Outdoor Advertising in Latin America

On the Zona Latina web site, we have collected a large number of Latin American links to newspapers, magazines, television and radio services. Most of these media entities are financially supported by advertising revenue, and they function on the basis of presenting editorial content mixed in with advertisements. While these media account for the majority of total advertising expenditures, there is still a significant amount being spent in other media, especially outdoor advertising and event promotions.

By virtue of its name, outdoor advertising works outside of the home or office. These are situation in which the other media are usually absent. Consider the case of a commuter going to or coming back from work. The person may be in a bus, a train, a car or on foot. Televiewing is most unlikely and reading may be difficult to do under the circumstances. Radio listening is sometimes possible. These are the situations in which outdoor advertising may be the most effective approach.

As with any other media, outdoor advertising requires a mechanism for accountability. That is to say, the advertiser should have some idea about the size as well as the quality of the audience in order the evaluate the effectiveness. Unfortunately, compared to the broadcast and print media, the research methodologies for the measurement of the audience to outdoor advertising have been intellectually unsatisfying and highly controversial. This is complicated by the fact that there are various kinds of outdoor media, some of which are substantially harder to measure than others.

In this essay, we will present a series of photographs of different types of outdoor advertising that we have observed in a number of Latin American countries. In each case, we will make some comments on the measurement issues associated with the outdoor media type. These examples do not exhaust the range of outdoor advertising vehicles, by any means. We also acknowledge that outdoor advertising is a complex subject, with its own set of vocabulary and professional associations (OAAA) and we cannot hope to provide a complete discussion in this very short space.

  1. Montevideo, Uruguay - Pilsen truck (photo credit: Pablo Verdin)
    This is a photo of a large truck that is used to deliver Pilsen beer from the warehouse to various wholesale and retail outlets. As the truck is owned and operated by the Pilsen distributor, it was easy and logical to put on the Pilsen logo and colors instead of leaving it blank. Given the size of the truck, it will be highly visible and memorable on the road. In this case, audience measurement may not be an important issue to Pilsen at all as there are no rental charges for continual usage.

  2. Santiago, Chile - Bus exterior (photo credit: Paul Donato)
    Advertisers without a truck fleet can rent advertising space from other transport operators, such as bus services. In some Latin American cities, public transportation is provided by the numerous small independent bus operators (colectivas), which makes it hard to arrange advertising on a case-by-case basis. In other Latin American cities, the large private and public bus services offer standardized advertising space on their fleets and receive significant advertising revenues. Advertising space may be leased for specific geographical areas or bus routes only, with different rates charged for the different exterior sides of the bus and for interior ads too.

    For ads that appear inside the bus, the potential audience is logically determined by the passenger load along that bus route. For ads that appear on the bus exteriors, the issue is more complicated as they are seen by pedestrians as well as vehicle passengers. It is commonplace to ask people about the typical distance that they travel per day, and then use this is as a surrogate measure. Obviously, this isnot intellectually satisfactory.

  3. Buenos Aires, Argentina - Bus shelter (photo credit: Pablo Verdin)
    A classical outdoor advertising vehicle is the bus shelter, designed to protect bus riders from the weather elements while they wait for their bus to arrive. As there may be hundreds or even thousands of bus shelters in a major city, this is a major source of revenue for the operating company. These bus shelters are professionally operated, with quality-looking ads as well as good maintenance.

    As a starting point for measuring audience, one might use the passenger load along the bus route. However, we note that the sign is seen also by pedestrians who are not bus-riders as well as by people riding in other types of vehicles. For a precise estimate, one might assign an observer to count the number of pedestrians and the number of vehicles passing by a bus shelter. Then the total number of people with the opportunity to see the sign would be the number of pedestrians plus the number of vehicles adjusted by a passenger load factor. With a sufficient sample that accounts properly for space-time distribution, one might be able to derive a reasonably accurate estimate of the total number of potential exposures. It is more difficult, though, to determine actual exposures (e.g. awareness, recall, response, etc).

  4. Mexico City, Mexico - Billboard (photo credit: Roland Soong)
    This is the classical large billboard that is located at a major intersection of two traffic arteries. Drivers who are stopping and waiting for the traffic light will be staring at this billboard, which is illuminated by spotlights at night. The potential audience for this billboard can be determined by the number of cars that pass through the intersection, multiplied by a load factor (that is, the number of passengers per car). We say 'potential', because not everyone in the car (or bus) can see the billboard and the opportunity to see does not imply attention, awareness or response.

