Billboards And Outdoor Advertising: Should Restaurants and Bars Look To Jump In On This Growing Trend?

Jamie Mah
Jamie Mah
Oct 17, 2018 · 4 min read

Telling your story to a mass audience should have broad appeal.

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“group of people on road near highrise buildings at nighttime” by Saketh Garuda on Unsplash

In a recent column written by Rani Molla for ReCode titled, “Billboards — yes, billboards — are having a heyday in a digital world” she talks about the growth of this advertising medium and how it’s shaping the way companies are looking to target larger audiences. She quotes ad measurement company Zenith who state that in 2018, the global “out-of-home” advertising investment will be 38 billion dollars! With this amount of money coming in, companies are positioning themselves to be at the forefront of our eyes wherever we go.

Hence, billboards are here to stay. Get used to it.

With this in mind, as I read her piece, it dawned on me to wonder how the restaurant community fits in all of this. She states that some of the largest contributors last year were ones you’d naturally expect, think McDonald’s and Coca Cola. But there’s more to the world than coke and cheeseburgers. Restaurants and bars, those small and mid sized gems we all seek out, whether it’s popular Vancouver restaurants like high end Quebecois bistro St. Lawrence or hip and casual Tex Mex spot Tacofino, these establishments all have something to say and using this platform could be a great way towards growing their brands.

Now the obvious impediment to this idea is money. Where do said restaurants get it? Billboard advertising isn’t cheap. That the market is dominated by the big players should come as no surprise. When you have deep pockets, the sky is the limit. However, as I see it, there’s a smaller, more local scale market share which could be had by the restaurant industry. Fuelled by the growth in digital software, cost has been reduced. Molla states as much, “Additionally, out-of-home ads have lately become easier to purchase as the market becomes increasingly programmatic. That means people can use software to buy and sell ads — a much less labor-intensive and more data-guided process than buying in person.”

Rather than pay an individual to slap a massive billboard up for you, think Franced McDormand’s character in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” technology has made the ease of outdoor advertising a more simple process. This is why you’re seeing large scale digital ads at bus stops — once set up, they’re easy to change.

Picture what it would be like to see digital ads of some of your favourite bars and restaurants dotted all over the city you live in. With the advancement of digital technology, the ability to streamline should progress forward to an inflection point where cost will become something those companies looking to have a leg up (ie. Tacofino) will find that they can do something different and afford it.

An example of this would be through the lens of storytelling. As bars and restaurants forge partnerships with some of the biggest brands in the world, think Diageo for spirits, their clout within the ranks of advertising will grow with sponsorship. Breweries and wineries spring to mind here as well. These partnerships could help shoulder the cost of running storytelling concepts.

A digital billboard which conveys the story of a chef and his vision or one used to showcase the talented bartender who’s won a few cocktail competitions could give prospective consumers a new gateway into the brand. Instagram already does this and its success is just a smaller more handheld version of what a billboard essentially is. Instagram has given companies and brands a tactile advantage to reach thousands — with zero cost. This amount of information is what drives the engine for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, as it uses this free data, a resource of tremendous high value to sell to advertisers.

The exciting opportunity of digital billboards and outdoor advertising is the endless possibilities of tailoring content for specific consumers.

Let’s say a restaurant, say Chambar here in Vancouver which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, were to use outdoor advertising in their surrounding area, they could tailor their content to each service. This ultimately could give them a distinct advantage over their competitors as far as native local branding were concerned.

All bus stops in the area could show the menu or a video of a breakfast item being prepared. This is just me spitballing as even sides of buildings could be used.** The possibilites are endless. Even the restaurants themselves have an opportunity to use the form. Digital advertising on a storefront window should not be ruled out. Gone should be the days of just a menu hanging on the front door, why not a digital portal that tells a story?

**I realize that city councils will need to okay some or a lot of these ideas. Let’s just say they do.

Again, Instagram is a template for all of this, billboards and outdoor advertising are only in their infancy with regards to the digital capabilities they could be used towards. This medium will grow and become more effective and hopefully cheaper. I’m optimistic the restaurant and hospitality community will jump in the fray. The eyes they could reach could be limitless and that’s not something to just ignore.

I guess only time will tell.

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