3 OOH Legends Recall the Creation of Visual Surround Sound —The First Station Domination
OOH …Here’s One Thing
by Jim Johnsen,
Managing Director, Johnsen, Fretty & Company
Anyone else remember the first time they saw a station domination? For me it was Grand Central Terminal in the early 2000s. I think the advertiser was Burberry. Interesting that Burberry had a great run in the early 2000s and then fizzled soon thereafter. In any event, it was like the first time a friend suggested I expand my palate and try a strawberry shortcake popsicle from the good humor truck. In other words, WOW that is f’ing fantastic. Since then I have always stopped to admire the execution and the ballseyness of every station domination I have seen throughout the U.S. and in the U.K.
For some reason, as I fretted about what the hell to write about that won’t bore everyone to tears, station domination came to mind. Bill Apfelbaum, Don Allman and Brigg Hyland were kind enough to give me some background on its origin, its special moments and how it ultimately became a household name. Here are my notes from some of those conversations:
Don Allman – It’s important to remember that with Bill Apfelbaum’s arrival in 1989 as Chairman and CEO of the company he renamed as TDI, the organization became one of the pre-eminent outdoor advertising companies in the country and perhaps the world in a really short period of time. We didn’t get there by having long meetings and cooking stuff up in a lab. We got there by hitting the streets, selling hard and listening to what the customer wanted. Bill encouraged our entire team to create the kind of culture where communication happened fast and often. Five minutes in someone’s doorway was our “meeting on the fly”. We took chances and we encouraged our entire team to take chances. Our mantra was “No problem was ever so big that a few good orders didn’t help it to go away.” At the end of the day TDI, througout the 90’s, was an incredible place to work. The culture, work ethic and success the Company had was a direct result of the team that Bill built.
Don remembers the first U.S. station domination campaign happening at the World Trade Center station (yes the one that was tragically decimated on 9/11), Bill and Brigg remember it specifically as the “Blonde Takeover”.
Brigg Hyland – I was a young 20 something year old in 1996 when Bill and Don offered me the chance to go to London and work alongside Jeremy Male. TDI had recently won the rights to the LTA advertising program, which included the London underground and thousands of double decker buses. I can’t tell you exactly when the eureka moment was, as we were out pitching a variety of advertisers and agencies the idea of “immersive experiences”, but Clairol finally said yes to us plastering the entire Bond Street station with Clairol copy and rebranding the station “Blonde Street Station” after we had been pitching it for over a year with the activation ultimately happening in 1998. At the Boots retail store at the station, promotional staff distributed leaflets and gave advise on their Absolute Blonde haircolor range. The feedback TDI got on that campaign was tremendous!
Before coming back to the U.S. Brigg ended up doing several “take-overs”, including one for Capital Radio at Leicester Square and one for Xfm radio at Camden Town station shortly thereafter. As Brigg puts it, “the team at the London Underground was great to work with, helpful in kicking off new ideas and concepts and we had the full support of the entire TDI team both in the U.K. and back at home.”
Brigg arrived back in the U.S. at the end of 1997. Bill and Don, who always recognized special talent when they saw it, created a new position for Brigg, called Head of Special Projects. Here she spearheaded multiple display campaigns in Times Square as well as pitching the “british born” station domination product.
As Brigg remembers it: “The first station domination package was at the World Trade Center. This station, unlike all of the others, did not have our traditional formats but rather offered a very impressive and impactful ring of backlit odd-sized dioramas throughout. These did not sell well as onesies due to their odd size, so I suggested that we present the concept of allowing one single advertiser to come in and own all of the backlit signage and to add vinyl wallscapes, columns, floor graphics, etc to the Port Authority of NY/NJ. While unsure whether this lemons to lemonade strategy was going to work, we quickly got our answer. In our first full year of station domination we were sold out and increased our revenue at this station sevenfold. Advertisers included American Airlines, Dodge and Kraft Breakstone’s Cottage Cheese Doubles where we even had the star of their commercial at the station handing out samples to passengers arriving each morning!”
“So Brigg, how did you price the World Trade Center Domination?” “Well Jim, I would love to tell you there was a highly sophisticated pricing model developed to come up with a price, but that was not the case. The team basically sat down and added up the price of every individual piece of inventory at the station, added a premium for 100% media ownership and that number was presented to the agency. It was a pretty large number, but we got no push back from the agency. That’s when we knew we were on to something.”
Well folks, that was all she wrote. With Bill and Don’s wholehearted blessing, Brigg took the show on the road: Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Toronto, DC and Minneapolis. Boston, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Seattle and a number of others have followed since. And as any good experienced outdoor executive knows, if you are going to sell a creative product, you had better have great examples of how to use it. Or in the words of Tom Buckwalter (who may have borrowed it too), Creative Sells! TDI created an in-house team who developed station booklets, spec art, production templates and set up a turnkey in-house production team that managed the production and install from start to finish.
Was it successful? You bet your sweet bippy. Before Brigg went on to form her own buyside agency alongside her husband, Peter, she and her team sold a 13 station domination campaign to Prilosec for a “nationwide blitz”. She couldn’t tell me how much that one went for, but my guess is nicely into the seven figures.
Today, station dominations are available in pretty much any major market around the world where advertising is sold. Brigg’s sign off was this: “It has been fun to watch the concept grow; we now buy dominations for our own roster of clients. Brands bring incredible creativity and tell a story to their customers and the passengers on their journeys throughout the stations. It is visual “Surround Sound!”
“Though nothing will keep us together,
We could steal time, just for one day,
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What d’you say?”
Securities transacted through StillPoint Capital Member firm FINRA/SiPC