By EMMA HALL, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 29 September 2000 12:00AM
Levi's, Apple and Colgate do it. Even Procter & Gamble do it. But for many advertisers and media owners, it is a step too far.
We're not talking about extreme stunts or outrageous advertising. It is the concept of a genuinely pan-European outdoor campaign that sparks such controversy.
On the one hand, the march towards pan-European poster campaigns is inevitable.
Consolidation within the poster industry, combined with the growth of the global marketing strategy, make country-by-country campaigns seem somewhat old hat.
More than anything, though, clients want a slick, consistent and accountable campaign. It's no good achieving economies of scale if your ads end up in the wrong places at the wrong times. And, despite ongoing consolidation, it would take a lot of phone calls before a person in London would be able to say for sure which side of the road would be best for an individual Nike poster in northern Poland.
Robert Thurner, the marketing manager at Clear Channel, says: 'Pan-European sounds attractive in principle, but we believe that the best knowledge of a market is held by the people who work in it. Advertisers do ask for pan-European planning, but we don't sell centrally. We don't think that advertisers want to use a sledgehammer to crack the whole of Europe - there are more differences than similarities.'
Clear Channel recently commissioned the Henley Centre to produce a survey incorporating qualitative research on the European outdoor sector. Its findings were clear: pan-European advertising will take off, but advertisers and agencies are still concerned about surrendering regional autonomy and local expertise.
In the other corner we have Mike Segrue, the managing director of Poster Publicity, which has just pooled its UK and international departments. He says: 'One supplier can do everything. We have software that evaluates sites across Europe, even down to drive times to supermarkets. The number of pan-European campaigns is still small, but it is a big growth area.'
One of the major factors stimulating growth is the internal organisation of the clients. If a company has a European marketing manager, you can bet that a European outdoor campaign will not be far behind.But there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome.
Using a centralised service is likely to upset existing agency relationships and de-motivate local people. The diversity of standards in local markets also presents a massive barrier to pan-European consistency. France and the UK are way ahead of the rest of the region.
In France, 12 per cent of advertising spend goes on out-of-home media, and in the UK the figure is 7 per cent and rising. In Italy, it is only 3 per cent, mainly because of the clutter and the overall poor quality of the sites on offer.
The Spanish suffer less from clutter but the whole market has not developed the same prestige as some of its European counterparts and many of the sites are inadequate.
Growth of the outdoor industry in Spain has also been hampered by the long campaign periods on offer - sites are traditionally sold for a month at a time. Recently, however, buyers have successfully negotiated ten-day turnarounds so that campaigns can be more tactical and flexible.
Germany, too, presents problems for pan-European advertisers, despite the good quality of the sites there. The constitutional barriers to consolidation are so huge that the market is still fragmented.
Eastern Europe, however, has benefited from consolidation and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor advertisers, mainly through EuroPlakat.
But just how many outdoor advertisers are chomping at the bit for a major pan-European campaign? Stevie Spring, the chief executive of More Group, says: 'We sit in a service culture and we must respond to or pre-empt our client's needs. But very few clients can manage budgets on a pan-European level.'
There is some common ground between the two camps, and it lies in the planning function. Even Thurner agrees. 'I have just put together a pan-European ratecard and I am busy presenting this to clients so that they can co-ordinate their planning centrally,' he says.
The challenge, it seems, is to develop outdoor so that it can be used for strategic targeting as well as mass reach across a number of territories.
The good news is that, however it gets there, the outdoor industry will not rest until that challenge has been met.
'We were the first agency to co-ordinate a centralised deal with JC Decaux,' Peter Colvin, the regional business director at Starcom Motive, says. The client was Levi's and on the week of 13 March this year, Starcom Motive helped Levi's engineered jeans to secure one-third of all six-sheet sites in all of the major European cities. 'It took a long time and a lot of hard work,' Colvin says, clearly proud of the agency's achievement.
'We weren't prepared to compromise on timing. Levi's is one of the few companies that has proved you can develop campaigns across Europe without resorting to lowest common denominator advertising.'
To comply with the desired one-week cycle, Decaux had to move some of its existing deals. 'It took a lot of patience and constant negotiation.
There are a lot of efficiencies, including added value, in centralising a deal. The whole industry is going this way and Levi's has pioneered in driving it through.'
Since 1996, Western Union has run a pan-European outdoor campaign three times a year to target ethnic minorities across Europe. The company works with its agency, D'Arcy, to combine a variety of creative executions with specific demographic targeting. The campaign, which is co-ordinated by Poster Publicity, uses public transport as well as a selection of key sites relevant to the target groups, which are typically the less affluent in society. The planning also embraces specific festivals, exhibitions and events likely to attract the target audiences. Earlier this year the company promoted its service around Euro 2000 in Belgium and Holland. Posters went up around the football grounds to target the street vendors who spring up around each match.
Western Union is active in eight countries across Western Europe, but it has plans to extend into 11 or 12 markets.
In the name of consistency (as well as cost efficiency), Apple's advertising campaigns - including recent poster campaigns for the iMac and iBook - are more than pan-European: they are global. OMD, which handles the media buying for Apple around the world, has a strong presence in most markets and, while the strategy is decided centrally, fierce debate rages in every territory over the correct way to implement it. Apple works with a variety of outdoor companies to get the coverage it demands and relies on the creative execution for its consistency.
Andrew Norris, the group media director at Manning Gottlieb Media, which co-ordinates Apple's European activities for OMD, says: 'Apple goes for impact. We will always take one ad in a really great position rather than six in average spots. But it is impossible to do all the buying in one place.' The iMac and iBook campaigns ran in seven European countries in the first six months of this year, including Germany, Sweden and France.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk