You also don’t see a lot of diaper brands in out of home, so it’s a good medium to stand out.” The concept’s theme, Deems said, leans into debunking expectations of modern parenting after having a baby. “Seeing Karlie wrangling babies, we’re conveying that being a parent doesn’t take away from what you do for a career,” Deems explained.

Some of the biggest Coterie placements include the City National Bank wall on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard and Wythe Ave & N. 12th in Williamsburg. Additionally, digital video OOH placements went live across select malls, including Century City in Topanga and San Diego’s Westfields. In addition, the campaign is being cross-promoted on Coterie’s social channels, email, Instagram and TikTok to drive added views and engagement.

The company will assess metrics after the campaign’s run wraps up. But Deems said in New York and Los Angeles, thus far average sessions on Coterie’s website have increased by 20% and 18% week-over-week, respectively.

Meanwhile, iced tea brand Saint James, which launched in 2022, is another company delving into out-of-home ads, but is timing them with specific performance goals in mind. Saint James president and CEO Brad Neumann said out-of-home has been performing well for the beverage brand. Its first foray was a Times Square ad that announced the brand’s launch. To track the outdoor campaigns’ performance, the company places QR code coupons on billboards and wild postings.

Saint James’ next major out-of-home push is set for this spring. For Stagecoach and Coachella festivals, Neumann said the company will have “billboards along routes out in the desert heading towards the event,” which will promote the brand’s sampling activations on Coachella’s festival grounds. Select Uber riders will be met with coolers of iced tea when they get into their ride, with those vehicles also featuring car wrap Saint James ads. “We’re going to look at how many bottles and samples were distributed at Coachella, and the net sales from Stagecoach – where we’ll be sold at all concession stands,” Neumann said.

Moreover, Neumann said the brand’s OOH strategy is doubling as a means to target retail buyers and shoppers. The brand began to roll out in Costco at the end of February and is running OOH placements near the highest-grossing Costco locations around the country.

“Right now we’re trying to get into Whole Foods — so I’m taking out a bunch of billboards in the Austin area near their headquarters,” Neumann said, quipping that if a buyer is faced with seeing the brand’s teas daily, “you’re going to return my call.”

On the other end of the spectrum, brands experienced with the ad format are now viewing OOH’s role as an effective customer conversion tool and not just an awareness play.

Out-of-home advertising is not new to bag brand Dagne Dover, as the company has been running billboard and subway ads for nearly a decade. Deepa Gandhi, co-founder and COO at Dagne Dover, said the company’s latest OOH campaign was centered on promoting its new travel bag collection; The campaign ran throughout the fourth quarter of 2023 to align with the new product launch and holiday season.

“We launched our Travel 1.0 collection in late 2023 and this was a perfect moment to tell the story of Dagne Dover and our new collection through targeted OOH placements in high commuter and traveler locations,” Gandhi said. These New York City spots include Moynihan Station, Long Island Rail Road trains and JFK International Airport.

“The focus of the campaign was to pique the interest of potential customers to learn more about our fantastic products through strong imagery and enticing copy,” she said. Dagne Dover’s bag organization features are the most important value proposition to highlight, so the creatives specifically targeted travelers’ lifestyle needs. For instance, packing videos of Dagne Dover’s best-selling commuter bags ran on LIRR’s digital screens.

Evolving expectations

Over time, Gandhi said, the brand’s expectations of OOH’s impact have leveled up — with an increased aim to target more specific demographics that are likely to purchase the bags.

“It has definitely evolved,” Gandhi said. “With our first push on NYC subways, we were a much younger brand, so we saw this immediate pop in traffic in NYC during rush hour.” The company began to monitor whether the traffic is steadily increasing in the areas where Dagne Dover has done OOH pushes. Gandhi said this is because the now-established brand now experiences “a steadier flow of traffic to site from all major markets at all times.”

With the recent travel-themed campaign, Gandhi said the company ended up seeing increased interest in demographics outside of its target audience of young urban professionals. In turn, the new conversions skewed toward suburban commuters.

When entering into channels like OOH, Gandhi said the hope is to expand a brand’s top-of-funnel reach. “Being able to appeal to demographics outside of our ‘norm’ was a huge win,” she said. Another on-the-ground finding was that Dagne Dover started to physically spot more of its products in the areas where it had longer placements, like on the LIRR commuter trains. “This is the best proof point of the OOH placements resonating with specific audiences,” she said. To build on the momentum, the company expanded the campaign in some of its key designated market areas like Dallas and Austin as it continues to expand its footprint across the country.

Despite the increased use of data to target specific marketsthe OOH format largely has had the same perception for decades: that is, that it’s solely an awareness play. “The basic fundamentals of out-of-home have largely stayed the same,” Bartanian said. “It’s a one-to-many way to reach people out in the real world, but now it’s a matter of utilizing this channel in a modern and more effective way.”

But that theory may be changing.

Saint James’ Neumann said investing in billboards can quickly bring legitimacy to a new brand, but it can also double as an effective conversion tool when used in specific instances. “It’s a way to bridge the gap between awareness and a direct call-to-action to promote products at retailers nearby,” Neumann said.

Feature Image Credit: Ivy Liu

By Gabriela Barkho

Sourced from Modern Retail

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