EDITORIAL: Time to tackle the flyposting vandals

Flyposting is the pimple on the face of advertising, more an embarrassment than a health threat but always an irritant every time it flares. And, like a pimple, it's always ugly and unsightly. It's hard to imagine why any client should think that a tatty, weatherbeaten poster pasted across a telephone junction box could enhance his credibility. The advertising not only looks cheap but is invariably to be seen in cheerless surroundings.

Now the flyposters are evolving into urban guerrillas. More worrying is that they seem to be doing it with the tacit support of some famous brand owners. Maiden Outdoor, the poster company, has just hit Ansell Healthcare, the maker of Mates condoms, with an invoice for £2,000 to cover what it claims is the cost of clearing up after the flyposting of one of its 96-sheet poster sites and compensation to the advertiser paying for the space. What Ansell has done isn't only illegal but amounts to the "theft" of a legitimately purchased service.

It only digs itself into a deeper hole with its fatuous claim that its tactic will help curb unwanted pregnancies.

Bracket that with the equally threadbare argument of flyposting's apologists that their activities enable advertisers to reach a generation of urban streetwise children who reject more conventional means of communication. Rubbish. Not only are today's teenagers relatively affluent but receive their messages through a variety of sophisticated channels and glossy magazines. In a world where so much poster advertising vies for their attention, shoddy flyposting stands little chance.

The truth is that flyposting has become a substitute for laziness and a lack of imagination at a time when the media explosion has opened up a wealth of opportunities for clever ideas to be exploited. The problem is that there's no realistic chance of banishing flyposting. Red tape makes successful prosecutions by local authorities almost impossible, while media owners, for the most part, don't want the bother and expense of legal action.

Flyposting will always be an attractive alternative for advertisers unable to afford more conventional routes - the music industry has long built its business in this way. Indeed, it could be argued that poster contractors might be less bothered by flyposters now had they identified and welcomed in such fringe players in the past rather than marginalising them. But if flyposting can't be stopped, there are ways to control it. Pasting a poster over a paid-for ad should always be treated as vandalism and its perpetrators punished. However, there's a case to be made for flyposters doing deals with councils restricting them to defined areas. Better that than this anarchy.

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