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A touch too much or a smidgen too little?

27 Jul 2015  |  James Whitmore 
A touch too much or a smidgen too little?

What is the effect of too much advertising, or poorly targeted messages, asks Route's James Whitmore - but first, let's try and work out how much advertising there actually is.

How much is enough? Last month, Bob Wootton wrote of his frustration at the volume of poorly targeted and poorly executed advertising that he encountered on TV and the web.

In a short passage he managed to raise a number or questions. What is the effect of too much advertising? What is the consequence of poorly targeted messages? And how concerned should we be about poor creative work?

I imagine that it depends on your age, your needs and your frame of mind.

Personally, I welcome a two-minute cinema ad - or at least I think I would if anyone bothered to make one again - and I will happily search the classifieds in the political weeklies if I ever need a holiday cottage. Younger people may feel a great sense of inadequacy and seek therapy if their smartphone isn't flashing and throbbing like a Casper NoƩ movie.

Getting the balance right is a complex challenge with many interlaced threads and numerous dimensions. To pick a way through, media planners require a great deal of finesse and expertise.

The things that Bob raised strike a chord. Measurement bodies like Route can tell you how much advertising there might be. Perhaps it is only one small part of the puzzle, but it is possibly a little known source of information too.

Recently we have been investigating how much advertising you can see when you are out and about in public spaces. It varies immensely. Surprisingly, it is not just where you are but also who you are and when you are where you are that matters. I had fun writing that sentence, so please feel free to read it twice.

How do we do it? We know the precise position and orientation of every poster frame. We place these on a map. Each site will have a visual footprint, within which the poster can be clearly seen. We also have over 20 billion GPS data points that tell us who is passing each location, when and at what speed.

It is a relatively simple task to identify when these people are both within the visibility area of a poster and they are travelling in a direction that gives them a chance to see the ad.

Our technical term for this is "realistic opportunity to see" but you could also think of it as the time during which you are under the influence of outdoor advertising. It is the equivalent of a commercial break on the radio or an ad on a newspaper page.

This is a picture of the area around Oxford Circus. The purple bits are the visual footprints of posters. The coloured lines are GPS traces. The time spent inside a purple bit and heading towards the poster is the time spent with OOH advertising, under its influence.

route map

When you are out of home, you will typically be under the influence of advertising for five minutes in every hour. This compares to about nine minutes in the hour when you are watching TV. It is a fairly straightforward task to identity the percentage of commercial time spent with other media too. We had a stab at creating a chart for the three media that account for most of peoples' time.

route 2

This example suggests that advertising stands out more in TV and posters than it does with internet and mobile. Or you could say that online media offer an obvious marketplace for commercial messages. What we're seeking to do is to create some metrics to support what I am sure that you already know to be the case.

You can make your own, far more interesting, charts using the Route data for OOH and your own sources for the other media.

As I mentioned, the average person is exposed to advertising for five minutes in the hour, or for 9% of their time in public spaces. We can also say that they are served an average 0.4 of an ad for every minute they are out of home.

Drilling down, we learn that a young person on their way to work experiences advertising for one eighth of their journey. If the individual has a degree, they get an extra minute of advertising. It is one of the unheralded benefits of getting a good education - you are shown more posters during the morning commute.

There are plenty of figures to tell you how much advertising various groups might see in specific places at different times of day. Bob and other experts can bring their own judgement to bear as to the appropriate threshold in each case.


James Whitmore is the MD of Route.

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08 Jul 2020 

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