Outdoor advertising has not exactly been at the cutting edge of innovation in recent years, at least not in terms of broadening access to smaller advertisers. Whilst radio, TV and print advertising has been becoming easier to get into on a limited budget, getting your ad on a 96-sheet on the Cromwell Road has been rather harder.
So I was cheered to learn of a new service in the UK called Signposter which aims to make buying outdoor advertising as easy as buying paid search. Signposter's audience is small businesses who want to runs ad close to where they're based. The Signposter site has a nice little campaign planning tool (using some of our technology, pleasingly), allowing you to find outdoor units of various sizes (bus-sides, telephone boxes, and billboards), and then book space on them. I was quoted a price for a 48-sheet billboard in London of about £800 for a week ($1,600), but the price gets much more competitive for a two or three-week run (because, of course, a big chunk of the price is printing and sticking the poster up onto the billboard).
The other side of the site is an ad creation utility, allowing you to create an ad from a series of templates. I was rather disappointed by this tool, I must say - it's pretty clunky and slow, and seems to offer an unnecessarily limited range of customization options (for example, you can't upload your own artwork for a poster, except for a logo). Compared to amazing tools like Picnik, it seems primitive.
It may be that some of the restrictions are due to the agreements reached between Signposter and the billboard owners not to show offensive content; restricting the choices around images means that ads don't have to be manually approved before they're published (though people can still put in offensive copy).
The image at the top of this post represents my efforts to create an ad, with a cushion-obsessed retail client in mind. Not bad, eh? I could well imagine small retailers using a service like this to stand out from the crowd around Christmas-time.It will be interesting to see how the company fares as Christmas approaches - they're rolling the service out across the UK at the moment (they're in Newcastle, Birmingham and Portsmouth right now). Their success, apart from recruiting advertisers, will come from striking deals with the media owners themselves, and creating a kind of remnant inventory for outdoor advertising.
In the longer term, it will be interesting to see how digital billboards will affect Signposter's business model - there's a danger that someone like Google (or us) will come along and extend an existing ad buying system with digital billboards (or even non-digital ones). I wish them luck.