Companies may be focusing on digital to drive their advertising campaigns, but offline options can be just as viable or even more so, experts say.
Assuming you’re old enough, think back to a time before the internet. Can you remember what the world looked like?
Well, we had things called pay phones, and you could find one in just about every restaurant, bar, grocery store, and gas station — sometimes with a large yellow-and-white book attached that included the phone number of any person or business in the surrounding area. When people walked down the street, they made eye contact with passersby and often greeted them with a “Hi” or a “Good morning.”
Just as we are today, we were inundated with advertisements and marketing pieces in the pre-internet days. But these ads didn’t “pop up,” and they usually weren’t customized to your personal shopping habits, either. Rather, most were based upon general demographics.
Things like billboards, radio ads, bench ads, newspaper and magazine ads, television ads, and direct mailers drew our attention because we didn’t always have our heads buried in a screen. These days, marketing seems to be all about social media, banner ads, and clicks. So are the pre-internet methods a thing of the past? Hardly, experts say.
“Old-school tactics haven’t died; they have just evolved,” said Karen Axtell of Bellevue advertising firm GA Creative. “For example, television has been around a long time, but now you have the opportunity to buy very targeted segments. Cable, for example, you can buy by ZIP code these days.”
Snoqualmie Casino uses a mix of both traditional and web-based marketing, and CEO Jon Jenkins echoes Axtell’s assertion that traditional marketing is undergoing a technology-driven overhaul.
“A lot of things have changed with technology over the years,” Jenkins said. “But most of them have just manifested into a more technical application of the same old product. Everything from business cards, to ticketing, to posters, to billboards — all of those things are just an evolution of the original product.”
For instance, gone are the days when billboards were covered in paper that could be ravaged by the forces of nature. Today’s billboards can be covered in weather-resistant vinyl, and some have energy-efficient LED displays.
“Everything has evolved into a faster pace to utilize application, and to change your message,” Jenkins said. “It has made the ability to change your message, alter your message, and produce a new message even faster and more effective.”
The primary benefits of outdoor marketing have not changed over the years. Billboards still offer good bang for the buck: British research firm BrandScience found that every dollar spent globally on outdoor ads resulted in $2.80 in sales. Moreover, billboards can be used to target a specific geographic audience, perhaps commuters who live and work along a highway that leads to the business.
Like billboards, stationary outdoor ads such as benches, posters, and static window clings improve marketing potential around the clock and feature the power of repetition for those consumers who pass by a specific location or ride a specific bus every day. Many of these outdoor ads often are even less expensive than billboards, depending on size and location.
While there is plenty of outdoor potential in the urban areas of the northwest, Jenkins said there aren’t many opportunities once you venture off the beaten path.
“Since there is limited outdoor advertising space in the state of Washington, we made the decision to utilize the freeway signage, Adopt-a-Highway,” he said. “We have a limited number of billboards, but we have a large number of Adopt-a-Highway (signs) available to us.”
With 64 sponsored segments of highway throughout the state, Snoqualmie Casino has more signage than any other company in Washington, according to the state Department of Transportation. Utilizing the Adopt-a-Highway program allows a business to not only gain visibility, but also gives that organization the opportunity to give back to its community in a productive, environmentally friendly way.
Radio is another traditional medium that remains viable, despite the increasing popularity of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, station revenue derived from ad sales in 2015 totaled more than $17 billion nationally, due in large part to the increasing reach of radio’s digital and off-air platforms (such as ticket sales, events, and sponsorships), both of which rose in popularity over the previous year. Radio ads still convert to sales, too; the BrandScience study pegged radio’s return on investment as $3.14 in sales per dollar spent on advertising. (Online ads’ sales-to-spend ratio was $3.38, and that constituted the smallest average percentage of firms’ media mix, at 9.1 percent.) That said, overall radio ad sales have dipped $276 million since 2013.
These tried-and-true marketing tactics don’t just attract older audiences who grew up in the pre-internet world. Millennials actually are champions of the old-school techniques despite the fact that much of the generation has no memory of life without computers. “There is a lot of information that we’ve gathered that millennials still listen to the radio even though they are buying music in a different way now,” Axtell said. “And direct mail still works for millennials. It still drives even though millennials are purely digital beings.”
Nostalgia plays a significant role in the success of media campaigns. Some 67 percent of adults agreed that they long for tactile items from their past according to Embracing Analog: Why Physical is Hot a study by New York-based firm JWT.Additionally, 61 percent said they have a greater appreciation for things that aren’t used as much as they used to be (hence hipster trends in vinyl records and film photography), and 56 percent said they like the smell and feel of physical magazines, traits that can’t be replicated on an e-reader.
Redmond-based Washington Graphics makes commercial, large-format print advertising media for local companies like REI and PCC Natural Markets. President Bob Morgan Jr. and his team make everything from sandwich boards to barricade graphics and bus banners.
Morgan said it doesn’t matter which medium a campaign uses, but rather that the content is eye-catching, thoughtful, and engaging. “If the (ad) is done right, it will drive eyeballs,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff that — even on the web — you won’t even look at. You’ll just go right on by it because it has to be something that reaches you, whether it is in print or it is digital.”
In order to reach that audience there is no definitive answer for where to spend ad dollars according to Melissa Durfee Davis, media director at Seattle-based marketing firm Green Rubino. Rather, each individual company needs to evaluate their target audience to determine the appropriate mixture of old school and digital media needed to maximize engagement.
“I hate that, ‘old school,’” she said. “We just look at it as all just one — it is not just about new or old — it is about what the right solution is. A lot of it has to do with who the target audience is; if you are trying to reach 18 year olds that is very different from a (client like) Columbia Bank that is trying to reach 60-year-old men.”
GA Creative’s Axtell agrees, cautioning not to lean too heavily on one form over another.
“I think (digital) is a critical component, but I don’t think it is the only component,” she said of businesses that solely rely on digital-media marketing. “We steer away from that because we don’t believe that, when you advertise, (digital) is only way to reach people. There’s television, radio, print, outdoor, direct, as well as digital.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of “425 Business.”