Where is the world's best billboard site?

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Media captionThe huge billboard is eight storeys high

Piccadilly Circus and Times Square are poised for a billboard overhaul. But where are the world's "best" billboard locations?

New York's Times Square has unveiled the world's biggest digital billboard. It stretches the whole block between 45th and 46th Street on Broadway - some 330ft (100m) and eight storeys high.

It's been snapped up initially by Google for an undisclosed cost, but future advertisers can reportedly expect to pay about $2.5m a month.

For that you get millions of eyeballs, gazing up at its bright lights. On average 300,000 pedestrians - almost 500,000 if you include those in cars and buses - pass through Times Square every day.

London's Piccadilly Circus is witnessing an ad break of its own.

TDK, the Japanese electronics company whose advertising has loomed over the London tourist hotspot for 24 years, is not renewing its contract.

It's an iconic space to be filled. The billboard crops up in a slew of films and TV programmes - the classic backdrop to indicate that the action is in London. The BBC's Sherlock and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One both show it. The post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later shows it unilluminated. And Hitchcock's The 39 Steps shows an earlier incarnation.

Two million consumers pass by it every week, according to Sinead Hensey, marketing manager of Wildstone Consultancy, which is in charge of selling the space.

Image copyright Luke Jones
Image caption Piccadilly Circus, London

And 69% of those are on foot, which typically means a slower pace and therefore more time seeing the ad, she says. And in the heart of the city, advertisers are typically reaching a 24-hour audience.

Places like Times Square and Piccadilly Circus are famous for their billboards, Hensey says. Piccadilly Circus first featured bright light adverts in the early 1900s. Coca-Cola has had a spot on Times Square since the 1920s.

The millions of photos taken by tourists mean it's not just the people standing in front of them who are exposed to their marketing.

But where is the best spot to have a billboard? It's more complex than just being about footfall.

Much depends on what a company is trying to sell and to whom, says Matthew Miller, the online editor of marketing publication Campaign Asia-Pacific. Price, demographics and footfall all come into the analysis, he says. "There's more science to it than people might realise."

But principally it's about the number of "impressions" an ad will get, which essentially means the number of people who see it, says Ron Schultz of Billboard Connections. That's why New York's Times Square is considered such prime advertising real estate, he says. "It's at the top of the pyramid in terms of visibility."

Across the globe it's a similar dynamic.

Tokyo is a good example. It's hard to imagine the Japanese capital without its neon lights imprinting themselves on the back of your eyelids, even if you've never been there.

Image copyright Global Advertisers
Image caption Bandra, a suburb of West Mumbai, India
Image copyright ALAMY
Image caption Shibuya, Tokyo

The city's Shibuya Crossing would be the best location, says Tsuyoshi Kaneda, director of media buying at Magna Global Japan.

Often referred to as Shibuya Scramble Crossing, it's considered the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. An estimated 2,500 men and women march across the road every time the lights change. That's about a million people a day inundated with invitations to consume from the huge, bright billboards above.

Two weeks advertising in one spot costs JPY23,000,000 ($195,000; £125,000), Kaneda says.

To Tokyo you would increasingly need to add the massive and growing cities of Shanghai, Mumbai and Sao Paulo as billboard hotspots.

In India, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai all have busy billboard sites. Mumbai has the most expensive spot - the 120 x 140ft site at Bandra. It's above a stretch of highway that connects the two business districts of Mumbai, and is among the busiest roads in the city, says Amit Gupta of Global Advertisers.

But in such congested advertising spots it can be a struggle to stand out. Times Square's new mammoth billboard is not the first to go big in the effort to do so.

In Shibuya, you can buy blocks of four advertising spots, which also allows for the use of audio to capture attention, Kaneda explains. Any unique characteristic can help, he says.

The world's largest billboard lies near to Saudi Arabia's King Khaled Airport. It measures 250m (820.2ft) long and 12m (39.3ft) high, and catches all the traffic to and from the airport.

Inside airports themselves there's a market of its own. Hordes of passengers, often waiting idly. Advertisers are among the few who delight in delays.

A History of Billboards

Image copyright Getty Images
  • Billboard space was first leased in 1867 in the US
  • The first 24-sheet billboard, now a standard size, was displayed in 1889 at the Paris exposition
  • In the late 1920s, the motor car was increasing in popularity so advertisers began to abandon railway stations in favour of roadside hoardings
  • In 2005 the first digital billboards were installed
  • In 2010 a "scented" billboard was constructed in North Carolina in the US. It emitted the smell of black pepper and charcoal smells to promote a range of beef

(Source OAAA)

In terms of airport traffic, Atlanta's airport, in Georgia, US, still reigns supreme with 94 million yearly passengers. It's trailed by Beijing Capital International Airport in China and London's Heathrow.

The next 20 years may see these advertising hotspots shift. China is expected to overtake the US as the overall airport hub, while India will overtake the UK in third, according to the latest International Air Transport Association's figures.

Airport billboards are not just about footfall.

"Airports are a better choice [than inner cities] if the objective is to connect with senior-level executives, affluent consumers or global opinion leaders," says Erik Bottema, managing director of the airport marketing section of Kinetic, experts in Out of Home (OoH) advertising.

"Areas like Times Square work best for a varied, mass market audience," he adds.

But if delayed flights are an airport advertiser's friend, congestion is the roadside billboard's ally.

Image copyright Wildstone
Image caption Chiswick, London

A premium location in San Francisco is positioned just as you come off the Bay Bridge because it's the main road into town, says Schultz. It carries some 280,000 passengers daily, and in 2010 motorists lost an estimated 600,000 hours per mile due to delays.

It's a similar picture in the UK. Wildstone Consultancy twice broke advertising rental records for roadside adverts, says Hensey, first with the Euston Underpass and then with Chiswick Towers, both in London.

They are on regularly congested roads, with typically snail-paced audiences of 100,000 a day and 2.3 million a month respectively, she says. "You can't avoid seeing [the billboards] as you drive along those stretches of road."

But the billboard world is changing, says Miller. Digital billboards are rising along with innovative interactive ads. Low budget airline Hong Kong Express challenged consumers to touch their hand on an interactive billboard for as long as it takes to fly from Hong Kong to Tokyo. That's four-and-a-half hours standing at a billboard - but in return for a free return ticket.

Consumers will have to wait and see if Google's use of the Times Square behemoth can beat an offer like that.

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