CAMPAIGN REPORT ON OUTDOOR & AMBIENT: The alternative new media - [SH] While some advertisers and their agencies are nervous about ambient media, spend in the sector rose by 22 per cent last year and ambient specialists are out to make sure it keeps

In the midst of the world’s obsession with new media, it is easy to overlook the fact that all sorts of other new media opportunities are emerging. Lumping them into a single group stretches classification to its limits but, for the sake of brevity, ambient media has come to be accepted as a catch-all term. However, it covers a spectrum that runs from insubstantial and gimmicky to eye-catching and effective. And that spectrum is becoming ever more cluttered.

In the midst of the world’s obsession with new media, it is easy to

overlook the fact that all sorts of other new media opportunities are

emerging. Lumping them into a single group stretches classification to

its limits but, for the sake of brevity, ambient media has come to be

accepted as a catch-all term. However, it covers a spectrum that runs

from insubstantial and gimmicky to eye-catching and effective. And that

spectrum is becoming ever more cluttered.

Growing numbers of people are looking to bring advertising into

environments where previously there was none. Like ancient alchemists,

their aim is to turn unpromising material into gold - or at least into

lucrative channels of communication.

According to the annual Ambient Media Expenditure survey by the outdoor

specialist Concorde, spend on ambient was pounds 66.3 million last year,

up 22 per cent from pounds 54.3 million in 1998. Food, at pounds 14.1

million, was the highest-spending category.

’It’s still going like a train as a sector and it excites people,’

Concord’s managing director, Nigel Mansell, says. ’But you need to have

the right creative idea and where it is positioned is so important.

Anything that’s new, people always want to be the first.

It’s the kudos you get. But you also hope for an effective PR spin-off,

making for a very effective use of cash.’

It is fair to say that media planners and buyers view ambient in a more

positive light than they did a few years ago. Often, though, it is still

considered to be something of an experiment, which can make some clients


’I’m a great believer in keeping back 5 to 10 per cent of the budget to

do something different,’ MediaCom TMB’s account director, Jennifer

Hewitt, says. ’But it’s always the first thing to get cut.’

The reason why it often faces the axe is accountability. Most of the

serious players are prepared, indeed eager, to provide research in

support of ambient media. But the actions of a few fly-by-night

merchants still damage the standing of the sector as a whole.

’More and more blue-chip advertisers are throwing bigger budgets at

ambient but they also expect it to be more accountable,’ says Blade’s

national buying manager, Sara Hayes, who is probably the biggest single

buyer of ambient in the UK.

The issue of accountability clearly rankles with a number of the leading

ambient specialists, some of whom even view the term with distaste. ’I

hate being part of the same bracket as that ambient media which is

unresearched because we and our clients have spent a fortune on

researching it. We recognise that we need to be accountable because

that’s what the clients and media planners want,’ Admedia’s chief

executive, Philip Vecht, says.

Admedia concentrates on washroom advertising in large shopping centres

and motorway service stations. Vecht says that the effectiveness of the

medium can be measured in a number of ways. He cites direct response

mechanisms such as telephone numbers, sales uplifts in the advertised

products at nearby stores and independent market research as the three

main ways of evaluating the impact of a campaign.

Media Vehicle’s chief executive, Jessica Hatfield, is also aggrieved

whenever she encounters the blanket assumption that accountability is a

problem for all ambient media. ’Every single person who has levelled

that criticism has never bothered to find out what we do,’ she says.

A quantifiable impact on sales is an inducement for advertisers. One of

the great benefits of many forms of ambient media is that it can be

found at or near the point of purchase. In other words, advertisers can

persuade consumers at the most propitious time - just as they are about

to buy.

More Group, the UK’s largest outdoor advertising company, targets

shoppers in this way through its ambient advertising division,

MoreTrans. Late in 1998 it acquired a company called Postal Facilities

which has 1,500 poster panels (known as PostAds) on Royal Mail

post-boxes in petrol station forecourts across the UK. About 90 per cent

are within two metres of the petrol station entrance, giving consumers a

final nudge towards a product.

They are said to be effective at targeting highly mobile 16- to 34-year

olds, most of whom will not need to make weekly supermarket trips.

Retailers are informed in advance about which products will be

advertised so that they can stock up.

’There’s a direct relation between advertising at point of sale and

sales figures,’ MoreTrans’s group head, Brendan Terrill, says.

Bag Media which, as its name suggests, specialises in advertising on

bags, also claims ambient allows advertisers to reach audiences when

they are in the right place. As well as offering space on carrier bags

given away by shops, the company has signed up a network of sandwich

bars and cafes - more than 1,000 in London alone - through which branded

sandwich bags, serviettes, takeaway cups and paper bags are


This has proved a popular medium with dotcom advertisers keen to raise

their profile in the City. Toyzone and have been among

the e-commerce companies to try this approach. ’We like to call

ourselves desktop media,’ Bag Media’s director, David Landsberg, says,

referring to the fact that many workers eat lunch at their desks.

