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Inventive Ways to Use Place-Based Media With place-based media, you can advertise nearly anywhere your customers look. Here's how to choose the right places to get your message out.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Editor's Note: The following article is excerpted from Kim Gordon's latest book, Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars , (Kaplan Publishing).

When was the last time you left home and were in a truly advertisement-free environment? Think about it. Now advertising messages go anywhere and everywhere people do. Go to almost any U.S. beach and you'll be greeted with a plane towing an ad banner. You may even be exposed to "beach sand impressions," which are ad messages imprinted into the sand and regenerated overnight. How about a ball game? Every conceivable stadium surface is covered with advertising, from signage to food snack packs, and some stadiums even have video screens built directly into the seat backs. Feel like going for a bike ride surrounded by nature? You may find your local biking trails are named after businesses, thanks to the new availability of naming rights for everything from nature trails to neighborhood swimming pools.

The industry calls this alternative out-of-home or placed-based media, and it's a bonanza for small businesses because there's literally something for everyone. While there are virtually limitless places to put your ads, here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Shopping cart returns --Ads are placed on the roof of shopping cart return stations located in supermarket parking lots.
  • Valet parking tickets --Messages are imprinted on all the segments.
  • Public telephones --Ads are placed on phone kiosks located near streetball courts, school yards, playgrounds and urban parks to reach younger males when they're on the courts. (Of the 800,000 locations available, 1,500 are less than a block from a streetball court.)
  • Dry-cleaning bags and hangers --Ads are printed on garment bags, hangers and paper covers.
  • Commercial restrooms --Posters are located in public restrooms, such as in bars and restaurants, on stall doors or above urinals.
  • Vending cart umbrellas --Ads are placed on umbrellas that cover vending carts in metro markets.
  • Golf course hospitality carts --Signage is found on the sides and backs of hospitality carts on nearly 1,000 golf courses.
  • Dogs --(That's right, dogs) wearing advertising messages, called K9 Billboards, are available to stroll through cities nationwide.
  • Campus laundry rooms --Acrylic-covered, framed poster-size ads are available on more than 300 college campuses and in a total of 3,500 laundry rooms.
  • Diaper-changing stations --(Also called "Baby Boards") carry advertising in public restrooms.
  • Health clubs, spas and salons --Ads in a variety of shapes and sizes are located throughout the facilities.
  • Public tennis courts and swimming pools --Ads are found on scoreboards, walls and even on the bottoms of the pools.
  • Stadium and arena food carriers --Logos are imprinted on snack packs used to carry food and beverages.

With so many place-based media options available, choosing the right one can be tricky. Last tax season, I received an e-mail with a question from an accountant trying to build his new practice. He couldn't understand why his marketing wasn't working, yet his tactics were poorly chosen--and one in particular was really out of left field. He said he was advertising on the backs of supermarket receipts. Now, really, would you choose an unknown person to handle your finances from an ad on the back of a shopping receipt? It's a great tactic, but it was absolutely wrong for him.

Results of Choosing the Right Place-Based Opportunities
Using the right place-based opportunities should enable you to accomplish at least one or more of the following five things:

1. Influence a purchase. Ideally you want to find placed-based media that reach your prospects when they're in a position to buy what you sell. The last time you visited your dentist, did you notice the brochures in the waiting room promoting the tooth-whitening products your dentist applies? These "informational" brochures are excellent placed-based selling tools because they prompt patients to ask the dentist for the product or procedure.

Ads placed in and around supermarkets, for example, are effective for products sold there. In addition to ads on shopping cart returns, advertisers can place their product names or logos on supermarket clocks, buy shopping cart ads, and a variety of displays--all to reach consumers just prior to a purchase decision. Ads on cash register receipts entice customers to come back for special promotions or discounts on products they may never have tried. They can also be used to draw shoppers to stores located adjacent to the supermarket. Where will your customers be when they're deciding to buy what you sell?

2. Reach your best prospects. The most exciting characteristic of placed-based media is that they can go wherever your best prospects do. Trying to reach boaters? Ads and informational materials placed at marinas may do the trick. Are your prospects sports enthusiasts? From high school and college stadiums to professional arenas, there are countless placed-based opportunities to send your message.

Suppose you were marketing to college students. After all, 15-million college students in the United States spend more than $100 billion each year for everything from clothing and shoes to cars and electronics. On-campus advertising includes outdoor posters and dioramas; indoor posters in laundry rooms, dorms and student unions; plus a new form of advertising available on about 100 campuses--large plasma screens that alternate ads with announcements in the lobbies of student unions and in recreational facilities. If you were a retailer marketing to a nearby campus, you could run on-screen ads 11 times per hour, sometimes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to promote student discounts, host on-campus promotions, and recruit employees.

3. Put your message in the right context. Place-based media often can be used to reach prospects when they're in just the right state of mind. For the same reason that business marketers advertise copiers, computers and cellular phones using outdoor media that reach commuters on their way to work, other less traditional media can accomplish a similar goal by presenting your message in the appropriate context. If you're a member of a major health club, for example, you've probably noticed the video screens and other advertising featuring products related to fitness, health, diet and beauty. When would you be more receptive to an ad for a new diet plan, at dinnertime while eating pizza and watching TV, or when you were working off those extra calories the next morning at the gym?

Pet owners stocking up at the neighborhood pet store are in the right frame of mind to take a brochure for a local pet groomer from a countertop rack while waiting at the register. And teenage boys playing basketball on an urban court are likely to take notice of a nearby poster advertising sports apparel. These placed-based media work because they reach qualified prospects in the proper context.

4. Appear in a compatible venue. Most people are familiar with the small posters that are placed in restaurants and clubs, generally inside the restrooms or nearby, perhaps in a hallway where patrons must wait in line. Ever notice the kind of advertising they carry? The majority is for compatible, entertainment-oriented products and services that match the "fun" state of mind of the patrons who view it. Place-based ads feature local attractions, musical events, gambling junkets, skydiving and snorkeling trips (in Miami), ghost tours (in New Orleans) and dating services, just to name a few.

Your place-based advertising should be a synergistic part of your overall marketing campaign and carry similar themes. So it's important to choose out-of-home venues that are compatible with the overall tone and content of your company's message. An ad for the tax preparer I mentioned earlier, for instance, probably wouldn't work on a nightclub restroom poster, even if patrons of the club matched the demographics of his target audience. His message simply wouldn't be compatible with the tone of the venue.

5. Earn community goodwill. Other more subtle forms of place-based media can effectively boost your company image as a good citizen of the community. One such example is the Adopt-a-Highway program, which posts signage along major highways from coast-to-coast in exchange for sponsors' fees to cover routine maintenance. The Adopt a Highway Maintenance Corporation is one of the leading providers of the service and signage. Primarily used for branding purposes, the signage designs are approved by state highway departments, which typically allow a company name and logo. You can buy the signage along a major route close to your office or anywhere you like. In some states, signage is available every mile and in others its every two miles, and on average, each sign is seen by drivers and passengers in 5-million cars a month. It's a great way to show your customers and your entire community that you care.

As you can see, there are hundreds of options for you to launch your own place-based media campaign. And with the right placement, targeting the right customers, it's sure to be a success.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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