When Clear Channel Communications Inc. needed a patriotic ad to capitalize on the positive sentiment that surges across the United States during the July 4 holiday, it turned to a Canadian.
The media company launched a campaign on Wednesday featuring an emotional rendition of the American national anthem as part of a strategy to bring greater attention to the potential in a digital age of old-fashioned outdoor advertising such as billboards and posters.
The ad shows Clear Channel-owned billboards across the country – in markets including Orlando, Fla., Minneapolis, Minn., Albuquerque, N.M., Memphis, Tenn., and, of course, New York – "singing" the anthem together by each posting a snippet of its lyrics such as "we hailed" or "o'er the ramparts." They were then filmed and strung together in a video that crosses the U.S. The tagline of the campaign is, "United, we tell a bigger story."
It's a shift for the company, which in past has done self-promotional campaigns through its in-house advertising teams
But the new work came out of a conversation last month between Clear Channel's chief marketing officer, Vicki Lins, and Paul Lavoie, chairman of Canadian ad agency Taxi (now owned by WPP Group PLC) about the challenges facing the oldest advertising medium.
"I've really been surprised to see how the creative community loves outdoor … and yet media planners and buyers have put it in the 'other' category so much of the time," Ms. Lins said.
When Mr. Lavoie proposed his idea, she asked for it in time for July 4. Taxi's Montreal office pulled it together in 21/2 weeks, working with Montreal-based 1ONE Productions and sending instructions to Clear Channel's regional offices and asking them to send back film of their market's piece of the anthem.
"My brief to anyone shooting this was two words: Jack Kerouac. On the Road, baby. You're on the road," Mr. Lavoie said. "You just feel like you're crossing the country."
"Somehow it seems to be more of a regional, local medium and not as many national advertisers use it as they do in other countries," Mr. Lavoie said. "There are brilliant exceptions – Altoids, Apple – but by and large, the American market in out-of-home is much smaller than it should be and could be."
In terms of advertising spending, the out-of-home category – which includes billboards, transit shelter ads, posters, elevator screens among other offerings – has not faced the same challenges as other "legacy media."
For example, while newspapers and magazines have seen print advertising revenues erode, spending on outdoor has had continued modest growth even in the digital age.
However, outdoor represents just a tiny sliver of total ad revenues, and always has. Its market share remains stubbornly between 4 and 5 per cent in the United States.
Although its share is still small, part of the reason out-of-home has not seen major spending declines that other older media have is because it is perfectly suited to the "digital attention span," Mr. Lavoie said.
The anthem campaign is the first step in what will be a new direction for Clear Channel, which is planningmore and bigger campaigns to promote its services going forward, Ms. Lins said.
The anthem excerpts will continue to show up on Clear Channel's billboards through the holiday weekend.
One struggle for the out-of home category has been measurement: While media such as television and digital are flush with data about who pays attention to their ads, out-of home has struggled to show its effectiveness. "The measurement I think, in television, is inflated, and in out of home is underestimated," Mr. Lavoie said. "… I think they're getting better at that, and need to find ways to establish measurement that these things are working."
The campaign is also a marriage of new and old media, posting the video on YouTube and asking people to submit their Independence Day photos and videos on social media, for a chance to appear in a follow-up video or on a billboard.
"We're taking a fresh approach to what it means to showcase our medium, and to use it to drive a dialogue within the industry," Ms. Lins said. "When you then circle back and remind them that it was outdoor that did that, it opens the door for more business conversations."