Though the nation’s eyes were on USF on Monday for the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, nine
billboards aim to remind the Tampa Bay area of USF’s presencethroughout the year.
The University spends almost $12,000 of itsmarketing budget a month to rent two of the ninebillboards – a large board atthe intersection of Interstate 4 and Interstate 275, and asmaller one west of campus near the
railroad tracks on Fowler Avenue. The remaining seven boards are paid for by USF Athletics.
USF advertising professor Harold Vincent said billboards are often referred to as the “last medium” for advertising.
“Things like television havefragmented into hundreds ofchannels, as people have watched lesstelevision and spent more time online, read less magazines, lessnewspapers,” he said. “A billboard isvery difficult to ignore.”
Billboards, he said,subliminally make passersbythink about what they’reseeing.
“The more we repeat it and the more we make aconsumer think about our brand and think about, in this case, our school, then the morelikely they will be to havepositive feelings and supportthe university in whatever way it may be,” he said.
University Communications and Marketing (UCM), USF Athletics, USF Health and the Office of Academic and Student Affairs take turns renting the larger board fromadvertising company CBS Outdoor for three-month shifts. Each office shells out$11,475 per month tomaintain the billboard,which they redesign at the beginning of their shift for an added cost of no more than $3,000, USF spokesman Michael Hoad said.
Though the return oninvestment is not always fully tangible in terms ofenrollment or monetary gain, billboards allow USF to keep track of how many people see the advertisements.
Jeff Ledgerwood, CBS Outdoor branch salesmanager, said USF chose the pricey I-4/I-275 board because of its location. The board has one of the highestimpression rates in the city, he said, reaching an estimated
680,076 adults per week – a number calculated through a metrics process that estimates passengers in cars passingthe sign.
Ledgerwood said USF received a discounted price for the board because it is rented year round.
UCM rents the smaller board on Fowler Avenue exclusively,paying $260 a month to MetaMedia with no additional cost for display changes. Based on the number of people other CBS Outdoor billboards reach on Fowler Avenue, Ledgerwood estimated that the UCM board is viewed by 18,000 people a week.
Hoad said UCM uses itsbillboard for “branding” USF as a “great, high-impactuniversity in town.”
When USF added “Tampa Bay” to its tagline this month, UCM tested the logo on the billboard, replacing “Bulls Country” with “USF is Tampa Bay” before announcing the change.
Assistant Director of Athletics Marketing and Event Management Ayodele Taylor-Dixon said the number of billboards USF Athletics rents fluctuates dependingon what sport it ispromoting. Currently, USF Athletics is renting the sevenbillboards for an eight-week basketball campaign.
“There is not a standard cost,” he said. “It all depends on location, number of boards, length of the campaign – there’s a lot of variables that affect the cost of what you are trying to do.”
Vincent said outdooradvertisers need to know their geographical audiences to be effective. For USF Athletics, Taylor-Dixon said that means focusing solely on Tamparesidents.
“Our billboards are up in the areas there is a lot of traffic, so there’s a lot of eyes and ears to see that message,” he said. “If visitors happen to be in those areas, great – the more the merrier.”
Taylor-Dixon said theadvertising brings inrevenue for marketingbudgets, which have beenslashed university-wide with the economic downturn.
UCM has dropped more than $70,000 in budgetedexpenditures since the2009-10 fiscal year and no longer has a nationaladvertising budget. USF Athletics’ marketingbudget dipped from$1,158,504 last year to $400,000 this year,Taylor-Dixon said.
“I think there’s no one medium from anadvertising perspective that brings in X dollars” he said. “Yes, the advertisements on those billboards does help us bring in revenue, but to say it’s bringing in ahundred dollars a day, I can’t quantify it like that.”
Vincent also said billboardads are considerably more effective when used tosupplement other media in an advertising campaign. In a time when budgets are sparse, Hoad said, the current advertisingmethods will have to suffice.