Jewelers Think Big With Billboards

Why more and more retailers are banking on billboards to boost branding and bolster sales

At a time when retailers are buying Google Ads and tweeting store specials, advertising on billboards may seem quaintly retro—and not in a good way. But for many independent jewelers, billboard promotions are making big impressions on clients, generating traffic and sales in the process.

“There is nothing better than driving by a 14-by-48 foot sign with your store’s logo on it,” says Phil Kajca, owner of two J. Foster Jewelers in Toledo, Ohio, and a Pandora boutique in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It projects the right image. I mean, your logo is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.”

Not that size is the only thing that makes people sit up and take notice of a billboard. Kajca learned that lesson in ­September 2009, when he ran a billboard featuring a pretty young woman flipping the bird with her ring finger, ­accompanied by the tagline “She’s tired of waiting.”

Photograph by Evan Joseph
New Jersey’s LaViano Jewelers touts its watch selection on I-495.

Kajca credits a slow news week for the frenzy of media attention—from the likes of ABC and Fox News—that followed. “Our website was getting 800 to 1,000 hits a day. On a normal month, we get about 100 hits a day,” Kajca says. “It did what we wanted it to do. We wanted to stir the pot a bit.”

He says the image, which is owned by Baltimore-based advertising and marketing agency MGH, appeared in magazine ads for different jewelers without generating much ruckus. About a dozen callers asked him to remove the risqué billboard, but Kajca says most customers liked it and thought it was funny. After a few months, he replaced the ad with a tamer one showing a naval officer kissing his bride along with the line “Believe in commitment.”

Kajca has spent $40,000 total for his new outdoor advertising campaign, including the cost of printing four vinyl 14-by-48 boards and 35 paper boards (5 feet by 11 feet each). Kajca says the vinyl boards make quite an impact and clearly communicate the fact that engagement rings can be purchased at his stores for as little as $899. The smaller boards, on the other hand, are effective in reinforcing his store’s brand and image. The proof is in the pudding: According to Kajca, J. Fosters ­Jewelers sold 17 rings after the billboard went up, generating $15,000 in sales. 

The billboard’s enduring presence helps mitigate its cost, he adds: “The boards are up for one to three months before another ad takes our place.”

There’s no denying that outdoor ad campaigns are enjoying widening appeal. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), 2011 spending by jewelry and watch brands rose nearly 10 percent, with Rolex, TAG Heuer, Omega, and Tiffany & Co. leading the charge.

Phil Kajca has spent $40,000 on a billboard campaign to promote his two J. Foster Jewelers locations in Toledo, Ohio.

But independent jewelers are among the biggest beneficiaries. Jay Klos, owner of Grogan Jewelers in Huntsville and Florence, Ala., says that billboards advertising Pandora drive a great deal of customers to his Huntsville location. “As far as effectiveness and costs, especially when you think of how many people see it, it is fairly inexpensive,” he says. “Unlike radio or television, when you are reaching a certain segment of the population whether it be male or female in a certain age category, billboards reach a broader grasp of people.”

For Lori Roberts, director of marketing at Reis-Nichols ­Jewelers in Indianapolis, the question is not whether to employ billboard advertising, but what kind of billboard? In her 13 years of buying and designing billboard campaigns, she’s had the most success with the standard 14-by-48 vinyl variety.

“Digital billboards do grab your attention, but you don’t get the repetition you get with a traditional board, and your brand is mixed in with other businesses,” Roberts says. (Digital billboards have an average of eight advertisers per board.)

Yet they, too, have their believers. “Out of home advertising audiences generally travel the same routes,” says Stephen Freitas, chief marketing officer of the OAAA. “Over the course of several weeks, most consumers travel past digital billboard locations many times. Therefore, they will have the opportunity to see all the messages placed on digital billboards several times over the course of several days.” One advantage to digital boards, Freitas adds, is that copy can be changed in an instant.

Jay Klos, owner of two Grogan Jewelers locations in Alabama, believes that “billboards reach a broader grasp of people.”

Nevertheless, vinyl devotees point out that once you have paid for the cost of a vinyl board, it is reusable and can be reposted at different locations. “Pick an A-plus location that is relevant to your store location, and post it for a minimum of three months to make an impression in a consumer’s mind,” Roberts advises.

Jeffrey LaViano, owner of LaViano Jewelers in Westwood and Englewood, N.J., knows quite a bit about the effectiveness of a good location. In 1997, he embarked on a very expensive, but ultimately successful, campaign that made use of a billboard positioned along a major conduit out of New York City. The store’s primary billboard, up for about five years, was visible to New Jersey–bound traffic on the George Washington Bridge; it was a right-hand read that could be seen only from the upper level. “As soon as you entered New Jersey the billboard was visible,” LaViano says. “The expense obviously increased over time, but the last rate we were paying was just over $13,000 a month.”

He says the cost was well worth it. “We received a tremendous amount of feedback and it seemed like a very good way to maintain a strong presence in the market,” LaViano says. “With all advertising, consistency is the key to success in my opinion. And with the billboards I have found that a couple-of-months run pays very little results, whereas camping for a year seems much more effective.”

LaViano is taking a break from outdoor advertising to work on a radio campaign this year; he says he’s seeing fewer co-op dollars from popular brands he sells, making the billboards cost prohibitive. Still, he is considering resuming the outdoor campaign in September in advance of the holiday season.

“You have a captive audience,” he says. “You can’t drive down the street with your eyes closed.”      

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