Washroom advertising is no flash in the pan

Posted by Opinion desk on 18 Apr, 2012 / Features

By Brett Tucker, Joint Managing Director – TLC 

Considered once as just “toilet advertising”, washroom campaigns have moved with the times into additional ambient spaces. But changing South African media agency buyer’s and planner’s perceptions is still more challenging than that of our European and American counterparts. Overseas, it’s common to see advertisers such as the world’s largest banks and luxury vehicle brands like Porsche and BMW, as well as cellular giants using this space. 

What this form of ambient media has always been able to offer is category exclusivity, 100% gender segmentation and uncluttered space. The consumer is guaranteed to read the advertisement. Why? The advert is directly in front of your face, you are literally staring at it for between 30 and 90 seconds. In addition the consumer has very little to do so welcomes the opportunity to engage with it. We know that all people including the Queen of England, the President, the Marketing Director of a blue chip company and the local matric pupil, all have to use the washroom at some time or another. 

Globally there is a shift towards mobile and digital marketing as well as large format outdoor work that already happens in this country. While highly effective in delivering on the impact scale, many advertisers in today’s economic environment simply cannot afford the media or production costs of large format advertising. 

Combining mobile/digital and washroom advertising is becoming more popular as it allows for measurability, direct communication with the brand and the opportunity to build a customer database of people that are interested in gathering more information regarding the brand. 

Washrooms are found in every possible environment, shopping malls, airports, restaurants, bars, cinemas, campuses, nightclubs, health institutions, health clubs and sporting facilities. Each unique environment offers very specific target demographics and communication channels, reduces advertising wastage (the message is only seen by the desired target market) which in turn reduces the overall marketing cost. 

While adverse perceptions still exist, brands certainly are starting to see the value of speaking directly to consumers, and more “top end” brands are taking advantage of this singular type of advertising platform. More often than not first time advertisers renew or extend campaigns. There is however very little traction in the banking, vehicle and cellular space, where most traditional media platforms derive most of their income. 

The platform lends itself to creative brilliance and innovation. It’s a unique space that allows flexibility, creativity and even witty comment when appropriate. While there are some brands whose creative agencies embrace the concept, many simply apply the same print advert as it appears in the newspaper. Washroom frequently makes up a very small portion of an overall campaign and creative concepts are often left until last. This is very much a sign of the times. Clients are demanding more ‘bang for their buck’, which often means increasing productivity by 50% with the same amount of man power. The reality is that this puts pressure on all ad-hoc communication. 

The future of this platform is getting product into the consumer’s hands. Every media avenue should be attempting to increase the opportunity of a sale being completed. So TLC has looked at various options in closing the buying cycle. This could be either via physical testing of products (tester units), driving consumers in store (slip or mobile coupon dispensing) and even bringing the path of purchase to the consumer in the shape of vending machines. 

If you research the word “advertising” in the dictionary it will read as follows “to announce or praise (a product, service, etc.) in some public medium of communication in order to induce people to buy or use it”. That’s very simple, but we seem to want to complicate matters. It’s all about your target market absorbing your message and converting to a sale. 

But let’s be realistic regarding the platform. Does TLC have the answer to every brief, certainly not. Do we believe that it’s the only effective media platform, certainly not. Can TLC compete with mainstream media, well if you look at the above “facts” not “opinions” you can see there certainly is continuous opportunity for the platform in the world of media. 

‘Critical mass’ is, in my opinion, no longer critical unless you accessing the correct audience. The critical factor is to reach the right people, not the right amount of people. In our environments, advertisers are guaranteed to hit ten million FMCG grocery buying mothers on a monthly basis, or three million airport travellers or 200 000 active gym goers For instance. These are real figures but more importantly the correct consumers are engaging relevant brands. 

The washroom space will never go away, consumers will always use it (it’s a fact of nature), they are 100% guaranteed of reading your message and lastly the environment determines exactly who you’re speaking to. ……and those are the facts in whichever environment consumers find themselves, so it’s key we have a platform that communicates with them! 

TLC (Targeted Lifestyle Communications) is part of the Unlimited stable and introduced the concept of washroom advertising to the South African market as far back as 1996. The company has gone from a straight washroom offering into various other indoor opportunities. These include photographic activations (Glamcam), vending machines, indoor billboards, light boxes, mirror media, mobile space as well as fitting room opportunities. All these platforms are focused around the core belief that the media platform must offer “guarantee to see” not “opportunity to see”. This is a fundamental shift from traditional advertising, but is vital to clearly segment the audience you would like to communicate and engage with.

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