Why Billboards Present an Opportunity for Music Marketers and Musicians

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In September 2021, Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square was plastered with DONDA billboards. The out-of-home (OOH) marketing displays taking over prime billboard locations promoting Kanye West’s new album in Drake’s hometown marked the latest larger-than-life salvo in the rap superstars’ intermittent feud and continued a time-honored tradition in the music industry.

The Drake-Kanye throwdown is one of the many campaigns musicians, labels, promoters, radio stations and other music professionals have launched to leverage OOH’s unique ability to engage listeners on a mass scale. For instance, when the 2021 Juno Awards featured nominee Laila Biali on billboards around her hometown of Vancouver, the jazz artist dispatched her followers via Twitter to the locations where they could take and post selfies. The added exposure benefitted both the Junos and Biali and highlights OOH’s effectiveness in creating viral content.

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I’m currently the president of a nonprofit that provides audience measurement to support the Canadian out-of-home industry as a whole, and I’ve seen firsthand how artists and marketers are turning to billboards as a differentiator.

For music marketers, the applications of using OOH in marketing campaigns depend on the kind of exposure an artist is looking for. You can choose to place ads touting new releases in transit shelters; stream music videos and artist interviews leveraging digital OOH on busy urban city centers or within popular indoor environments and college pathways; or announce upcoming concerts and festivals on kiosks in the local shopping mall. Artists could even thumb their noses at their rivals on their home turf.

OOH offers the flexibility to target fans by demographic, geography or time of day. The variety of display types — bulletins, street furniture, posters, digital out-of-home (DOOH) or the automated delivery of content through programmatic DOOH (pDOOH) — makes OOH a unique and effective way to promote a musical endeavor.

Major music stakeholders employ massive OOH campaigns to promote their platforms, labels and artists. Take Spotify’s annual Wrapped campaign, for instance, which combines massive OOH executions with mobile and social content advertising, thus amplifying the efficacy of the campaign. At the end of every year, the music streaming service reveals its Wrapped campaign that highlights user-generated playlists, congratulates artists and groups whose music has been played the most, and other insights derived from its data.

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But big-budget companies and iconic musicians embarking on world tours aren’t the only ones getting OOH exposures. Regional acts that make their living in barrooms and honky tonks and independent singer-songwriters debuting at Friday’s open-mic night can also reach listeners via OOH to generate online followings, advertise their YouTube channel or establish a fan club.

Artists seeking their big break can start small with OOH. A local campaign should focus on establishing the band’s brand — a task for which OOH is well-suited. OOH presents the opportunity to show artists’ faces, logos and performance information against a background that provides contextual clues about their genre, tone and style to convince audiophiles to tune in. Local music marketers and musicians who have not yet hit the big time yet can tailor their approach to OOH to generate better results based on their needs.

• Get targeted about who you’re reaching. Marketers and musicians need to carefully identify who they want to see their messages and marketing campaigns. By getting specific about who you want to engage in your OOH, you can better determine based on anonymized data where those people hang out.

• Don’t be afraid to adapt messaging when necessary. Changing OOH messaging is simple. Artists should update their tour dates, album releases and other information to keep everything current and to highlight the specific messages conveyed throughout the campaign. Combine this with a social content campaign and you’ve got a recipe for great exposure.

• Be strategic about integrating OOH in your marketing campaigns. Programmatic digital out-of-home buying makes micro-campaigns possible. Artists can set their max budgets and pause and resume campaigns whenever needed. Consider limiting your messaging to the times that are most productive (i.e., when your target audience is engaging with your OOH).

Like music, OOH displays provide a medium for creativity. DOOH screens can incorporate video, animation and even interactive features and 3D graphics, while traditional OOH can incorporate extensions or high-impact wraps to attract viewers’ interest. Getting creative is a surefire way to captivate an audience with content that transcends the moment to generate invaluable viral, cross-channel experiences.

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