These days, you’re hard pressed to find a mall or shopping center that doesn’t have at least a handful of vacant storefronts. In Chicago especially, companies are going out of business every day because of a drop in sales due to a weak economy and the inability to pay the expensive rent of downtown Chicago retail space. Nationwide, the retail vacancy rate rose to 11.2 percent during the first quarter of this year. And I’m willing to bet it’s only going to go up.
But in the meantime, the owners of these buildings still have to pay the bills. And without tenets, this can be a challenge.
Enter “retail space advertising.” Basically companies slap an ad for their products on to the windows of an empty store. It’s a win-win situation. Advertisers get visibility for their brands and products in an unexpected venue at a relatively low cost…according to William Walther, president of Granite Companies Asset Management, advertisers pay only 10 to 15 percent of what a retail operation would. And the real estate owners bring in at least some money to pay the bills while they await new tenets.
Empty real estate ads—like this one for Miracle Whip at the former site of a Circuit City in Chicago—are a great idea…especially in high traffic areas like downtown Chicago. For one, they’re usually attention-getting based on size alone. And if people don’t pay attention to them because of their large size, they may pay attention because the ads take on the look of a “coming soon” sign. And what consumer isn’t curious to see what store is moving in to the space left empty by the bankruptcy of Circuit City? Second, the advertising company seems to always have exclusive visibility (or at least in the ads I’ve seen). It’s not like watching a string of commercials during primetime TV. No need to compete with a bunch of other companies…your brand is the star…at least on the empty store it graces. Finally, these ads are generally placed in areas with a high amount of traffic. What better way to get your message heard by a large number of people than placing a huge ad in a heavily trafficked area?
The concept of building advertising is nothing new. If you walk through Chicago’s loop, you’ll see the faded remains of ads painted on the sides of brick buildings. But placing ads on the front of empty storefronts seems to be growing in popularity as an effective, cost-efficient way to get the word out when times are tough.
This economy is lousy, there’s no doubt. But it’s forcing companies to think differently. And I love the resulting creativity. What’s next, advertising folks? Ads on empty suburban homes?