AMBIENT MEDIA: CAPTIVATED - Although castigated as ’intrusive’, ambient ads are mostly well liked, Pippa Considine says

Ambient media has been slammed as intrusive and invasive, and is often condemned as a guerrilla marketing tactic. So it would hardly be surprising if an advertising form which ambushes an unwitting public in their few commercially unadulterated moments, would get our backs up.

Ambient media has been slammed as intrusive and invasive, and is

often condemned as a guerrilla marketing tactic. So it would hardly be

surprising if an advertising form which ambushes an unwitting public in

their few commercially unadulterated moments, would get our backs

up.



In fact, evidence suggests that the opposite is true.



According to the consumer consultancy, the Henley Centre, people

generally like ambient media. Most ambient ads reach people in

’downtime’, which means that far from forcing their way into the

consciousness at the same time as other information, it can brighten up

a boring moment.



So, unlike TV advertising - which ruthlessly interrupts Doctor Zhivago

just when the tears are welling, or dampens the comedy of Carry On up

the Khyber - ambient reaches the consumer when he or she might otherwise

be trying to avoid catching a fellow passenger’s eye on the bus or when

bored to death with traipsing up and down a supermarket aisle.



The Henley Centre reached this conclusion using a profiling method

called ’mode-based segmentation’. Using this method of assessing how we

react to ads, the general public are not accounted for merely as members

of class, age and geographical groupings. They are also classified by

mood.



’The same consumer can vary in behaviour more on two different occasions

than two different consumers on the same occasion,’ Michelle Singer, a

consultant at the Henley Centre, says. ’We are different animals when

we’re shopping, from when we’re working or when we’re relaxing.’



Ambient ads are perfectly placed to catch people unaware. But even when

they ambush the consumer, Singer argues that the right ad will still be

well received.



Some ads have wormed their way into the most traditional bastions of our

cultural identity. When black cabs were first used as hoardings, there

was trepidation in the ranks. Taxi Media, the company that first went

into the market, was given a year to trial the product to see how it

would go down with the Londoner in the street. Far from being shunned,

the taxis were in demand, with reported scuffles breaking out at taxi

ranks as people competed for the cab with the Evening Standard

wrapping.



Ambient media’s edge lies in capturing the consumer at the right

moment.



A branded mousemat sitting by a PC, with an internet address for an

online lingerie site, has to be a case of good timing. The same address

on an ad in a magazine already stuffed full of beauty and fashion tips

is arguably less noticeable.



And it’s that spirit which is behind FCA!’s award-winning work for the

Welsh Tourist Board, with its ’Clean air is just two hours away’ message

etched on the back of a filthy van.



The idea that mood affects our receptiveness has not gone unnoticed by

agencies. Hicklin Slade is one of an increasing number of consultancies

and agencies which pitch themselves as platform neutral. Rather than

look at straight-forward demographics and restrict itself to traditional

means of reaching an audience, it goes about ’finding the moment’. It

takes the target consumer and then thinks through all their schedules as

well as their inclinations before advising on how to approach the

quarry.



The joy of what is now referred to as the ’sixth medium’ lies in this

ability to target ads so tightly that they are very likely to hit the

right spot.



There is, of course, potential for clever positioning to back fire. The

Media Vehicle, which sells advertising in supermarkets, has worked with

many major retailers who were concerned that customers might take

umbrage at being advertised to in-store. But research told otherwise.

Since shoppers are already in spending mode, another sales message is

just par for the course. Moreover, if it strikes the right chord, it can

entertain the shopper.



According to research by Concord, almost half of the London shoppers

canvassed in the street said that they actively liked to be surprised by

different sorts of media. Only a handful took offence.



One thirty-something even admired the McDonald’s liveried steps, saying:

’They’re better to look at than plain steps.’ Another commented:

’They’re catchy and fun. London is kind of grey.’



It’s worth remembering that ambient includes some of the oldest forms of

broadcast. Far from invading our ad-free moments, it’s always been

there. Sandwich boards are just a step on from the town crier. And the

sandwich board, beer mat or taxi-back have the added democratic effect

of allowing advertisers with the smallest budget to make an impact on

the world at large.



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