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Feature: How buses could drive an advertising revolution

22 February 2018 #Bus and Coach #CV Sector #Features & Interviews #TNB News #Top Stories

Buses are the stalwarts of the out-of-home advertising industry. They carry large amounts of passengers into busy areas, so if you want to get your message across to as many people as possible – including those already on the high street with money in their pockets – they’re a safe bet.

A double-decker wrapped with printed marketing is nothing new, but bus advertising is becoming increasingly sophisticated, as modern adverts can display reactive messages that change depending on where the vehicle is.

Bus advertising heavyweight Exterion and creative agency Talon recently launched a campaign in London, which involved fitting 20 vehicles with digital supersides – a large screen on the side of the bus – to promote Google’s Pixel 2 phone, with alternating messages relevant to the vehicle’s location.

Gavin Brice, Exterion’s UK franchise director, explains, “A bus has GPS [and] the software knows where the bus is, so Google are able to target on a street-by-street basis – promoting that the phone is now available at the EE store in Hackney, in Camden and so on, and they can serve a good morning message, a good afternoon message, a good evening message by geolocation.”

According to Gary Downes, Director of out-of-home advertising specialist Hint Media, electronic ads will only get more popular over time; “You’ll find that ads on buses will become digital screens; they’ll change to have different advertisers every 10 or 15 seconds, flicking on and off. People are looking for a much more targeted approach, rather than a spread bet, where you just put adverts and campaigns out across the UK. They’re now looking at very niche areas, and they’re using a lot more research to look at where the right audience lives, so they can target those areas and those depots.”

That’s not to say that conventional posters have dried up. Buses continue to hit the road with traditional print advertising, the biggest change to which, in relatively recent times, has been the use of recyclable water resistant boards (WRB), in place of old-fashioned vinyl ads. “A good 10 years ago, it changed over to WRB,” says Downes, “we couldn’t recycle them [vinyl adverts]; we had to dispose of them. WRBs just slide into the frames to make the actual posters themselves more eco-friendly. Prior to that, the vinyl was stuck onto the actual metal frame of the bus.”

An increasing number of operators are adding features such as Wi-Fi and 4G to their bus fleets which, in turn, is causing agencies to rethink how they approach interior publicity, chiefly to better inform advertisers about who’s on the bus and when.

“A lot of bus companies are adding Wi-Fi to buses to improve the consumer experience and drive passenger numbers – and a lot of them are doing that through the Better Bus Fund,” says Brice, “we’re very interested in the data, in an aggregated and anonymous way, that is collected from Wi-Fi. When you log on to free Wi-Fi, you sign your terms and conditions and agree to it; you’re not giving up your personal details, but your browsing behaviour puts you in a certain demographic.

“We’re able to segment that audience into a specific demographic – quite interestingly, by time of day – so we’re able to say to advertisers ‘in response to your brief to hit a certain type of person, we’ve got evidential proof that these people are in these buses during this time of day, and here’s how you reach them’. Basically, if we’re able to demonstrate that these buses hit this specific audience, they [advertisers] will pay more for the additional or existing advertisings.”

Wi-Fi data is the tip of the tech iceberg, as bus ads have even been known to interact with the general public via smartphones. The use of iBeacons – transmitters that beam information directly to phones with corresponding apps – has proved tremendously successful in trials.

“We put iBeacons on 3,000 buses in London and partnered with Shazam, which is a music app, and they’ve got 33 million users in the UK,” says Brice of one particular trial, “those people that had a Shazam app walked onto the bus and would receive a beacon message on their phone. When they clicked on it, they saw a specifically cut, unique trailer for Kung Fu Panda 2, and the opportunity to click through and purchase a cinema ticket. Shazam also ran on the TV campaign for Kung Fu Panda 2, and the 3,000 buses delivered more cinema tickets than the TV campaign.”

Brice thinks there’s a promising future for iBeacons, but admits that they have their limitations, in that they only work with specifically sanctioned apps and cross the line “from broadcast to narrowcast” platforms. He reckons that the likes of the Google digital superside campaign could easily expand across the country, though. “That was a launch of 20 [buses]. It’s in its embryonic days at the moment, but I could easily see it being rolled out more in London and the top 10 or 15 UK cities in the next couple of years.”

He also thinks that high-profile bus advertising will becoming all-encompassing in time, “Brands are always looking to do something creative for the first time that would stand out and get a lot of social media [coverage], and I can see them being very interested on how to use the bus on a journey. So that would include wrapping the bus, installing Wi-Fi and then having a brand experience on board. We did something similar on First Great Western with Hewlett Packard, where they wrapped the train and people were actually walking around inside, showing [passengers] the product and getting them to use it.

“I can see brands, particularly in the top five UK cities, trying to use buses for a bit more theatre going forwards. Buses will always be on the major high streets of the UK, and there are basic fundamentals about reaching people on a high street who have a propensity to spend, and mobile will be part of that future. But I also think we shouldn’t get away from the basics of a bus, which is if a brand wants to build cover and reach for product theme, quickly, national UK buses are a fantastic way of doing that.”

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