Q: We're looking for ways to put our message in front of our best prospects, but typical magazine and radio ads don't reach them at the right time. Any ideas?

A: Right now, marketing messages go everywhere and anywhere there are consumers. Whether we're at home or at work, advertising media like radio and television, Web sites and e-mail, newspapers, magazines and more continually deliver messaging and marketing content. And when we step outside our homes and offices, we can also expect to find messages all around us-from the traditional out-of-home venues such as billboards, bus shelters, subway and taxi-top signage, to the newest forms of "place-based" ads.

There are advertising opportunities literally everywhere you look. Out-of-home media have the advantage of reaching prospects when they are in the most receptive frame of mind for certain types of products and services. In New York and other major cities, truck-mounted billboards rove through designated neighborhoods during morning rush hour, prompting commuters to pick up the advertised products on their way to work. In Atlanta, billboard ads featuring computers, printers and mobile phones are designed to influence office-bound commuters. And in Key West, signs on the backs of pedicabs direct tourists to popular restaurants.

Finding the right context is a vital component of any marketing strategy. For example, ads on movie screens prior to the features are a great way to reach adults ages 18-49, but they're most effective for advertisers whose messages are entertainment-related, such as neighborhood restaurants, music or soft drinks. Ads for financial or business services, for instance, would be out of context there and would quite likely fall flat.

Think about your own prospects. What types of places do they frequent? Where will they be when they're most receptive to learning about your products or services? Suppose your business markets all-natural, low-fat energy bars. Advertising your bars on video screens or with signs and posters in local gyms-particularly if you sold your energy bars there-would produce better results than newspaper ads because you'd reach the segment of your target demographic that was most actively pursuing better health and fitness. By exposing them to your ads while at the gym, they would also be in the right frame of mind to receive your message.

Four Fresh Ideas

From ads on diaper-changing stations to naming rights for community tennis courts, there are place-based marketing opportunities to fit every need and budget. Here are a few of the newest ideas to get you thinking:

  • Reach college students. The more than 15 million students in colleges nationwide spend $200 billion on products and services each year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Now there's a down and dirty way to reach them-with ads posted in laundry rooms on college campuses. Printed in full color and in movie poster style, they're encased in acrylic covers with metal frames and bolted to the walls. Available on more than 300 campuses and in a total of 3,500 laundry rooms, you can advertise by market, region or individual college. For information, contact Washboard Media and OnPoint Marketing .
  • Hit the links. If golfers are your target, trying advertising on the sides and backs of hospitality carts-mobile units selling beverages and golfing supplies that stop once every hour at each group of golfers. Sports Cart Media offers hospitality cart signage on nearly 1,000 golf courses, with seven advertising spaces available on each cart.
  • Pump them up. Local business owners in select markets have a new form of advertising available to them via the nearest gas pump. Direct Cast Network has embedded computer chips in gasoline pump handles that play a mix of advertisements, information and entertainment when a nozzle is placed in a fuel tank. Local advertisers can offer special promotions that change monthly, and it's a chance to get your name in front of hundreds of "captive" consumers a day.
  • Get in the swim. Take corporate sponsorship of sports facilities one step further with logos and ads in and around public swimming pools. You can place signage on scoreboards, timing clocks, starting blocks, walls and supporting pillars-and even on the bottom of the pools. In some cases, sponsorships can include the opportunity to distribute information and product samples at swimming events. Contact your local community pools, aquatic centers and universities concerning sponsorship.

Of course, if the perfect place-based media opportunity doesn't already exist, you can always create one. Just take a cue from big businesses. At the most recent annual Fashion Week in New York, Motorola placed its message on the runway with $500 Baby Phat special-edition phones. It's all a matter of figuring out where and when your audience will be receptive, then placing your product in the right location at the right time.