    This billboard is also seen by pedestrians walking over the footbridge (where this photograph was taken) across the road. As this intersection happens to be right at a subway station (Zapata), there is a considerable amount of pedestrian traffic too.

  5. Caracas, Venezuela - Large billboard on hillside (photo credit: Deborah Levy)
    This is a huge billboard for Daewoo that is placed near the top of a hill. From this locale, this billboard is visible from miles away. This type of billboard would only be possible in a place with hilly terrain. In a flat city with neither natural nor artificial elevations, a billboard of this size would be wasted.

    Now a general measure of exposure to outdoor advertising is based upon the average daily amount of traveling distance that people cover. If we add in some measure of the average density of billboards in the local area, we may be able to determine the average exposure rate. The problem is that this result is applicable to the average billboard, and the Daewoo example here is atypical.

  6. Panama City, Panama - Side street (photo credit: Nitzia Thomas)
    At this local street corner, the buildings are covered with displays at the street level as well as the upper levels. The amount of different advertisements present at this one corner would make it difficult for any single display to stand out among the clutter. Given the proliferation of such displays, an advertiser may feel compelled to join in the fray to maintain a presence so that its competitors do not rule the landscape.
    Audience measurement for specific signs may not be an issue here, as these arrangements are typically opportunistic deals made with store operators and house owners. It is more important to obtain estimates of the share of voice, both for oneself and for one's competitors.

  7. Mexico City, Mexico - Painted wall (photo credit: Roland Soong)
    This is photo of the entrance to a rather unassuming convenience store located in a back street. The pedestrian traffic at this location is not very high, as this is a low-density mixed residential/business district. The costs of posting the signs are likely to be small, or even nil. Audience measurement and accountability for such small signs may not be an issue.

    The significance of such advertising is that they present point-of-sales opportunities. That is, a person who passes by the store may see the sign for Pepsi Cola or Gatorade and make an impulsive purchase of the beverage.

  8. San Juan, Puerto Rico - Outdoor concert (photo credit: Deborah Levy)
    The sponsorship of events is another venue for advertising. This photograph shows an outdoor salsa concert in Puerto Rico, where the sponsors (7 Up, El Nuevo Día, Coors Light, etc.) have their logos hoisted on the top of the panoply. The displays do not always have to be small-sized posters, as evidenced by the large 7-Up 'can' near the front of the stage. The official carbonated soft drink sponsor of an event has the opportunity of generating some sales too.

    The potential audience for a display can be estimated by the attendance at the event. However, there is more to events sponsorship than just the number of attendees or the number of gallons of beverage sold. The sponsor of the event wins a great deal of goodwill and prestige as well, and this is much more intangible.

  9. Lima, Peru - Landscape advertising (photo credit: Wendy Parodi)
    This is a photograph taken from the side of a major highway in Lima. The advertisement for ICL has been etched into the landscape through plants and flowers of different colors. This form of advertising is not often seen elsewhere in the world. To some people, this may seem to be yet another intrusion of commercialism into everyday life. From another viewpoint, this is a source of revenue for the government as well as providing a sanitized landscape that is conscientiously maintained by the company whose name appears on it and which might otherwise be a littered eyesore.

    As the sign is visible only from the road, the potential audience is estimated by the vehicular traffic adjusted by a passenger load factor. Landscape ads attract much attention, mostly positive and sometimes negative, in a way that traditional billboards no longer can. For example, did you notice the large Coca Cola billboard in that photograph? 

  10. New York City, USA - Showroom (photo credit: Rob Zand)
    This is an absolutely extraordinary Absolut Vodka ad featuring an entire Manhattan studio apartment suspended horizontally on the side of a billboard.  This apartment comes with furniture from the Swedish retailer Ikea, including a bed, dresser, couch, chaise, bookshelf, a full a kitchen counter, bathroom and a working television set.  This one is definitely a show stopper.

  11. New York City, USA - Gatorade (photo credit: Roland Soong)
    This super-size Gatorade bottle appeared near the 23rd-mile mark of the 2000 New York City Marathon, right next to the row of volunteers handing out the drinks to the 30,000+ runners.  While this very large display is high visible, it is doubtful that the runners are in good physical states at this stage of the race to appreciate the bottle.  On this very windy day, the people around this object must also wonder if and when the bottle gets blown over.


(posted by Roland Soong, September 22nd, 1997)

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