Indoor and outdoor posters, billboards, promotions, and ads have formed an essential part of our visual landscape for as long as any of us can remember.
In fact, the large format American poster, (defined as measuring more than 50 square feet, around 5 square meters) dates back to 1835, when Jared Bell began printing circus posters in New York.
Since then, outdoor advertising has spread from billboards alongside highways to locations like bus shelters and other street furniture, public transport, alternative media, and digital place-based screens. The impact of such large-scale messages has been repeated indoors, moving from modest signage within individual stores to elaborate displays in shopping centers and malls, as the retail experience is constantly being reinvented.
The impact on audiences of large format signage is undeniable – industry research over many years has shown that large poster advertisements and promotions are cost-effective, credible, highly visible, and versatile.
Advertisers have worked tirelessly with the Print Industry to create signage for more innovative applications, including packaging, vehicle wraps, window displays, and lightboxes. Large format signage has succeeded in delivering information in an appealing manner to entice and persuade different types of audiences.
Impact of COVID-19 on the market
Today, however, like most industries, the advertising, and retail sector, which makes up the bulk of the large format signage print jobs, is facing a crisis. The pandemic has drastically reduced footfall in malls, shopping centers, and retail outlets – all the places where marketers seek to influence customers through impactful signage. This has naturally had a serious impact on advertisers’ budgets. Pre-coronavirus, the global ad market was forecasted to grow to $865 billion USD by 2024, but the pandemic has led to an immediate drop in advertising spend. In accordance, advertising trends are expected to be down with first-quarter revenue data from China and Europe down by 15% and 9% respectively. It is widely expected by media buyers, planners, and brands that the pandemic will have a bigger impact than the 2008 financial crisis.
To sustain their business through this challenging period and remain relevant, there is a greater need than ever for enterprises to create the most effective visual experiences for their customers, while being keenly aware of cost pressures.
What’s the Answer?
There is one immediate silver lining to the clouds. Surprisingly in many countries, governments have emerged as big advertising buyers to promote public health messages, especially via large format public education posters. This is possibly a short-term trend, however, and large signage printers need to recognise that pandemic-related lockdowns have brought about a change in spending and consumption patterns. The emphasis on home entertainment and home shopping is seeing an undeniable swing towards digital advertising.
However, humans have not evolved to sit alone at home, staring at their digital devices. People need people, and we can look forward to a return to in-person interaction, on public and private transport, in offices, and at shopping malls. The experience won’t be the same – the pandemic is rewriting the rules of retail. Mall owners will need to change the way they operate – not least by complying with health regulations like distancing and mask-wearing. They will need to develop a model that combines in-store activity with on-line browsing, selection and purchase, and this hybrid shopping journey means that an exceptional in-store experience is as important as the convenience of online transactions.
That welcome return of shoppers to retail centers and the urban street environment will be the opportunity for large signage printers to deliver innovative designs and striking colors that grab the attention of consumers and ensure they do not ignore brand messages.
The latest large format printers are fast – able to speedily deliver rapidly changing billboard and poster campaigns. They are reliable and stable, offering the highest color quality and vibrancy. Their media versatility enables printing companies to expand their customer base and deliver a variety of jobs that come in different sizes, substrates, and run lengths. The latest models also feature reduced ink consumption – an important economic factor when budgets are under pressure. These newer models are now also responsive to environmental impact, another vital consideration as printers that carry environmental certification for low chemical emissions will be the preferred choice.
The market will be different, but it will return
The effect of the pandemic will be deep and long-lasting. We will see considerable changes in consumers’ shopping habits. But shoppers will return to the traditional retail environment, and when they do, they will be expecting an environment that features large, vibrant, colorful posters and billboards. They will want to see billboards along highways, ads on the sides of buses, and posters on street furniture. They will expect posters and signage inside malls and in their favorite stores. Beyond this, signage printers must offer their customers a wide variety of applications to enable outreach to different markets and commercial applications.
Although the retail environment is unlikely to return to the way it was pre-pandemic, a new market will emerge, that responds to the human need for colorful entertainment and persuasion. When it does, large format signage printers will be ready to deliver against this pent-up demand.