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
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
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
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
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
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."