Billboards in L.A.: Old-School Method Still Gets Results in Busy City

Alongside more modern strategies for capturing consumer attention for film and TV releases — social-media blitzes, viral marketing strategies and other types of digital content — there’s one old-school method that continues to draw eyeballs: billboards. And nowhere do those plugs for entertainment properties get more
play than in Los Angeles, the second-largest U.S. market for outdoor advertising.

Many Hollywood advertisers view outdoor as a “reminder” medium, playing a supportive role in campaigns that allocate more money to other media. One executive says that a film with a marketing budget of $25 million will typically spend $250,000 on outdoor advertising in L.A.

On the TV side, marketers note that L.A.’s position as an “influencer” city makes it ripe for outdoor advertising. “If done right, [outdoor] telegraphs that there is an event, and this is something important to which you should pay attention,” says Alexandra Shapiro, executive VP of marketing and digital for USA Network. “Does it ultimately translate into ratings? No. There’s not a cause and effect. But does it play a role in the overarching image-building campaign that we all need? For sure.”

Entertainment and media companies are among the top spenders on U.S. outdoor advertising, according to the Outdoor Advertising Assn. of America and Kantar Media. The top 20 nationwide spenders for 2015 (led by McDonald’s) included Apple, at No. 2 at $59.2 million; Warner Bros. Pictures, No. 4 at $34.4 million; Universal Pictures, No. 8 at $25.2 million; NBC, No. 15 at $19.7 million; Fox, No. 16 at $19.5 million; 21st Century Fox Pictures, No. 19 at $17.8 million; and HBO, No. 20 at $17.5 million.

Sources: Blue Line Media, Population and Audience Data 2016 Traffic Audit Bureau for Media Measurement Inc., U.S. Census Bureau
Factors such as neighborhood traffic patterns and household income are key considerations for marketers buying outdoor advertising in L.A. What’s the most important billboard to get in a media buy? “It’s the one your boss drives by all the time,” says one marketer.

Film marketers note that outdoor has the best impact for big-budget, broad-appeal movies, but can be less effective for titles that appeal to niche audiences. TV marketers, meanwhile, say that the limitations of a single static image force them to hold back on providing detailed tune-in information that can clutter the message and be difficult to digest by consumers passing by in cars. Dramas, they say, are best suited for outdoor because the themes can be encapsulated in an impactful message; comedy is harder to boil down into a singular image. One marketer explains that he likes to buy billboards for kids movies, because when children see them on the road, “They can immediately nag their parents while they are driving.”

Competition for space is fierce. “Fall is a huge issue for everyone in the entertainment community in terms of getting space, because a lot of people are grandfathered in during that time period, and there isn’t enough inventory to go around,” says Stephanie Gibbons, president of marketing, digital media and on-air promotions at FX Networks.

Alison Hoffman, executive VP of marketing at Starz, also says that inventory in L.A. is hard to come by. “We book very far in advance for the units that we feel will help us on the viewer side, but also help us talk to the other communities in Hollywood. And you pay a premium for that.”

Indeed, location is key. “Everybody wants a Sunset [Boulevard] board,” says Showtime chief marketing officer Don Buckley. “It’s part ego; it’s part speaking to the trade. I think it’s good for campaign periods to have a presence on Sunset and some of the other key locations. They run anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a month.”

“Does it ultimately translate into ratings? No. There’s not a cause and effect. But does it play a role in the overarching image-building campaign that we all need? For sure.”
alexandra shapiro, usa network

Entertainment companies generally buy all billboards within sight of their facilities, both for self-promotion and to block them from possible use by competitors. Some marketers purchase outdoor spots promoting talent near the offices of relevant creative guilds. Most major film studios, as well as TV networks like HBO and NBC, buy year-round billboards distant from their headquarters, especially in high-traffic locations. “A board in the heart of the Sunset Strip or along the 405 by LAX will cost 10 times the price of the average L.A. board, and, in general, L.A. boards cost between two and 10 times what they cost in other major metros,” explains Imax marketing chief Eileen Campbell.

Others choose sites for more specific reasons. Ellen Stone, executive VP of marketing for Bravo and Oxygen Media, says high-consumption areas are effective locations to market her titles, “so we hit places by the Grove [shopping center].”


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Jack Pan, president of marketing at STX Entertainment, has an even tighter focus, targeting dedicated filmgoers. “We look at the top-grossing movie theaters, and surround the outdoor that is within a certain circumference of those theaters,” he says, “so we at least know we’re going to be in closer proximity to people who actually walk into a movie theater, as opposed to someone who’s commuting through the mass landscape of L.A.”

Beyond targeting the right consumers, creative marketers can get more bang for the buck by developing memorable billboards that can go viral across multiple platforms.

“Because of social media and everybody having their cameras out,” says Starz’s Hoffman, “what’s cool about out-of-home and outdoor billboards is if you do something interesting, that will get picked up and sent around.”

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  1. Dunstan says:

    I’d like one of these marketing “geniuses” to prove conclusively that a billboard resulted in one additional sale.

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