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FEATURE21 November 2012

Starting from scratch

Features News

Out-of-home advertising body Postar has launched an entirely new currency for the industry. Managing director James Whitmore tells us why the old model had to be upgraded and the ‘monumental’ task of putting the new currency together.

Outdoor advertising has traditionally meant two things: billboards and signs at bus stops. That was certainly the case when Postar was formed in the mid-1990s and revolutionised the way that audiences were measured by using “revolutionary” technology such as eye tracking.

“It was a different world back then,” muses Postar MD James Whitmore. “The medium was almost entirely a roadside medium. Bus shelters and billboards accounted for more than 90% of revenue.”

The UK’s system was so advanced that it was used as a model for other countries but, as with most things in life, the good times had to end and the system was soon in danger of becoming obsolete. Whitmore said: “The achilles’ heel of course was that the world changed and the OOH sector saw huge investment and new avenues, like shopping malls and tube stations, opened up. This meant the type of displays also changed to include digital and scrolling ads.”

It wasn’t long before the traditional “bus shelter and billboard” adverts became just one of the many parts of the sector. This was mirrored in the Postar currency and Whitmore said that the original system “wasn’t covering 95% of the industry, it was covering 66%”, and that number was only going to continue dropping.

“In the early 2000s,” he said, “the industry met to try and bolt something on the existing system, but it couldn’t be done so the decision was made to start again. So that’s what we did.”

In 2008 Postar put out a tender which was won by Ipsos MediaCT. They then formed a partnership with MGE Data in the Czech Republic to carry out the research work that would form the backbone of the new currency.

But that was five years ago. Why has the research process taken so long? “It’s an unbelievably difficult job.” explained Whitmore. “We didn’t realise what a difficult job it was going to be when we started out.

To be able to understand OOH home advertising you have to be able to understand every single public pathway in the country,” he added. That doesn’t just mean a pavement or road any more – under the new system a pathway “could also be a corridor into a tube station, then a stairway into a tube station, an escalator, a tube platform, a tube train and then the reverse coming out of the station.”.

Whitmore said that the organisation needed to create a “scale map” of all tube and railway stations and shopping malls, which then had to be put onto a master digital map that connects them all together.

“On top of that,” Whitmore continues, “you have to survey about 450,000 ad sites. We need to know what size they are, which side they are facing, whether they are scrolling, whether they are illuminated…”

This preparatory work, which was mostly done by media owners, was “colossal”, and that was before the Ipsos work started. A panel of 23,000 were fitted with GPS meters supplied by MGE Data. The panel was managed by Ipsos who then returned the data to MGE who in turn added it to the digital maps. From there, Ipsos managed the demographic side of the data, mapping out consumer routes throughout the country from the collected data.

Four years and £19m later, the new currency is ready to launch at the beginning of next year following a short time in beta mode which users can use to become familiar with the new currency.

For Whitmore, he can now sit back and reflect on the enormousness of the task he has overseen. “I’m not sure when the last time a currency was launched from scratch,” he surmises.

3 Comments

7 years ago

Five years is also roughly how long it took the Australian industry to build the MOVE system. We also built a system that holds data for 95% of the industry's inventory, but we only covered the major metropolitan cities and around 75,000 faces. We leant heavily on POSTAR's original design - especially the visibility measures but conducted all those in-the-field. Our system was designed to be 'scalable' so that formats not yet covered (e.g. campuses, office foyers/elevators) could be 'bolted-on' at reasonable low cost when media owner funds would allow. However, we did not use GPS samples to any great extent because back when we started the project the devices were not reliable enough (canyoning etc.). Just one question - did you also opt for cloud-based data delivery? It was the ONLY way we could store and deliver the data as it was THAT huge. Congratulations to the UK OOH industry for raising the bar again.

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7 years ago

Thank you John for your kind comments. The data delivery software is provided by Telmar Communications, working with Cuende Infometrics. The data-set is unimaginably huge. Their "Quantum" system is based on cloud computing although you would have to ask them about the specifics.

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7 years ago

The POSTAR data is probably the largest single dataset we have handled at Telmar. Considering we deal with all types of research data including TV, radio, press, web and consumer POSTAR data presents a significant challenge. Optimising the data for speed during operation is of primary concern to our users and given the complexity of volume, digital signage, illumination factors and combined with a unique reach and frequency algorithm we opted for a method of cloud based distributed processing in order to provide a speed of calculation suitable for hundreds of users. Our cloud platform is both fast and scalable, designed to cope with the expanding POSTAR database and our own user base. http://www.telmar.co.uk/products-for-marketers-agencies/outdoor/quantum

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