There are more ways to reach shoppers than on Facebook and Instagram.
Last November, two-year-old luxury handbag reseller Rebagg relaunched as Rebag while opening its first brick-and-mortar store in Soho. Charles Gorra, the company’s founder and CEO, decided to get the word out through outdoor marketing — namely, ads in metro cars, on billboards, in phone booths and on taxis. Five months later, when he opened a second store on Madison Avenue, he went the same route.
“For digitally native DTC brands that are trying to reach customers, outdoor marketing is a valuable tool,” he said. “It’s worked for us.”
Here’s how he explained it.
Why more brands are using outdoor ads
Gorra said it’s counterintuitive that brands born online, which are usually numbers-driven, are taking to outdoor marketing — but he said there’s no denying it.
“When you walk around NYC these days — from the metro to the bus shelters to the taxis — all you see are digital prints featuring Casper, Jet, Lola, Zola, Seamless,” he said. “Thanks to A/B testing and analytics around ads on Facebook, Instagram and Google AdWords, these brands can pretty clearly measure the impact of everything they do — but everything that’s offline is not quantitative. It raises the question: What the hell is going on?”
Because emerging brands often run with limited capital, he assumed their decision to use posters was “pre-measured.” And the fact that they continued to advertise this way led him to believe it must have been working. So, while considering going the outdoor ad route, he investigated.
He reached out to brand founders, CEOs and marketers, many of whom he met through his investors, whose portfolio includes DTC brands including Adore Me, Outdoor Voices and M.Gemi. Many said they used outdoor marketing because it’s scalable and to reach new customers, they needed an alternative to Facebook and Instagram, which they said were too crowded and competitive.
Where outdoor ads work
A dense urban area is crucial for outdoor advertising to work, said Gorra. To date, he’s heard brands have had success with it in Chicago, Boston, D.C., all concentrated cities. But in a spread-out city like L.A., he’s heard ROI is not as high.
Within New York, for Rebag, Gorra’s postings have been widespread, but he’s concentrated them in two areas: the Upper East Side, on Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue, where his sellers live and where he recently opened a store. Also Soho — again, because of a Rebag location.
As for type of outdoor ads, he has not discriminated: “We’ve pretty much run all of them,” he said. “Phone booths and kiosks, billboards, wild postings and the metro, including the posters outside of the metro, the posters you see when you wait for the metro, and what’s in a car.”
He said that, within a subway car, you can buy a one-off “panel,” which makes up one-eighth of the ads in the car, or you can do a brand takeover, where you can take up a whole side of a car with your ads. “A lot of startups go for the takeover,” he said. “It’s pretty powerful, because that way, the car only has two advertisers.”
There’s a major difference in price — about $40,000 a month, compared to about $200,000 to $250,000 — you pay more if you want to target location. Also, you have to commit to 30 days, and you cannot change the ads in the time period — a huge adjustment coming from digital, he said.
One of Rebag’s kiosk ads
What ads make sense
Gorra spent a lot of time debating whether to drive people to a new store or to the website. The decision depended on the size of the space: For phone booth ads, which are larger, he showed both the store address and the website. For the taxis, he focused just on the store.
“You have very limited real estate,” he said. “People, depending on the format, may only be exposed to the ad for a fraction of a second — like if the ad is on a taxi. So you can basically put the brand name, a URL as big as you can make it and a good picture, and that’s about it.”
One reason brands like advertising on the subway is that, once people are in a car, they’re stuck for a few minutes, which gives a brand time to tell a story and give product details.
Rather than feature a variety of ads around town, Rebag shows just three variations at any one point in time. (The outdoor ad companies would prefer even less variety, he said.) Choosing is always hard, he said, especially considering the many variations of bags and copy the brand features in online ads. Rebag typically relies on focus groups of customers to narrow down the options from 20 to three. “That’s as close as we can get to a testable approach for the offline ads,” he said.
Timing is everything
Gorra said he’s been careful not to saturate the New York market with outdoor ads as other brands have. Rebag limits them to four to eight weeks a year, or two short campaigns a year, timed with other offline activity.
“We did an eight-week campaign in November and December of last year, because we were opening a new store and also rebranding,” he said. “It’s quite likely that, whenever we open a new store, we’ll combine it with some sort of outdoor presence.”
The return on investment
There’s no way to know what kind of ROI the outdoor ads have driven, but there are several ways brands can attempt to measure their success: They could feature a promo code or a dedicated URL on each ad — so, instead of rebag.com, it would be rebag.com/nyc or rebag.com/metro. Or rebag.com and use NYC10 for 10 percent off.
“These are dedicated attribution mechanisms. The problem is that they’re only partial,” Gorra said. “You’ll still have just a few of the people in the metro using the promo code. Or they might just go to the homepage and not use the special URL. And we don’t like to throw many discounts out there.”
Instead, Rebag does a list analysis. Based on how sales perform in the absence of an outdoor campaign, he can measure the incremental revenue, transactions and visits Rebag gets when the brand is running outdoor campaigns.
“It’s allowed us to make an assessment,” he said. “Obviously, the more channels you have running at the same time, the harder it is. But when we run outdoor ads, we pull back on digital ads. It is easier for us to attribute the lifts of the period to the outdoor campaign.”
What other brands are saying
Ariel Kaye, founder and CEO of Parachute:
“We’re expanding storytelling beyond our digital footprint, and outdoor marketing allows us to be everywhere our customers are and tailor messages to their specific neighborhoods. So far, our out-of-home campaigns — from billboards to transit ads — have been hugely successful in driving both awareness and online traffic from that region. We’re using beautiful imagery paired with thought-provoking and memorable sentiments to advertise our brand, as well as highlight new retail locations in the area.”
Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson, founders of Frame Denim:
“In terms of flyposting, we don’t have a strategy. We see flyposting as an opportunity-based and organic complement to our advertising across all other channels. If we have an image we’d like to promote or a new store opening, we use flyposting as an additional way to connect with our customer.”
Francis Pierrel, CEO of Club Monaco:
“This past February, during NYFW, we really wanted to do something inclusive that would speak to who we are as a brand and touch our customers in an engaging way, and wildposting provided the perfect platform for just that. The climate of New York Fashion Week has been evolving for a couple of seasons now—it’s not just about runway shows and presentations anymore.”
Shilpa Shah, co-founder and CXO of Cuyana:
“We don’t approach marketing as a standalone channel strategy. The concept comes first and the execution follows. Outdoor marketing became a natural extension of our NYC opening because the store represented a return to brand values we find important — connecting with people in tangible ways. The ads we ran reflected that. We leveraged a multi-faceted analog strategy that met New Yorkers in places they connect — the bodega — with newspapers and thoughtful advertising.”
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