Online bidding lands autism advocacy group on digital billboards

July 17, 2014 | by Christopher Hall

With budget dollars at a premium as with any nonprofit organization, a New Jersey advocacy group decided to use a novel online bidding system to buy ad space on local digital billboards.

Watchung, N.J.-based Focus Autism recently ran a two-week branding and awareness campaign on digital billboards along routes heading into nearby New York City. Focus Autism is a private foundation aimed at increasing awareness, research and advocacy around autism and chronic illnesses and the factors around them, according to Focus Autism Executive Director Tracey Dupree.

"It was pretty neat to see" her agency's ad up on a billboard, Dupree told Digital Signage Today, who even drove out to one of the sites to see it live.

"And the possibility of each and every person being able to catch a glimpse of it on their way to New York City was pretty impressive," she said. "There are 126,000 commuters on that throughway per day, so when you're evaluating reach there are not too many platforms that you can use these days that are cost effective where you could possibly catch the eyes of 126,000 people a day."

Dupree used a new online service called Fliphound to bid on available ad slots on digital billboards — and Fliphound President Douglas Robertson said the flexibility of digital billboards in contrast to their static peers makes them a more viable option for small local businesses and nonprofits such as Focus Autism. There are about 550,000 billboards across the county, he said, and the industry is in the early innings of an upgrade cycle that should increase the current digital base up from 1 percent to 2 percent of that total to more than 10 percent to 20 percent, he said. (Fliphound is currently available on digital billboards in several states and is expanding nationally, according to Robertson.)

An overwhelming majority (approximately 80-90 percent) of outdoor advertising revenue comes from local advertisers, Robertson said in an email to Digital Signage Today. Some local advertisers, such as auto dealerships or local restaurant franchises, can afford the thousands of dollars a month and 1- to 3-year contracts involved in leasing space on billboards, but most smaller organizations and businesses tend to get squeezed out, he said.

"This is especially true for static billboards and has carried over to digital billboards. Moreover, buying billboards is a manual process, it's time consuming, often requires credit references (which many small businesses don't have) [and] requires signing a longer term contract (especially if you are new to outdoor)," he said. "Since most operators are chasing these larger opportunities and cannot profitably serve smaller customers an entire segment of the market is passed over – there is an entire segment of the smaller local business market who want to spend between $100 to $1,000 per month that would like to try outdoor, but just don't get access to outdoor advertising."

But it's not just the smaller local businesses and charitable organizations that benefit, he said. The digital billboard operators also benefit in this equation, by selling unused ad slots that would otherwise go unfilled or unpaid for. And these days unsold inventory runs at about 20 percent in the outdoor industry, and varies from board to board, Robertson said: "Every operator deals with unsold space which is perishable — once it expires any money that could have been made on it is gone."

(Image courtesy of Fliphound)


Topics: Advertising, Digital Billboards, DOOH Advertising



Christopher Hall
Christopher is the managing director of the Interactive Customer Experience Association and former editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. A longtime freelance writer and reporter, he's bringing a fresh perspective and critical take on the industry. wwwView Christopher Hall's profile on LinkedIn

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