25 Oct 2021

Outdoor Advertising is Silent but Deadly According to New Research

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The latest research conducted by Acacia Avenue and commissioned by Clear Channel Outdoor UK - Sign of the Times - reveals how outdoor advertising can be used by advertisers to build trust and influence audiences in the current climate. The results were unveiled by Caroline Hayter, Co-founder and Strategist at Acacia Avenue, at Clear Channel Outdoor’s Ideas Seminar, held at the London Transport Museum and attended by more than 100 agency and client guests.

In the context of what’s going on in the world, Acacia Avenue has identified five major themes impacting consumer behaviour:

  • Erratic decision-making behaviour - can be explained by the phenomena of ‘choking’ and ‘perceptual narrowing’. People are either losing faith in their own intuition or relying too much on it.
  • Reappraisal of entrenched habits – has led to people trading down and trimming expenditure wherever they can, or trading up to little indulgences instead of big ones.
  • Behaving in step with popular culture – people are feeling a need, whether or not they’ve been directly affected by the recession, to behave in a more modest way.
  • A time of nostalgia – people are looking backwards rather than forwards, giving themselves a sense of stability.
  • The issue of trust - people are on the look out for brands that offer them reliability, consistency, knowledge and professionalism and are quite apt at reading signals of desperation or lack of transparency when it comes to decoding every day brands.

So what does this mean for brands? According to the respondents, brands should:

1. Give me confidence. One of the worst things that a brand can do at this point in time is to go silent – just as nature hates a vacuum, in a climate like this, brands going mute are likely to have their relationships with customers severely compromised. Out-of-home’s stature gives it credibility and newsworthiness that punches well above its weight in today’s environment. Frequency of both message and touchpoint is an important part of projecting a brand’s confidence.

2. Tell me a story. Story-telling is an implicit way of gaining people’s trust as the brand is giving something to its customers – any intrigue gains attention, it engages the viewer and enhances talkability. Because outdoor is so public, more people are likely to be part of the storytelling and subsequent word-of-mouth activity. Multiple sites and messages can also be used to dimensionalise a story and maintain momentum.

3. What’s the catch? Press ads with a heavy amount of copy were criticized by the respondents, with small print in particular being found to have the potential to undermine an entire ad. Consumers are calling on brands not to overstate or say too much – simplicity is king as it communicates confidence and transparency. This is where outdoor comes into its own.

4. Make it easy for me. Ads that direct people to instant call-to-actions were praised as the decision could be made before they knew it. Outdoor was heralded in particular for being able to democratically plant an idea in people’s minds, particularly at point-of-sale.

5. Take me away from it all. Pyschology reveals that for the human mind, bad is stronger than good. People want to be lifted from the doom and gloom around them, and the more lifts they get, the better. Entertainment is more important than ever, and outdoor is a medium that people turn to for entertainment when they are out and about, particularly when driving or waiting.

6. Let me decide. People resent being second-guessed by a brand, they want to decide what is worthy of their attention. Consumers recognise that outdoor may have a subconscious effect on them. For example, one respondent said: “It gets inside people’s minds, it is silent but deadly.”

7. Urban colour. Whether consciously or not, people use outdoor as a means of day to day navigation – ads act as signposts that people look out for, and they miss them when they’re not there. Long-term ownership of an outdoor site has particular relevance for this theme as it makes the brand a daily presence and expected part of a journey. It also demonstrates that a brand is stable, committed and reliable.

8. Standing alone. Independent messages that are not fighting clutter deliver messages and provide newsworthiness. The surrounding context and nature of outdoor advertising give brand messages strength and help them to be perceived as clear and independent. Isolated sites in particular punch well above their weight.


According to Pip Hainsworth, Marketing Director at Clear Channel Outdoor UK: “This study reveals essential insights into how outdoor is perceived in the context of trust and will enable us to better inform current and prospective advertisers about how outdoor can build brand influence and engage audiences.

“Clear Channel Outdoor’s investment in research is the largest in our industry and this latest study, in conjunction with our work in the area of econometrics, will continue to push outdoor as a vital, and increasingly important, part of the media mix.”

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The research project recruited ABC1 consumers aged 18 to 34 years and tasked them with following a number of brands over a 10 day period. Respondents were invited to blog about every interaction they had with these brands – from above the line advertising, to shop-fronts, to people using the product/service, to word of mouth. Over the fieldwork period, respondents captured photos of ads, noted down what caught their eye, what mood they were in, and how they felt about the ads they saw. The blogs formed the basis for discussion during eight individual face to face depth interviews, to enable a better understanding of the role of outdoor within the media mix.

Two mini focus groups were also carried out, acting as a forum for a dynamic conversation with consumers around trust and the role of outdoor. Prior to attending the focus groups, participants assembled a collage about what trust meant to them, and also wrote a story about trusting a brand.

About Acacia Avenue

Acacia Avenue is a research and strategy consultancy, specialising in a multi-strand qualitative technique. Their toolkit encompasses a full range of consumer interviewing, observation, ethnography, workshops, desk research such as semiotics and cultural analysis.