Advertising of this kind is eventually destined for the bin, which may

be music to the ears of Trash Media’s chief executive, Anthony


Over the past year or so, Clews has spent pounds 1.1 million developing

advertising opportunities on litter bins, which he sees as a step up

from advertising in washrooms. Contracts have been negotiated with the

likes of Road Chef, Welcome Break and Granada, and advertisers of the

calibre of Coca-Cola, KitKat and Walkers Crisps have signed up.

These deals have been done direct with clients because, to Clews’

irritation, media agencies have been slow to warm to ambient. Clues

says: ’We’re sticking our neck on the line to provide a new platform.

But there is a sheep mentality among the agencies.’ But media agency

caution is understandable - frittering budget away on the unproven would

only incur the client’s wrath.

This sheep mentality has created opportunities for ambient media sales

operations. Last year, for instance, the ambient specialist CPA formed a

joint venture with the former More Group sales controller John Scorah.

CPA Scorah sells ambient media for smaller players in the sector,

including six-sheet posters for the car parks group NCP and advertising

on lorry trailers. Vodafone has already signed up for the latter and one

of the interesting elements to this form of ambient is that the route of

each trailer can be tracked and relayed back to the client to provide a

picture of regional coverage.

’There are a lot of smaller ambient companies that just don’t have the

expertise,’ CPA’s founder, Carl Pickford, says. ’We can look at what

they’ve got, tell them what’s wrong and how to improve it.’

A rival company in CPA Scorah’s territory is Amber, a sister operation

of Payroll Media and Marketing which sells advertising on the back of

large organisations’ payslips. Amber’s approach is slightly different in

that it sources ambient opportunities, fitting the product to be

advertised to what it considers the most appropriate media. ’It’s almost

as if we become the temporary media owner and it takes away all of the

hassle for our clients,’ Amber’s director, Samantha Yates, says.

Amber has also been working with Chelsea Football Club trying to sell a

package of ambient opportunities at the club’s ground. Although the

Unilever-owned Calvin Klein Cosmetics had shown some interest, the

company backed out - perhaps dismayed at the negative publicity Chelsea

received last year thanks to a hard-core hooligan element - so the

opportunity is still going begging.

Putting together a package of ambient advertising certainly boosts its

impact. Hatfield says: ’It’s surrounding the consumer with an

environment of persuasion.’

Blade’s Hayes feels that the increased use of ambient packages - such as

TicketBoy’s car park package - show that advertisers are becoming more

accepting of them and less anxious about how the public will react. She

adds that the falling cost of digital printing and high quality plasma

screens look set to offer advertisers some very innovative options in

the next few years.

The likelihood is that ambient will continue to become more mainstream

and that it will undergo more research. In the meantime, it will still

offer clients the chance to carry out PR-driven stunts such as Qantas

Dreamtime’s campaign orchestrated by the media consultancy Cunning

Stunts, which featured two ’passengers’ asleep in a perspex box placed

in Trafalgar Square.


You may feel you’ve seen and heard it all in terms of what advertising

media is available, but a whole host of new possibilities have sprung

up. Last month, the washroom media specialist CPA unveiled its ’Talking

Poster’ which has a light sensitive microchip in its frame. Up to four

minutes of dialogue can be recorded and is activated by the arrival of a

person at a urinal, for example. Levi’s was the first advertiser to use

the medium, with creative by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and included snippets

of dialogue such as ’Touch my twisted side seam’ in keeping with the

’Twisted’ campaign.

Taxi Media, in association with BT, has developed PhoneSite Exteriors,

with claims that this will allow for a high standard of advertising on

the outside of phone boxes. Nestle’s KitKat brand has signed up for a

significant PhoneSite campaign, bought through Blade, with a spend of

more than pounds 500,000.

Cabvision, meanwhile, is trialling in-taxi TV and the point of purchase

advertising specialist The Media Vehicle is experimenting with a 3D

Imager which projects colour images up to 20 inches high into mid-air.

Trials are taking place at the Trafford Centre mall and advertisers

which have signed up for the launch include Ben & Jerry’s Ice-Cream,

Walkers 3-D Doritos, Robertson’s Golden Shred Marmalade, Becks Beer,

Smints and Tetley Tea.

New products from Laser Grafix include large water screens and huge

inflatable screens on to which companies can project their logos to

brand sponsorship of outdoor events.


       ADVERTISER                     SPEND (pounds k)

1      Mars UK                                   2,617

2      Vodafone Group                            2,511

3      Unilever                                  2,033

4      Nestle                                    1,590

5      Kellogg Company of GB                     1,380

6      Westbay Distributors                        773

7      Novartis Consumer Healthcare UK             750

8      Motorola                                    510

9      Compaq Computers                            500

10     Rothmans UK                                 490

11     DDD                                         462

12     UIP                                         418

13     The Whitbread Beer Company                  410

14     TV Licensing                                404

15     Lawyers Compensation Advice Centre          384



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