The ’death’ of billboards actually disguises a renaissance.

The ’death’ of billboards actually disguises a renaissance.

Although an elegant marketing theory, I have always struggled to apply

the ’product life cycle’ to real commercial life. I can see how buggy

whips came and went, but I have found it difficult to work out where any

product that I have worked on is in terms of its ’life-stage’ - whether

it is mobile phones, newspapers or 48-sheet posters.

According to news coverage of a research report from Outdoor Connection,

the answer to that last one is easy: it’s all over for the


Some 60 per cent of media directors surveyed last November felt that

48-sheets were ’outmoded’.

It apparently sounds the death-knell of a media product that launched in

Queen Victoria’s reign and reached maturity as our present monarch

ascended the throne. It seems the only question is whether 48 -sheets or

royalty will achieve extinction first.

Actually, closer examination of the research and trading suggest


Even as the survey questions were being asked, 48-sheets were leading

the revival of the whole outdoor market in the second half of last


That trend has continued with a ripping performance from billboards in

the first quarter of 2000.

We also find that 70 per cent of creative directors surveyed took the

opposite view to the media directors. It is not surprising that creative

people see billboards as relevant and impactful media, as the present

demand for 48-sheet advertising is in part creatively driven. Over the

past year there has been a very noticeable (that’s the whole point of

this medium) explosion of strong creative work on large-format posters,

ranging from ’fcuk’, Sony and Colgate through Fairy and Lucozade to BOL

and the perennially excellent Economist. This surge of strong creative

work is welcomed by an industry that is tired of harking back to the

’golden age of outdoor’ in the 70s.

Not only are young creative teams exploiting the sheer impact of 200

square feet of poster, but young brands are also leading the charge.

Around 12 per cent of billboard advertisers in the first quarter of this

year are dotcoms and that percentage is rising in the second. The energy

of these new advertisers is reminding some of our traditional customers

of the power of posters.

Improvement in billboard perception and performance is also being driven

by investment. Clear Channel and JCDecaux, worldwide players in ’sexy’

street furniture, both bought UK billboard companies last year, as did

Scottish Radio. All of those companies are promising to invest in the

medium. At Maiden, we shall invest pounds 5 million this year in

building better panels and evolving new formats.

Perhaps the media directors are not so much at odds with creatives after

all. I’ve just reached the part of the survey that reports that 65 per

cent of them expect there to be a renaissance of large-format poster

advertising anytime soon. I have no idea where we are in the cycle, but

there seems to be plenty of life in this product yet.