Brands on the street: How outdoor advertising works for the luxury market

The luxury market is currently waking up to the opportunities of digital. Conventional thinking has always been that the online and luxury experiences were incompatible, but with the likes of Net-a-Porter engaging millions of consumers every day across its online site, app, and social media channels, this thinking has been widely debunked.

A 2014 report by McKinsey entitled Luxury Shopping in the Digital Age concluded that while e-commerce represented just 4 percent of luxury sales, 40 percent of luxury purchases were in some way influenced by consumers’ digital experience, whether online or through social media.

Don’t let the tail wag the dog

Given these findings, it would be very easy for luxury brands to over-index in favor of online marketing at the expense of outdoor, especially when competing for the attention of tech-savvy millennials. This, however, would be a mistake.

Luxury brands sell aspirations and dreams, not just products. Therefore, crafting and telling compelling stories is crucial to their success. Outdoor advertising plays an important part of the journey for luxury brands because it enables this storytelling to take place at a large scale.

All brands should be media agnostic, but this particularly applies to luxury brands, whose stories need to drive their media. Consequently, both online and off-line media has its place in the luxury ecosystem—the key is to make the experience seamless. Luxury brands need to be set up to work across all touchpoints. To be agile, brand owners must have the tools to react quickly and efficiently to both digital and traditional opportunities.

Online, off-line, in-line

Traditional media still has a place within the luxury goods market. Burberry and Net-a-Porter are examples of luxury brands that understand how to engage consumers across all media.

For example, Burberry has recently commissioned the incredibly popular fashion and portrait photographer Mario Testino to shoot its spring 2016 advertising campaign.


To support the campaign, the brand will show behind-the-scenes footage with Snapchat, aiming to use digital and social platforms to convey the energy of the brand and the creative process. This is a perfect example of how digital and traditional media can support each other to generate new content.

Last year Net-a-Porter launched a digital outdoor campaign that displayed real-time sales trends across digital signage. A live feed was incorporated into an advertising board, showing the products women were buying globally at the very instant they were purchasing them.

Using data to create a live trend update for its users was a simple yet innovative way to use outdoor advertising, creating a sense of urgency and a direct call to action for consumers.

Big statements

Another advantage of outdoor advertising is that it offers scale and a platform for making big statements. Hermès is a brand that is highly adept at creating advertisements that are like pieces of art. Large billboards become canvases that heighten the appeal of both brand and product, especially where the brand’s scarves are concerned.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Darnell Reid.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Darnell Reid.

The same applies to talent. When a luxury brand is paying millions of dollars to a celebrity deemed to be a good fit for the brand, it stands to reason that there is value in larger scale outdoor activity that brings the brand and celebrity together. Think of the Calvin Klein billboards in Times Square, New York, which generate media and social interest well beyond the billboard itself.

London, New York, Paris

Luxury fashion brands have long associated themselves with places, allowing glamorous destinations to play a part in campaigns and photo shoots.

Retail destinations like Paris, New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, and London provide a natural backdrop for luxury brands. They provide luxury shopping experiences that act as brand cathedrals where the rich and style-savvy can worship and experience the brand.

Take, for example, Tiffany & Co. and its activity in Hong Kong. The brand regularly takes over the tram stop outside its store with its advertising, thereby bringing the brand out into the street.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ding Yuin Shan.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Ding Yuin Shan.

There are two ways to look at this execution. One is to view this activity as unnecessary “brand badging” that needlessly damages the elegance of the brand. The counterview, however, is that in a city like Hong Kong, which is naturally chaotic, vibrant, and visually cluttered, bringing the brand to the streets is appropriate. Outdoor advertising is a means for the brand to become part of the fabric of the city.

Gateway to the luxury market

The location of outdoor advertising also plays an important role when it comes to large-scale advertising at international airports.

Airports are a proven gateway to the luxury market, with regular international travelers more likely to purchase luxury goods on a more regular basis, whether it be fashion, cars, watches, or business and first-class airline tickets.

Outdoor large-scale advertisements with luxury-branded content and images can attract consumers’ attention and help that brand stay top of mind. These ads can create a brand story right when consumers are looking for inspiration before purchasing luxury goods at duty-free retailers or at their end destination.

Personalizing your message

Outdoor advertising is traditionally a mass media, but luxury consumers are demanding personalized service from brands more than ever before, and this extends to how brands are communicating with them.

Lexus | Smart Billboards

Luxury car brands were some of the first to embrace outdoor advertising, but with digital they have been able to advance their messaging. This year, Lexus exclusively teamed up with APN Outdoor to launch a series of digital billboards with vehicle recognition technology to tailor messages to drivers of non-Lexus cars. The tongue-in-cheek campaign appeals to a younger and more progressive luxury audience.

Part of the network

Outdoor advertising definitely has an important part to play in the luxury brands market when it comes to reaching affluent consumers. It can inspire purchase, create desire, and tell a brand story. But the brand journey cannot start and end with just outdoor media. Brands need to ensure consumers can act on inspiration right then and there, however they please.

This article was originally published by Marketing Magazine (February 2016).

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