MEDIA FORUM: What should the ad industry do about flyposters? - Should more effective steps be taken to outlaw flyposting following the Britart.com furore? Or should we learn to live with it?

Whiskas has done it recently. As have Mini Cooper, Hovis and Royal

Sun Alliance. And ... oh yes, Britart.com. You'll have heard about

Britart.com because the story was plastered all over the front page of

Campaign last week and the controversy has since rumbled on. We are, of

course, talking about the slightly less than noble art of

flyposting.



The outdoor industry was upset to discover last week that D&AD had given

its only gold Pencil for advertising to a campaign by Mother on behalf

of Britart.com that included elements of flyposting. Flyposting is, of

course, very naughty to the extent of actually being illegal. It may

look a lot like one of those ever-so-fashionable ambient media

opportunities but the difference is that ambient media companies own the

inventory they sell whereas flyposting appears on buildings, railings,

pavements and lampposts. And it routinely appears on sites owned by

genuine outdoor media owners. It's basically vandalism and it costs a

fortune to clean up. Ask your local council.



An outraged outdoor industry argued that the D&AD decision legitimises a

practice that should be universally condemned as irksome, damaging and

morally reprehensible. Are they right? Is the ad industry acting

irresponsibly as regards flyposting? And if so, what should be done?



You'd think this would be a straightforward question. Cue a grovelling

apology from Mother and other guilty parties. Strong words from industry

groups such as the IPA. Think again. Just about everybody on the agency

side will tell you to chill out because everybody's doing it. They just

won't say this in public. And that goes for clients too.



The whole business of flyposting involves a degree of hypocrisy that's

astounding even to those who are used to the odd bit of jiggery-pokery

that's routine grist to the mill in the media marketplace. Classically,

according to one well-placed agency source, it works a bit like

this.



A creative team will come up with an idea for exploring the twilight

zone between ambient media and guerrilla marketing, thus giving the

brand street cred by pushing the boundaries a bit. The client will

approve and the strategy will move towards some serious implementational

planning. At this stage, if they didn't know it already, agency and

client will be told by their media specialists, or their poster

specialist - or both - that flyposting is illegal.



And so, in order to keep agency consciences clean and senior figures out

of the firing line, a junior member of the client marketing team will be

asked to farm the brief out to the company's public relations

outfit.



They in turn will talk to one of the flyposting specialists that have

sprung up to service this growing grey market. Companies such as the

provocatively named Diabolical Liberties, which claims to be the leading

flyposting specialist and is the outfit which "placed" the Britart.com

campaign. It at least is willing to talk openly about this market. In

fact, it argues that it's almost respectable these days.



Maryanne McNamara, its new-business manager, states: "Obviously, there's

a demand for this. We are a legitimate and professional company and

agencies take us seriously. We believe that flyposting is a valid medium

for reaching young people."



McNamara says that the company is even looking at methods of campaign

reporting and accountability that will rival what is available in other

sectors of the industry. "This is a very cost-effective medium but we

realise that agencies need help in selling it to their clients. The

reason that people use this medium is because it is flexible and

creative and the big poster contractors haven't moved on."



Advertisers and agencies are increasingly willing to consider flyposting

because of the appearance of companies like Diabolical - and also

because the organised crime element (this used to excite some in the ad

industry but scared others half to death) is no longer to the fore in

the flyposting business. For instance, the two London firms - one

"norf", the other "sarf" of the river - are believed to have "cancelled

each other out" some time in the mid-90s.



Companies such as Diabolical claim that they are able to exploit

loopholes in the law, which means that it's highly unlikely there will

be any repercussion for clients. Few involved in flyposting have ever

been prosecuted in this country. And that's because the loophole in

question is more of a huge gaping hole, a Circle Line-sized loop.



A council wishing to take action must issue an individual notice for

each flyposter posted. These must give advertisers the option of

removing the offensive material within 48 hours and only if they fail to

do so can due process continue. So you have to be particularly dense to

be prosecuted.



It would be a miracle if you were prosecuted because few authorities

bother to issue notices. Outdoor media owners don't prosecute either.

What they do is invoice the advertisers vandalising their sites.



David Pugh, the director of sales and marketing at Maiden Outdoor,

insists: "It's actually a theft of space paid for by other clients and

we believe that invoicing the offender tends to concentrate minds. It

may disown it completely but in the end you find it is the

responsibility of a 24-year-old in the marketing department who

subsequently moves on. When this issue is drawn to the attention of

senior management, they are rightly concerned about it."



But, oddly perhaps, Pugh would be reluctant about seeing more stringent

penalties being imposed by the IPA or ISBA on members who knowingly

participate in flyposting. Which is just as well, because it isn't going

to happen.



Bruce Haines, the IPA president, states: "One of the problems is the

fact that many in the industry can't differentiate between ambient and

flyposting. So yes, it's up to us to ensure that IPA and ISBA members

are left in no doubt. I understand the temptation that certain clients

have but it would be a favour to us all to resist that temptation. You

can achieve the same street credibility among the target audience by

using paid-for ambient media."



What about ISBA? Isn't the client body best placed to persuade clients

that there are only going to be losers here? Well, sort of. Bob Wootton,

ISBA's director of media and advertising affairs, states: "We have clear

guidelines but ISBA has no power of censure over members. The industry

knows the law and it is able to decide on the risks involved. As for the

overposting of posters on legitimate sites, ISBA is willing to condemn

that. And if media owners want to invoice the advertisers found to be

doing that they might not have those invoices paid but it is a

legitimate way of raising this issue at the highest level within the

companies concerned - and that in itself may have an impact."



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