Close-Up: Live Issue - Ambient mines new vein of credibility

Recent campaign successes are leading to a reassessment of the medium, James Hamilton says.

Last week, the gates of Buckingham Palace were adorned with notices reading "not for sale". The signs were part of a teaser campaign for Beattie McGuinness Bungay's new Ikea campaign and also appeared outside the Arsenal Emirates Stadium and in numerous suburban streets across the UK.

Earlier this summer, the streets and alleys of Soho and Covent Garden were hung with full-size reproductions of some of the finest paintings in the National Gallery's permanent collection in a collaboration with the printing giant HP. Then there was the 35-foot swimmer who appeared by Tower Bridge as a stunt created by Mother to promote the new Discovery Channel series London Ink. Ambient, that medium beloved of creatives ten years ago, is well and truly back in fashion.

Ambient has become a tarnished word in recent years; after the high-tide mark of Mother's D&AD black Pencil-winning Brit Art campaign, the medium quickly degenerated into weak stunts, the modesty of whose budgets were matched by their creativity, and the majority of which appeared to be based in men's toilets and were aimed at convincing awards juries, not changing customer behaviour.

"Cheap stunts like painting your brand on the side of a cow might get you a picture in the tabloids, but that isn't enough. Ambient needs to be part of a bigger conversation," the BMB founding partner Trevor Beattie says.

BMB's Ikea campaign may have begun with cheekily placed "not for sale" signs designed to generate column inches and stimulate consumer interest, but the advertising doesn't end there. It broke on television last weekend and is backed with print and press executions all designed to counter the home-as-investment message of the past decade and reinforce Ikea's positioning of home-as-haven.

The campaign echoes the work the agency created for Selfridges' "wonder room", a treasure trove of luxury goods. BMB started the campaign with small ads placed in local shops calling for mythical products such as phoenix eggs, before moving on to large poster sites.

"The key is 'as well as' not 'instead of'," Beattie explains. "If it's harnessed to a bigger campaign, then ambient works; all the things we do are part of a bigger picture."

That doesn't mean that ambient executions only work as part of expensive above-the-line campaigns. Mother opted for a hefty ambient element for its London Ink campaign in part because the limited budget meant competing against ITV and Sky with a full-scale poster campaign was out of the question.

Mother commissioned the model makers Asylum to create a 35-foot- long swimmer, crawling his way through the lawn in Potters Fields by Tower Bridge. His body art - a tattoo of a Japanese carp on a bed of chips - was created by one of the show's stars Louis Malloy.

"Most television shows use 48- and 96-sheet poster sites, but we couldn't afford to compete at that level," the Mother strategist Britt Iversen says.

"You have to add something," her co-strategist on the project, Jess Lovell, says, arguing that merely filling a space and calling it ambient advertising isn't enough any more. "It's the same contract you're seeing in TV advertising - consumers are increasingly demanding that you give them something for their attention," she adds.

Perhaps the best example of giving an audience something for its attention is the National Gallery's grand tour, created by the brand and design agency The Partners in conjunction with HP.

Masterpieces from painters including Caravaggio and Constable were hung on 30 streets for 12 weeks over the summer in a bid to encourage people to make the short walk to visit the genuine works.

On a smaller scale, Fallon worked with the experiential agency Sledge to create what was billed as the world's smallest ad campaign, for the launch of the Natural Confectionery Company in the UK.

The campaign was developed in conjunction with a series of "little days out" festivals aimed at parents and children. Bespoke miniature 48-sheet and six-sheet posters were placed around the festivals, the aim being to turn the campaign into a media event of its own.

Both campaigns owe more than a small debt to Mother's groundbreaking Brit Art work. And both show that ambient is by no means dead. Just steer clear of the urinals.