Barbara Cooke took over the steering Out of Home Media South Africa (OHMSA) in the capacity of acting CEO in August last year, coming out of retirement to do so. At the time, she was quoted as saying the main problem in this industry sector was the “lack of research to prove OoH’s effectiveness”.
“The South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF) offering is less than exciting, and the few questions that are included in the AMPS questionnaire do not provide an opportunity for media planners to evaluate the medium’s effectiveness in delivering audience against that of TV, print or radio,” Cooke said.
TheMediaOnline caught up with Cooke six months into her tenure at OHMSA to find out her views on the current state of play.
Q. When you were appointed, in August last year, you said you were looking forward to being “at the start of a new era for out of home (OoH) media in terms of development and research methodology, which will for the first time, give media planners an effective reach and frequency planning tool”. What progress have you made towards reaching this goal?
A. As is the case with all audience research, the primary requirement is for the research to be independent and transparent. For this reason, OHMS [Out of Home Media Research], like AMPS, TAMS and RAMS, is being managed by SAARF. Tenders will be going out this week and we hope to receive responses from local as well as international research companies who have the expertise to conduct this type of research.
Q. Who is doing the research?
A. Cannot be decided until the tenders have been answered, and the merits of the various proposals discussed by the relevant SAARF boards and committees.[NOTE: the tender for the research was issued this week.]
Q. What have the biggest challenges been to date?
A. The whole industry is currently in a state of flux when it comes to funding audience research; discussions about whether the levy should be an ‘add on’ levy, or remain ‘add in’ have not yet been decided. The biggest challenge is to educate media owners, firstly, about the need for audience research across the board and, secondly, about the absolute necessity of honouring the commitment to collecting the levy and remitting it to MAMCA.
Q. Have you made any tangible steps towards altering the perception that OoH is the ‘Cinderella’ of advertising?
A. Yes. I think so. a) All media owners are supposed to remit their ad revenue figures each month to ACNielsen who, in turn, publish AdIndex reports each month showing the total ad spend and the shares attributable to each medium. Up till recently, only a few Out of Home media owners were doing this, resulting in an artificially low share of ad spend [around 4%] from out of home advertising. With ACNielsen’s assistance, we have been able to persuade more media owners to come on board, with positive results for OoH. b) The annual OHMSA Awards programme has grown substantially since its inception in 2007, and this year promises to be bigger and better than ever! The objective is to heighten awareness of out of home media, and to generate excitement around the creative options available to marketers.
Q. If, as previous research says, consumers perceive Out of Home (OoH) advertising as the most successful medium on which to advertise, why is OoH not embraced by agencies? (According to research conducted by Out of Home Media South Africa (OHMSA), 83% of respondents viewed billboards as the format most effective for brand advertising over that of competing mediums.)
A. I cannot comment on the research you mention – but my view is that, without a proper reach & frequency planning tool for Out of Home, on a par with those used for TV, Print and Radio, the medium cannot be evaluated against competing media on a level playing field. The result is that OoH has to be sold on an individual company basis, and cannot be evaluated generically.
Q. Have you managed to bring SAARF on board in terms of research? You said last year that the “AMPS questionnaire do not provide an opportunity for media planners to evaluate the medium’s effectiveness in delivering audience against that of TV, print or radio”.
A SAARF has been incredibly supportive of our attempts to improve the AMPS questions for OoH. The new, improved questionnaire has been in field as from the start of the 2011 fieldwork. Remember, the AMPS questionnaire is not designed by SAARF – it is the product of a committee that instructs SAARF what to ask and what to leave out. Individual media groups ultimately are responsible for the research they get!
Q. How is the hunt for a successor coming along?
A. Slowly, because the appointment is an important one. We are currently evaluating candidates who have responded to our advertisements in various newspapers and magazines, and hope to announce an appointment within three months.
Q. Which campaigns – or what kind of campaigns – have struck a note with you?
A. As with any medium, creativity and new thinking are what makes the difference. I respond to out of home ideas that break the mould in terms of creativity, but which also remember to make their message “legible at 120 kph!”. Do you remember the Gold Reef City billboard on the William Nicol Highway, which was designed to address the perception that the destination was just too far to travel? It read “You are now only 11 minutes from Gold Reef City [8 minutes in a Lamborghini]” done by Idea Engineers so many years ago.
Q. How are entries to the OH! Awards coming along?
A. Very well considering the call to enter was only made a short while ago. Entries close on March31 and judging takes place April 11; we have a very strong judging panel chaired by Reihner Behrens of McCanns, and we are expecting a very high standard if the entries received so far are anything to go by.
Q. Do awards such as the OH! Awards encourage creative excellence or are they a ‘nice to have’ without real impact on the industry?
A. There is no doubt in my mind that creative competitions inspire creativity – the important thing is that the judging panel has to have gravitas and the respect of the creative fraternity, and be known to be impartial and to set a high standard. Having an overseas creative director to support the local judges is always a bonus – we are attempting to get sponsorship to invite such a person to attend our awards function, sadly without success to date.
Q. Has new technology such as LED displays etc had a positive impact on industry?
A. Very much so – it is a trend that is growing overseas, and will also continue to grow in SA. They offer flexibility, and the content can be changed very easily from a central location far from the actual display. This offers topicality and the ability to change the message to suit the occasion. A very exciting development.
Q. How is the ‘greening’ of OoH coming along? Saw some great initiatives last year. Anything new and revolutionary here?
A. Concern for the environment, including the use of disposable and biodegradable materials, is very much top of mind. And the extension of this is the support given to underprivileged communities who are given the billboard skins and who transform them into bags, totes, pencil cases, pool liners, computer carry bags and a host of other articles which can be sold to support their families. “I used to be a billboard” is the tag attached to these items! In addition to this initiative, OoH companies continue to look for ways to reduce their carbon footprints, a challenge especially important with the advent of digital and electrically lit signage.
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