The ROI of Print and Outdoor Ads in 2016

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Every year, millions of dollars are spent on billboards and out-of-home advertising. Many millennial contemporaries don’t understand why and are very dismissive of the ROI of print in general.

There are some points they bring up that I do happen to agree with: Unless you’re talking about Time Square, billboards probably aren’t as valuable as they were 15 years ago in a world without Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Yet the price hasn’t gone down.

It’s also hard to measure the branding value of OOH and print when compared to the readily available data that social media and online marketing provide.


Bright colors and a prominent URL invite viewers to learn more about living spaces at 251Dekalb online. Design by Real Estate Arts, winner in the 2015 Regional Design Annual.

So How Do We Upgrade Billboards and OOH?

In a previous article, I introduced the concept of print as “gateway media.” A way to drive passers by to engage with a brand in these measurable platforms via interactive calls to action.

Now I want to explore and illustrate the practical tactics that go along with that. You’ve likely seen some of this in practice areas for yourselves.

  1. Using Print to Drive Social Media Engagement

  2. Using Print to Drive Downloads

  3. Using Print to Drive Views

Print is an experience, and it drives awareness. Typically print tried to get you in the store or to pick up the phone, but now it’s trying to get you to a place where a brand can interact with you more. Adding another barrier to a transaction sounds counter productive but it’s really just “asking for a second date.”

Brands understand that we buy based on feeling a relationship or affinity for a brand, and that engaging with potential customers online helps build that relationship. If nothing else they want to create familiarity.

Most of us are not buying Apple or Nike because of the ads.

Some of the tactics you’re seeing pop up are posters that incorporate specific hashtags and social media icons to make you aware they are on those platforms.


Paula Scher’s memorable and distinctive work for New York performing arts center like the Queens Theater (above) and the Public Theater (below) invite people to explore the season’s offerings online. Design by Pentagram.


Using Print to Drive Downloads

Mobile Apps and music have been successfully using print advertising to drive downloads. This is clever, because in many instances a consumer will not be engaging with anything online that would make them aware of an app or a particular artist.

Savvy marketers can figure out where there ideal customers will be in the real world and put a well designed poster or billboard in their path.

Using Print to Drive Views

This one isn’t exactly new, though the context has changed. Billboards and OOH have had a role in driving viewership for broadcast television and sporting events for as long as we can remember. But now it is also a driver for online viewership, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have all been using billboards and OOH to drive awareness and viewership of new series.

At this point we understand that the destination where we will convert people is going to be interactive. Where in the past we wanted to get people into a department store, a movie theater or to pick up the phone, we now want them on a website, an app or a social media platform. The reason is because the way we consume has changed, and the way we market and design our advertising has had to follow.

Print still has a strong role to play in the sales conversation, but we can no longer try to tie it directly to conversion because that just isn’t practical. It has to drive consumers to engage in a place where we have permission to ask for the sale—otherwise we are just presenting them with very expensive noise.

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