80% of OOH Ads in England and Wales Are in Poorer Areas

80% of OOH Ads in England and Wales Are in Poorer Areas

News by Roberto Orosa
Published: March 04, 2024

Over 80% of outdoor billboard advertisements in England and Wales are concentrated in areas with lower disposable incomes.

This ignites concerns among experts who warn that such a discrepancy in the distribution of out-of-home (OOH) advertising could contribute to deepening health inequalities.

Adfree Cities conducted the first-ever comprehensive analysis of the relationship between advertising distribution and income/deprivation levels in England and Wales. 

The most recent exclusive report made by the anti-ad group indicated that areas with the lowest levels of disposable income housed a staggering 82% of outdoor ads, totaling 62,953. 

This is a staggering figure compared to a significantly lower count of 13,384 in more affluent areas.

The Downside of OOH Ads

While billboards are often dismissed as mere eyesores, campaigners argue that these statistics have broader implications, influencing lifestyles by promoting products like fast food and alcohol.

Additionally, there are fears that such advertising practices might contribute to environmentally harmful consumption patterns and negatively impact mental well-being.

While the study did not specifically measure the prevalence of unhealthy product advertisements in deprived areas nationally, industry data points to three fast-food chains ranking among the top five spenders on UK outdoor advertising in 2023, including McDonald's, KFC and Coca-Cola.

Top Advertisers 2023 Outsmart
Top 20 Advertisers of 2023 (Source: Outsmart)

Professor Emma Boyland, chair of food marketing and child health at the University of Liverpool, emphasized the potential health risks associated with such advertising practices.

"We know in deprived areas, there are a clustering of reasons why it may be more challenging to maintain body weight, including a lack of facilities, lack of time, stress, density of fast-food outlets," Boyland shared.

Meanwhile, researcher Peter Brooks suggested that lower land value and proximity to main roads could explain the higher prevalence of advertising in poorer areas. Planning permission opposition in wealthier areas might be another contributing factor.

How Do Residents Feel About the Rise of Ads?

Residents in these areas express a sense of powerlessness in the face of increasing advertising, with calls for local authorities to improve communication and engagement with affected communities.

Rajan Naidu, residing near Birmingham Ladywood, emphasized the need for more inclusive systems saying, "Once these installations are in our streets, there’s very little we can do about it."

"If someone asked ‘would you like an ad hoarding outside your house?’ most people would say ‘no way.’ But there’s a sense of powerlessness [when] they do this to our environment," he shared in a statement.

Naidu also expressed that while residents are consulted, no real efforts are made to provide solutions to the problem, unlike in more affluent areas where "there will be someone in the local community who knows the official pathways to do something about it."

There's a Benefit to the Increase in OOH Advertising

Despite the negative implications, Tim Lumb, director of OOH advertising trade body Outsmart, defended the industry's role and highlighted its contribution to local authority revenue.

Lumb cited a PwC report indicating that outdoor advertising generated £411 million in revenue in 2021, with substantial investments in public infrastructure over the past 14 years.

"The report reinforces the unique, if little recognised fact, that OOH virtuously supports brands, charities, councils and communities," Lumb stated.

"OOH stands alone as a real-world, one-to-many media channel that is naturally inclusive and fully embraces and balances its responsibilities to both brands and the public," he concluded.

Learn more about UK consumers and their spending habits.

Editing by Katherine 'Makkie' Maclang

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