Posters are working, but The Economist isn't

Last week, outdoor advertising unexpectedly came under a double-pronged attack from a most unlikely source, The Economist. Ivan Clark explains why the news weekly is wrong.

The Economist: news weekly's feature on poster effectiveness is taken to task
The Economist: news weekly's feature on poster effectiveness is taken to task

The article titled 'Posters aren’t working', attempts to pun the famous, and still memorable, 'Labour's not working' posters of 1979. The story is wrong on two counts – why political parties don't use posters like they did in the past ,and that outdoor ads are the least effective of all offline media.

But first let's look at The Economist's own relationship with posters.

Although most people never read The Economist, a major portion of its marketing budget for more than 20 years has been its "white-out-of-red" poster campaigns, aimed at making readers feel part of a special club. Accolades and creative awards aside, circulation has more than quadrupled, proof positive of posters working exceptionally hard.

The bald fact that Labour will be spending its money on the "grassroots" rather than well-targeted and eye-catching posters, is primarily a result of its indebted financial position. Even taking that into account, all parties will attempt to devise witty or hard-hitting slogans placed boldly on posters as backdrops for PR stunts, designed to attract mass-media coverage and images ripe for sharing on social media.

Not many other media can deliver photo opportunities news channels will readily run, unless it’s a pop-star waving her bottom on YouTube.

A quote from media investment auditors Ebiquity, who are staffed mainly by ex-media buyers marking their old mates’ homework, is hugely misleading. What data do they have to prove the statement: for most products, outdoor advertising is "the worst-performing of all offline media?"

I've recently been using the latest outdoor audience data (Route) to demonstrate to products and services of all types, how to most efficiently reach potential customers, how to optimise packs of posters to match audiences, and what big-cost advantages outdoor has versus other "offline" media.

TV is fantastic for scale and speed at circulating a brand message. However, outdoor delivers outstanding price advantages versus TV cost-per-thousands (eyeballs), and reaches new customers who do not see TV ads, or at the most, see a tiny proportion of the 51, 30-second commercials the average person sees per day.

Industry standard Barb TV audience data backs this up, when looked at in conjunction with Route, and other data sources.

Outdoor media of all types is the most efficient "old" channel at hitting valuable TV-ad-avoiding audiences, and data proves this, even if Ebiquity don’t know that. Savvy outdoor media planners and traders take your target audience and show you how to reach them most efficiently at the best possible price.

If this isn't true, why would the world’s biggest "new" media company increase its "offline" advertising spend by 50% in the past year. Google must need the widespread fame that online struggles to deliver. Its media mix includes a disproportionate increase in spend on posters, especially digital frames, the "first" screens out of home.

Debate is always welcome. However, cheap and unsubstantiated shots at OOH media deserve a robust response.

Posters, backed by full-fat data, have never worked harder – fact.

Ivan Clark, is a media analyst, planner, and recently lapsed Economist reader