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Outdoor a waste of money?

July 14, 2009

Photo by Balakov (flickr)

Photo by Balakov (flickr)

Unlike David Ogilvy, we happen to quite like outdoor advertising. In the right place and time, it can be rewarding, clever and can even sell! It is not always urban pollution. But we’re beginning to change our opinion on this. Not due to the outdoor media companies. We think they’re doing a fine job providing clients and agencies with new opportunities in every conceivable nook and cranny. It is rather, the clients with mega marketing budgets, as many of them seem to be not in the least bit concerned whether they are actually getting a return on their advertising investment.

As you drive down the M1 or N3 or any major arterial, just take a good, honest look at the billboards. We all know that these big sites cost a fortune, many of them well upwards of R60 000 per month (R720 000 per annum for one site!).

Concerned about communication efficacy?

One would imagine that for such an investment, the client and/or agency would be very concerned about the efficacy of the communication. Is there a clear message coming through? Is it legible at driving speed? Is it rewarding to the viewer? Is it fresh? These are some of the basic questions that even rudimentary marketers should ask themselves.

We all know that what a lot of these brands are striving for is that “top of mind awareness”. But since when did that come at the mutual exclusion of a concept or selling message? A lot of brands, it seems, are just happy to blast their well-established corporate colour across the hoarding and plonk a big logo (often, the only redeeming feature) in the bottom right corner.

Or just to put one word in the middle of the billboard and to assume that consumers are as fascinated or familiar with their advertising as they are to consider this interruption as worthwhile.

Moving from interruption to engagement

The challenge and conversation of moving from an interruption to engagement model is happening all around us. We know how good consumers are at filtering and blocking out advertising messages. Surely then, the task of creating compelling outdoor must be even more of a challenge? We can’t be satisfied with this meaningless wallpaper that just ticks a box on the media schedule – we actually need the stuff to work – and hard.

Which brings us to the next point.

If you drive past a big hoarding with just the Nike swoosh or the Coke typeface, you often don’t need more than that because the brand is so well articulated and understood by consumers in terms of its value system and what it represents. A hoarding with an ice-cold bottle of beer also works a treat on a hot summer’s day, as does one with a mouth-watering Streetwise combo – you understand what is being offered or spoken about, and you can relate to it or want it.

Unfortunately some major local clients mistakenly believe that the consumer understands what they represent and that it is a compelling offer simply to plaster the city with their colour or a generic word.

Real work needs to start happening

So, some real work has to start happening in tandem here. Not only should we be much more creative and discerning about what we put on our billboards but beyond the client and agency boardrooms we need to ensure that the consumer clearly understands what we hope by our cryptic and often metaphoric imagery. This is another article in itself.

Bottom-line, all communication should be hard working, even if it is purely for brand reinforcement. The bar on billboard advertising needs to be raised significantly, starting now.

co-author: Peter Badenhorst
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