BY DEBRA GRUSZECKI
April 18, 2013
Billboards tout the 2013 opening of Hard Rock International's 177th globally recognized venues in 58 countries. With 160 rooms, Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs will be located in the property now operating as Hotel Zoso. The billboards play to Hard Rock's musical roots, while taking a cue from Palm Springs' rich music traditions, like the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals.
Advertisers might call it rock eye-candy for Coachella.
Even before more than 100,000 fans thronged to the Empire Polo Club grounds for an international gallimaufry of music and artistic expression over two weekends of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, more than 1 million motorists on Interstate 10 saw a dazzling array of national brand images that play to youth.
Heineken. Hudson. Hawaiian-made Olukai flip-flops.
The Hard Rock Hotel. Forever 21. Sanuk sandals for Backyards, Beers & BBQ.
All those labels — plus eight Universal Republic billboards of artists playing Coachella from James Blake and Ben Howard to Ghost B.C., and two recording giants set for new album debuts, Black Sabbath and Kid Cudi — have transformed a rocky, wind-blown stretch of desert into a marketing oasis.
Columbia Records joined the fray with a billboard at the Highway 111 turnoff toward Palm Springs to call attention to the new album by Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories.”
“It’s been building over the last several years,’’ said Bill Houck, vice president and general manager of Lamar Advertising in Palm Desert, which manages some 603 billboards in the region. “We didn’t need any help to sell our boards out to the big brands of consumer goods, record labels, movie producers and any number of businesses looking to tap into the added traffic the Coachella Fest music lovers bring in from the LA market.”
With Goldenvoice organizers locking Coachella Fest into the equation through 2030, advertisers are already staking out their claim in the frontier.
“They’re already planning for next year,’’ Houck said. “Once the dust settled, and the event was buttoned down for the long term, sophisticated advertisers decided to lock in their brand.”
Forever 21 took a front and center-fold position in the desert along the I-10 corridor and a digital billboard along Highway 111 in the heart of Greater Palm Springs.
Billboard occupancy is up 12 to15 percent over last year, Houck said.
The vibe is noticeably different.
Golf club businesses, spas, restaurants, Indian casino acts, retailers in the Cabazon outlets and public service announcements by not-for-profit agencies had been the mainstream ads dominating the Lamar, CBS Outdoor and Empire billboard spots until now.
The Coachella-themed playbook has been packed with short-term marketing opportunities for the sleepy backwater of advertising for national brands in the genre of alcohol, clothing, music, hipster resorts, nightclubs and gigs from here to Las Vegas and Phoenix and LA.
Movie-makers have gravitated to the San Gorgonio Pass from Banning to the Coachella Valley, as well.
One CBS billboard perched over a sliver of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians Reservation along the freeway touts the July 3 premiere of the newest Disney movie by Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer: “The Lone Ranger.”
What’s created this sea change as motorists approach the valley floor?
Tourism is up. The traffic counts are, too.
Discretionary spending is loosening somewhat. Decades-long hospitality executive Aftab Dada, general manager of the Palm Springs Hilton, said the 17-year lock on the festival has given advertisers and vendors heightened confidence in laying out bigger marketing plans.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Karen Post, national branding expert and author of “Brand Turnaround,” said billboards — like all media — impose charges based on the number of eyeballs that are exposed to the image.
“The key is grabbing their attention en route to the event,’’ Post said. “If you’re seeing more lifestyle, younger generation-type products, I’m sure they’ve done their homework, and know what the demographics are.”
If national brands are gravitating there, Post said it is probable that the Coachella fest has accumulated enough consumer research to tell them an ad placement there is warranted.
“The priciest boards in the nation are in high-traffic areas like LA.,’’ she said.
Donald Perry, a former Clear Channel TV executive, said billboards have incredible advertising value.
“Unlike the TV business, you can’t fast-forward through the commercial,’’ he said. “In this valley, anything on the I-10 would be great real estate. The flow of traffic is incredible.”
COUNTING THE BYWAYS
Traffic counts cited by San Bernardino Associated Governments note 204,000 to 237,000 vehicles daily on the stretch of I-10 to the mouth of the Coachella Valley.
Jonas Udcoff, CEO of Cord Media, a Palm Desert communications firm with clients in the hospitality businesses, homebuilders and Indian casino businesses, said three billboards were purchased along the I-10 corridor to announce the fall 2013 debut of Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs.
“We backed them up a bit to the time of the Humana and the BNP Paribas events,’’ he said, placed with a primary goal to capture the audience for Coachella and Stagecoach. For Stagecoach Music Festival, which follows Coachella, Cord keyed in on Spotlight 29 Casino’s booked act for American country music singer and "American Idol" winner Scott McCreery.
With 80,000 people per weekend coming through — primarily out of Los Angeles, San Diego or Orange counties — you have an influx of people who are not normally coming in the desert that you don’t normally advertise to, Udcoff said.
Seeing savvy fare like the Marquee Nightclub at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas advertising adds credence to the marketing dynamic and the demographic, he added. “Marketing to wealthy people is their ideal target.”
Republic, a division of Universal Music Group, which nabbed five more music artist billboards for Coachella 2013 than it did in 2012 when it wrapped vinyl on three boards along the I-10, said this mode of advertising doesn’t only make sense as a consumer tactic.
Jim Roppo, executive vice president of marketing for Republic, told Billboard.com that it conveys a strong message to industry peers.
“It’s a way to convey to the industry community what we’re doing at Republic — to managers and film companies in a B-to-B way,’’ he said.
Were it not for the tough economy in the region, this might also become a prime time to capitalize on rates.
Although premium prices are paid for the short-flight ads, Houck said billboard prices in the Inland region — while not disclosed by any of the billboard companies — still are below what might otherwise be commanded in major metro areas of Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay.
Occupancy has grown 12 percent in the last year, Houck said.
“We are in the 80-plus percentage range, where in the last several years, we've been in the low 70s,” he said. “What's happened here, as the business has weathered the recession and cut all their expenses, they are now beginning to recognize the economy in general is continuing to grow again. It's beginning to show in the billboard space.”