Clear Channel Totes Artists to Cannes in Push for Creativity

Billboards aren’t just surfaces for the used-car dealer down the road to tell you when to turn off for hot deals, outdoor advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings Inc. says. They’re also works of art.

To prove it, Chief Executive Officer William Eccleshare brought a giant panel and artists to the world’s largest advertising festival in Cannes. They’ll paint a mural of comments posted to Twitter about creativity, that’s also broadcast onto an 18-meter-long canvas perched atop the Grand Hotel on la Croisette, a boulevard in the French Riviera city.

“Outdoor is the last mass medium,” Eccleshare said yesterday in an interview on a rooftop terrace overlooking the main drag. “It’s hard to build a brand online and TV is becoming a more individual medium.”

Eccleshare, in his second festival in Cannes since becoming CEO of the San Antonio-based unit of radio-station owner Clear Channel Communications Inc., came to promote the creative side of billboard advertising, which hasn’t been enough of a focus, he said.

“Billboards are a fantastic canvas,” he said, pointing to Apple Inc.’s large white backgrounds displaying the product prominently and Coca-Cola Co.’s eye-popping red signs with the cursive logo to show how the images build strong connections with consumers. “What artist wouldn’t give his teeth to paint in public on a great board?”

Mobile Apps

Smartphones are providing another way for outdoor ads to engage consumers, as applications allow viewers to scan codes for vouchers or discounts, or even buy the products right off them, Eccleshare said. In Belgium, Sweden and Australia, Clear Channel has worked with supermarkets to set up virtual shops at bus stops where consumers can scan products, buy them and arrange delivery to their homes.

“Billboards are becoming a strong driver of traffic to mobile phones,” a trend that will increase as mobile wallets become more common, he said.

In the U.K., to promote the June 28 theatrical release of Universal Pictures’ “Despicable Me 2,” Clear Channel devised a mobile-phone game through digital screens in shopping malls, where users can instruct some of the film’s characters to dance, wrestle, play, build or even boogie. Users can also share their own so-called mini-film of the characters with friends online. The game will also be available in France, Spain, Norway and Finland.

Digital Billboards

The increasing use of digital billboards outdoors is also attracting new clients such as perfume makers and luxury-goods makers including Burberry Group Plc, Eccleshare said. In 10 years half of his business will probably be digital, he said.

“With digital, the density and intensity -- especially at night -- are getting creative people interested in it,” Eccleshare said.

Eccleshare said his company isn’t bidding for the international assets of CBS Outdoor and that the sale would probably go to private equity. Clear Channel will look at outdoor advertiser Cemusa, which is also for sale, he said. Cemusa has contracts with cities such as New York and Boston.

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