Media Perspective: Media planners are losing their taste for using 'urban spam'

A couple of years ago, I spent quite a while banging on about "urban spam". You know the sort of thing: that relentless invasion of public space by logos, ads and marketing.

My ire was particularly aroused by a desperate coffee chain leasing space on its own tables for other brands to run promotional messages.

I wasn't objecting to urban spam in a knee-jerk, anti-brand way, it just seemed a short-sighted strategy. It cluttered the visual environment to no good effect, it was likely to engender public push-back about marketing in general and, for businesses like that coffee chain, it indicated very little respect for its customers. I suggested that this growing tide of urban spam was a dark portent for the future of media thinking.

The thing is, I was wrong. I had a coffee with Paul Wilson of Starcom the other day and he pointed out that most of it has just disappeared. And he's right.

Some coffee chain tables still shout messages at you and it's not like the world's short of public logos, but if you do see ads on the steps on the Underground, or on car-park entrances, or in other "innovative" places, they tend to be worn-out and faded - remnants of old campaigns.

Some of this is probably a recession effect - ambient media drops off the plan when times are hard. And some of it's due to media thinking these days being more interested in focus and channel dominance than diversity and spread. Some of it is also that everything's been done before.

A lot of the point of doing these things was to create a "media first" and win some awards, so there's no point being the second brand to do them. But I bet a lot of it is just down to smart media people actually thinking about the channels they're using and what the long-term effect on the brand might be.

That's encouraging, isn't it? Good news all round. But I am not fulfilling the terms of the agreement between Haymarket Media Group and the Union of Columnists if I don't include at least one piece of sensationalist scare-mongering in every piece, so think about this: urban spam might be batted away, but how long before we are dealing with "Street Pop"?

Ask lots of technologists what they're working on and they'll tell you "large, cheap displays". Pico projectors and Plexiglas make for effective interactive screens, which mean big, digital billboards: cheaper and easier than actually going out and sticking up bits of paper.

Screens are the future of outdoor and right now we're using them as badly as we use banners on the web. Hopefully, the people who refused to buy lots of urban spam will be thinking about that too.

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