April 18, 2016

East Hartford firm scales new terrain with 3D NYC billboard

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
A climber scales the rock-climbing wall attached to a Times Square billboard for the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid — an experiential advertising campaign that launched during the New York International Auto Show.

An East Hartford-based company scaled new terrain in helping orchestrate an advertising campaign that involved erecting a climbing wall on a towering Times Square billboard in New York City.

Out Of Home America | Wilkins Media (OOHA Wilkins) complemented and executed the creative concepts of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi of Los Angeles, which created an experiential advertisement for Toyota's RAV4 Hybrid "How Far Will You Take It" campaign. The billboard was timed during the New York International Auto Show.

Three professional climbers repeatedly scaled the wall from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 22-24, said Patricia Turosz, Out Of Home America's director of client partnerships, and the campaign had the desired effect, bringing the 120-foot wall to life. A female amateur climber also scaled it, once. The show ended April 3, but the 3D billboard was scheduled to remain in place through April 10, sans climbers, after which the wall would be dismantled.

"The best experiential media, whether it's on a billboard or it's on the ground, is something that's going to get people to stop and stare, take a picture and share," said Turosz, who's based out of OOHA Wilkins' Santa Monica, Calif., office and executed the project. "That's what we're aiming for, so it has that afterlife."

Advertisers raise the bar

Advertisers want to stand out and have raised the bar on what companies like OOHA Wilkins are doing in the outdoor and experiential space, she said.

"And you're going to see more of it," Turosz said. "It breathes a breath of new life into outdoor media because of the social media echo that is created with such events."

Blaine Branchik, associate professor of marketing at Quinnipiac University, hadn't seen the wall, but lauded the thinking behind it and bang for the buck generated by what was expected to be ample social media sharing by passersby, especially gawking tourists.

"They see this very unusual, very unorthodox advertisement and they can't help but whip out their smartphones and whether it's photos or videos, you better believe that's on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, it's everywhere all of a sudden; so therefore, it's gotten this national exposure," Branchik said.

"They're trying to break through the clutter in the most visually cluttered spot in the United States," Branchik said. "How ironic is that? It's visually so clever."

Location and durability

Turosz ensured the billboard was well-located — on the side of the DoubleTree Suites By Hilton Hotel at 47th Street and 7th Avenue — and across from a hotel Toyota used to entertain media and others, giving guests a good view of the climbing action and campaign.

She had to work hard to find a billboard strong enough to support 6,000 pounds of climbing wall and climbers, then had to secure city permits and other approvals to pull it off.

"Honestly, there aren't very many static billboards left in Time Square that are truly a billboard that has the steel backing," she said of finding the right support structure.

Blake Wassenaar, executive producer of experiential for Saatchi & Saatchi, which is Toyota's agency of record and developed the climbing idea, enjoyed partnering with OOHA Wilkins on the campaign's production.

"I can't say enough positive things about them," he said.

Turosz declined to release the cost of the campaign.

Cost of a Times Square Billboard

A report on Investopedia.com said Times Square billboards could cost $1.1 million to $4 million per year, which comes to about $92,000 to $333,000 per month.

"In Times Square right now, the Times Square Alliance is allowing a lot more of these out-of-the-box campaigns," Turosz said as advertisers try to up the experiential advertising ante.

"It's definitely unique, definitely something that's never been done before," Turosz said. "It was the largest outdoor rock-climbing wall in New York City, the first rock-climbing wall on a billboard in Times Square."

Creative campaigns

Experiential campaigns are right up OOHA Wilkins' alley. They can be anywhere, not just on billboards, Turosz said, including on a beach, road, boat, college campus or in the sky.

OOHA Wilkins largely does traditional out-of-home advertising, "but … with the right client, if they're open to it, we like to propose an experiential idea … ," she said.

"We get a lot of requests and get creative and try to find something that makes sense for the particular brand that we're working on," she said. "It's really a client that's willing to take a risk to do something to stand out and has the time and the budget to execute. But not all of our experiential executions need a huge budget. We've done some cool things with smaller budgets, but still got quite a bit of social media attention."

OOHA Wilkins has 45 employees around the U.S., about 11 in East Hartford, where it was founded in 1983.

It has six other offices in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Santa Monica, said Jon Selame, president and CEO of the company.

OOHA Wilkins says it's the largest independently owned out-of-home media buying service in the U.S. It serves more than 300 ad agencies, Selame said.

The company is not Saatchi & Saatchi's out-of-home agency of record, but became the agency on the Times Square project because of the project's unique requirements.

Selame said the rock-climbing billboard made a statement.

"I think it demonstrates the power of out of home to make an impactful impression … in a real-life environment," he said.

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