How can out of home recapture the great age of posters in a new and more complex media era?

Out of home, which grew out of the poster industry but is now adapting to the digital age, has maintained its share of the media market in recent years despite there being much more alternative media.

But the days when posters provided some of the most arresting and popular creative executions around seem to have gone.

Is this because there is much more media, so therefore more competition? Back in the day every major TV campaign was supported by a poster campaign; now posters have to compete with online and other new (ish) media.

A lot of creative time and effort now goes into digital outdoor which has, as yet, still to provide the creative fireworks traditional posters used to manage – although there are notable exceptions like this year’s Cannes Outdoor Grand Prix Winner ‘The Magic of Flying’ by Ogilvy One for British Airways.

And posters, traditionally, were the last place many out-of-favour advertisers, like tobacco companies, were allowed to advertise, albeit in a highly restricted form. Which led to some of the most famous ads ever produced.

grahamGraham Fink (left), now chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather in China, in recent times the world’s most awarded agency network, began his career as an art director at the UK’s Collett Dickenson Pearce before moving to Saatchi & Saatchi. At these two iconic agencies he was part of a crack team that worked on Benson & Hedges (CDP) and Silk Cut (Saatchi), two of the most famous advertisers of all time.

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Silk Cut ad
Devised by Charles Saatchi himself, apparently.

More recently Ogilvy China and Coca-Cola won a Cannes Outdoor Grand Prix for with this outstanding work of art by illustrator Jonathan Mak (below).
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So Fink knows a thing or two about posters.

Fink says: “really simple, bold, graphic, posters don’t seem in abundance as much as they once were. I think one of the reasons is that posters don’t appear on media schedules like they used to. The new buzzword now is ‘Content.’ Clients want more ‘360’ integrated solutions.

“Posters now seem to be used as a softer part of a bigger complex campaign. Serving as a gentle reminder or to point traffic elsewhere, perhaps as a mere carrier for a QR code.

“I must say I do miss those big iconic messages or visuals. They were like big canvases on our streets. In effect you had to take months of research, planning and client conversations about all the things you needed to say, and condense it all into around seven words and a single image. It was bloody difficult to do and not that many people could.
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“Of course the cigarette brands used them very well in the 80’s and 90’s and we had great fun working on Gallaher.

“We weren’t allowed to say anything about the cigarettes, we couldn’t use words even. But this helped turn the 48-sheet into an art form. It was a wonderful way of engaging the public too, who, even if they didn’t smoke, often commented on the posters and sent in letters asking for copies of the ad.

“But having said all this, reminiscing about the good old days, I do love the recent British Airways poster with the kid pointing to the plane (see above). It has the brutal simplicity of one of the great classics, mixed with the interaction only made possible through modern technology. The two things together make it warm, charming and memorable. It will stand the test of time.”

So there is still great creativity in outdoor (or out of home) – although, maybe, not quite so much of it.

But Graham Fink poses another challenge: out of home media owners need to demonstrate that in a content-obsessed world they can play an important part in helping to deliver the ‘360’ integrated campaigns that clients demand.

The linked issues of creative impact and fitting in to big ‘360’ campaigns are also on the minds of some big OOH media owners.

One such is blowUP media, a subsidiary of Germany’s Stroer Group, which specialises in giant posters, specifically designed to create greater impact. BlowUP operates in seven European countries including Germany and the UK.

unnamed-1CEO Katrin Robertson (left) says: “I can give you two recent examples where we think OOH has played a lead creative role in ambitious, multi-media campaigns.

“TSB used outdoor to launch their new banking brand in Bristol and other major cities in the UK (below).

“Obviously they used other media too, including a striking TV campaign from creative agency Joint, but the Bristol campaign shows how to use a big medium to reach a specific audience.
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“And our new digital site in the centre of Cardiff’s shopping area has already attracted major regional advertisers such as Great Western and huge national brands including O2.

“It’s interesting that VCCP’s justly-celebrated ‘Be More Dog’ campaign (below) is confident enough just to use the image of the cat in the TV commercials in outdoor; everybody recognizes it so the campaign can move on in different media. That surely is a ‘360’ campaign.
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“So we believe that our giant poster format (static or digital) can deliver the huge impact – ‘big iconic messages’ as Graham Fink calls them – that posters did in the past, in what was a much less crowded media environment.

“But to win on all fronts I agree that we need to encourage creative agencies and others to commit to creative excellence – posters that become talking points as well as integral parts of big campaigns. “

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.