Digital outdoor advertising gradually threatens static billboards


Worries are brewing on outdoor advertising. You may end up watching videos played on the roads instead of static print ads in China. Printed billboards may just be martyred in due course in the republic. Christel Lee investigates.


Before dismissals are hurled at this thought, the wide-format industry recently got riled up with the government of the world’s second largest economy for its latest regulation on luxury brands’ billboard advertising in the name of social security. 


China's capital imposed a rigid regulation on outdoor advertising that promotes hedonistic or high-end lifestyles as the government seeks to ease public concerns about the country's widening wealth gap.

In early 2011, the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce said in a statement that businesses were given a deadline to rectify such ads, along with any that excessively promote "foreign" things. However, no specific details were defined.

The statement added that such promotions help create a politically “unhealthy” climate. Violators reportedly could face fines of up to RMB30,000 (US$4,600). Additionally, there were new words forbidden, which include “supreme”, “royal”, “luxury” or “high-class”. These words were easily spotted on billboards for property, automotive and wine. In other extreme measures, a ban on words such as “best”, “unique” or “irreplaceable” was implemented in Chongqing, the southwestern city in China.


Salt was rubbed into the wound by a prediction from CLSA Asia-Pacific market in January this year that China would become the world’s largest luxury goods market by 2020! That translates to 44% of worldwide sales and bigger than the entire global market is now. 


LED with a vengeance


Indeed, LED billboards tend to attract more attention. I recall a conversation with Malaysia-based Libroff Sdn Bhd during last Fespa Asia. Dato Maarof, managing director, commented, “The business is more than it seems today. Gone are the days of static printing and joining pieces of PVC together to make a big billboard. Lightboxes have also gone beyond fluorescent bulbs!” With this coming from one of Malaysia’s biggest players, it’s left to everyone’s imagination on the possible scenario in China!


The Chinese newspaper Economic Observer reported another bombshell. Experts in advertisement circles predict 3D outdoor advertising will create more than RMB10B (US$1.6B) in business in China over the next three years! Members of the China Advertisement Association of Commerce held a forum in the first half of 2012 in Shanghai. The forum noted the republic’s outdoor advertising has entered a new era of 3D technology.


Zhou Zhongrun, CEO of Shanghai-based advertisement company Strong-Choice Media, explained the concept of the 4.0 era, which is characterised by 3D projection technology. In the 1.0 era, outdoor advertising was static. The introduction of neon lights, scrolling light boxes and other electric equipment led outdoor advertising into the 2.0 era. In the recent years, large-size LEDs have been widely used, which opened the digitalised 3.0 era of outdoor advertising in China.


Global DPN (digital-placed networks) revenues reportedly grew 11.8% to $5.09 billion in 2011, driven by double-digit growth in the Asia-Pacific region – the largest and fastest growing region – fueled by the Chinese market, which is the region's biggest and strongest growing market, PQ Media estimates. 


Global DBB (digital billboards and signages) revenue increased 26% to $1.88 billion, fueled by positive measurement, regulation and agency perception trends in most of the leading markets in the four major regions. China's overall DOOH (digital out-of-home) revenues surged 39.2% in 2011 to $1.44 billion.


PQ Media’s report adds that the United States account for the largest DOOH market worldwide among 28 leading countries, generating $2.05 billion in 2011, followed by China and Japan. UK turns out to dominate in Europe, with $549 million generated in 2011. That is an 11.3% increase, partially influenced by activation on new locations and digitization of older sites for the upcoming Olympics. The world’s sixth largest economy, Brazil, had its market grow to $155 million in 2011 – 38% increase. Seemingly, Brazil is the only market that has grown for five consecutive years by PQ Media’s estimation.


For Asia, it would imply an apparent double-edged sword in the environmental aspect. Do we put up with the smell of solvent printing with LED lights advertising – leading to high power consumption? Would the players known for their latex and eco-solvent inks start developing more energy-effective equipment to address the “new” market? Let’s keep our eyes open!


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