Billboard Advertising In Times Square Pays Off Buying billboard space at New York City's Times Square is kind of like paying for a Super Bowl ad. It's very expensive, but you know millions of people will see what you're selling -- especially in December, when New York is packed with tourists.
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Billboard Advertising In Times Square Pays Off

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Billboard Advertising In Times Square Pays Off

Billboard Advertising In Times Square Pays Off

Billboard Advertising In Times Square Pays Off

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Buying billboard space at New York City's Times Square is kind of like paying for a Super Bowl ad. It's very expensive, but you know millions of people will see what you're selling — especially in December, when New York is packed with tourists.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

New York is a magnate for visitors in December, attracting about five million tourists. With all those people walking around, businesses know it's the perfect time to grab their attention with outdoor ads.

Lisa Chow of member station WNYC went out to find the most expensive billboard in the entire city.

LISA CHOW: Let's just say it's one of those questions that as soon as you find out the answer you feel kind of silly for asking it.

Mr. JOHN CONNOLLY (Chief Operating Officer, Kinetic North America): There's absolutely no doubt in my mind the most valuable billboard real estate space in New York City is in Times Square.

CHOW: John Connolly is chief operating officer of Kinetic North America. He helps big companies like movie studio Warner Brothers and candy maker Mars find the best spots to place outdoor advertisements.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Specifically on two properties. Number One, Times Square, which is at the south end of the bow tie, and number Two Times Square, which is at the northern of the bow tie.

(Soundbite of street traffic)

CHOW: From here at the bow tie, in the center of Times Square, I'm standing in front of the building that I'm sure you've all seen before, it's where the ball drops on New Year's Eve. It's at the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway. And I'm looking at the most expensive billboards, not just in New York City, but in the world.

So let's see who's advertising here. We've got Toshiba, Budweiser, Dunkin' Donuts.

Mr. JOHN COSTELLO (Chief Marketing Officer, Dunkin' Donuts): This is the first time that Dunkin' has advertised at One Times Square.

CHOW: John Costello is in charge of marketing for the biggest chain store in New York City, Dunkin' Donuts. He says it's not just the 500,000 people walking through Times Square every day, it's the postcards, the photos, the live shots on TV, all those images of the Dunkin' Donuts ad multiply quickly.

Mr. COSTELLO: Weve already gotten significant visibility.

Chow: Of course, Costello pays a price for that visibility, although he wouldn't say how much. Neither would one of the owners of One Times Square. But others in advertising say companies pay as much as $4 million a year.

John Connolly works with buyers of billboard space.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Most of those locations are on a typically a five-year or even a 10 year non-cancelable contract basis. So it's a very serious significant commitment to own one of those iconic locations in Times Square.

CHOW: Coca-Cola has been on Two Times Square for almost 80 years, Samsung, 20 years. They're buying one thing: a location that millions of people will see.

Many say a billboard in Times Square is like a TV ad during the Super Bowl. But there's a lot of money in the regular season, too.

Mr. CONNOLLY: We have a database of every single sign location in New York City.

CHOW: Connolly says outdoor advertisers are becoming more strategic.

Mr. CONNOLLY: We can target virtually any consumer in New York City. And we have clients who say, I want a sign in front of every single one of my competitors stores. We do that.

CHOW: And with the shift to digital screens, companies can change their ads based on location and time of day, sort of like the Web. That's caught the attention of Internet companies. Google bought a billboard in New York this fall, advertising its advertising services. Where else? Times Square.

For NPR News, I'm Lisa Chow in New York.

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