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AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on January 14, 2011

More than just billboards


Is enough being made of the opportunities to earn advertising revenue across the airport site? Philip Weake investigates.

HAdvertising markets worldwide have evolved dramatically over the past 10 years. Traditional market structures have changed with the fragmentation of TV and press and the emergence of new media sectors. 

The Internet is certainly the biggest phenomenon, accounting for just under 13% of worldwide expenditure in 2009. 

However, following the consolidation of media operators and worldwide investment in campaign and spectacular products, ‘outdoor’ or ‘out-of-home’ advertising is another big winner and airport media has evolved to represent the zenith of the sector.

Why are airports such good places for advertising? Essentially, this boils down to audience delivery and environment. Firstly, the demographic profile of passengers travelling through the world’s leading airports is extremely high and secondly, advertisers like to showcase their products and services in an environment that is second to none. 

Some of the new terminal buildings already opened, or that will open shortly – Hong Kong, Beijing, London Heathrow T5, Mumbai, Berlin Brandenburg and Muscat, for example – represent some of the most outstanding architecture and design found anywhere in the world. 

This combination of audience and architecture is a pretty compelling one for the world’s largest advertisers and brands. Furthermore, by dint of the high level of security provided, airport terminals are just about the only environment where a computer or smartphone brand can safely place its products literally into the hands of prospective customers and get them back again! 

Advertising has the potential to generate a substantial percentage of an airport’s commercial income. It is also unlike the vast majority of other airport terminal businesses in that it is not paid for by the passenger, and the transaction takes place off airport.

Traditionally characterised by lines of lightboxes down piers, airport advertising now covers a huge variety of other media types. The lightbox still endures but is complemented by digital signage, promotions and experiential marketing, wall wraps, sponsorships and by spectacular landmark sites.

Although digital signage has been trialled for a number of years, the business case for it has not been strong. However, there is now a congruence of technology, reduced capital requirement and advertiser acceptance to make digital a ‘must have’ element at medium and large airports, and it is now generating a significant share of sales and revenues. 

Digital screen advertising is now contributing between 20% and 40% of sales at a number of leading airport advertising programmes and we fully expect more airports to achieve these levels in the near future. 

Digital signage is effectively a new medium – it is not TV and it is not a static poster – and advertisers, or their creative advertising agencies to be precise – have begun to create screen advertising that is highly effective. 

With the right creative, dynamic advertising is simply more effective than static display advertising and research has proven that it is more likely to be noticed and recalled.

Advertising content is also much cheaper to ‘deliver’ to screens and is now always done remotely. A further significant benefit of digital is that the advertising can be changed throughout the day to target specific passenger groups and drive retail penetration.  

Airports have become important places for short-term advertising and have developed standard small-format campaigns, including digital screens – sometimes incorporated into banks of FIDS – and 6-sheet or ‘MUPI’ lightboxes.

Many companies also recognise the advantages of building a long-term association with, and presence at, an airport. For these companies, standardised formats are not crucial, and high impact and stand out are the key objectives. The best airport advertising programmes therefore now include airport and terminal specific advertising and sponsorships.  

Spectacular advertising sites typically include large-format digital screens, banners, wall wraps and landmark sites. Sponsorships include TV networks, fast track facilities and airport welcome sites, to mention a few.

With their unique combination of an upmarket and secure environment plus the high demographics of the passenger audience, airports are proving to be one of the best locations for experiential marketing. For many years, airports have had conventional promotions sites on which brands would display a fairly limited range of products – cars being by far the biggest type – but experiential goes much further than this and is drawing in a far wider type of brand. 

Of course, introducing really high quality advertising in terminals and even exterior areas is not all ‘plain sailing’. Advertising is one of many terminal commercial functions and has to compete for space and, critically, for the attention of the passenger.



Happily, the optimal solution is almost invariably to have a relatively small number of very good advertising sites. Small-format digital signage is obviously very helpful in that it carries multiple advertisers and so is very space efficient.  

One size doesn’t fit all! Whilst it is great to admire the advertising programme at XYZ airport, it is likely to be a mistake to try to export this to all airports. The right solution will depend on the advertising market for each airport, airport and terminal architecture, and the sales resources available. 

For example, low-cost airports or terminals and areas have an important place in today’s aviation industry, but they will never match the big international hubs or airports in attracting major advertisers, and the optimum advertising solutions will be different. 

As sales potential for a given passenger throughput is lower, extensive capital investment may not be justified and the optimum advertising programme might well include less digital and
more static signage.   

Whatever types of advertising are right at an airport, the best way of creating the optimum programme – one that provides the right media types in the right locations and is fully integrated with wayfinding and other signage – is to design the advertising programme alongside retail in the terminal planning phase.  

Planned at an early stage, space can be used as efficiently as possible, power and data can be provided for in the terminal build programme and advertising sites can properly integrated with wayfinding and all other signage. 

Leaving the planning of the advertising programme until later will inevitably cost more and result in a programme that doesn’t look as good as it should and, moreover, will not be capable of maximising sales and income.  

In the same way that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ in terms of the media plan, the principle also applies to the best way of selling advertising at an airport. The majority of airports do sell advertising through concession agreements with specialist sales operators. 

However, advertising concession agreements do have limitations and there are a number of different options that merit serious consideration. Multiple sales operations will not be optimal if they have to compete for the same advertising budgets, which is obviously counter-productive. 

Nevertheless, depending on the size of airport and market, there can be advantages to bringing in specialist sales expertise alongside a core advertising sales operator and London Heathrow, for example, has done this. 

Furthermore, a small number of airports do sell their own advertising with great success.

What of the future? There is no doubt that advertisers will continue to be most attracted by airports delivering high passenger demographics.  

Evolving advertising markets are both a threat and an opportunity and the airports that develop their advertising programmes to meet the needs of tomorrow’s advertisers will do extremely well.


Airport World 2010 - Issue 6

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