It all started with trolleys. Now point-of-sale ambient media is worth
£25 million, according to Concord's annual survey, and advertising
in supermarkets and garage forecourts is firmly on the advertising map.
The pre-eminent UK company in the supermarket business is the Media
Vehicle Group, now part-owned by Clear Channel.
Six years ago, the group chief executive, Jessica Hatfield, set up shop
flogging posters on trolley-sides. Today, with most major retailers
signed up, she can offer the likes of Nestle, Unilever and Mars a reach
which takes in 90 per cent of all UK households. Using the Media Vehicle
and other outfits, such as Eyes Down Media, advertisers can buy
nationwide campaigns including everything from ads painted on the floor
beneath the trolley wheels through to the Media Vehicles latest 3D image
effects in-store. Or, if your audience is more likely to be the top-up
shopper rather than the trolley-filling consumer, you can take an ad on
the side of a wire basket. Nescafe chose the basket for its Martin
Clunes campaign, adapting its "beautiful mug" strapline to "pick me
Planes, trains and automobiles
If you can't afford a bit of Formula 1 sponsorship, then perhaps a
rickshaw would serve your purpose. Advertising on vehicles has become a
science in itself in the past few years. While TDI has turned tube and
bus-side advertising into a high-profile, mainstream medium, there are
other outfits offering bicycles, rickshaws or a variety of makes of car.
Buggy Media is one which will decorate Beetles, Minis or Smart Cars. And
don't forget the use of airships and hot air balloons or the unmissable
EasyJet logo daubed loudly on its planes, especially visible if you live
or work in west London.
Taxi advertising has grown in tune with the ambient vehicle sector, with
two of the leading companies - Barnett's and Taxi Media - now owned by
the More Group. While ads inside cabs existed more than 20 years ago, it
took a decision by the Public Carriage Office in the mid-80s before they
started to paint the outside. The rest is history. The expression "black
cabs" is now largely figurative, since they are as likely to be wrapped
in an ad for The Economist or Ben & Jerry's ice-cream at the cost of
£5,000 (per annum, all-in). It's also become acceptable to "buy"
the cabby along with his or her vehicle. South African Tourism takes all
80 of their cabbies on a freebie to South Africa to inspire a bit of
positive PR to flow around its sponsored fleet.
The big splash
In most people's minds, lasers or projected ads have lodged in the
consciousness along with Gail Porter or the Wonderbra campaign. Although
not exclusively used to scoop press coverage, it's certainly one of the
best ways of getting value for money from this form of ambient media.
Especially if you're talking projected ads, which have a shorter shelf
life than their laser counterparts.
At Laser Creations International, the managing director, Marilyn Weeks,
explains the difference: the laser can show moving sequences, is more
complex to set up and more expensive, coming in at £3,000 per
night; the slide projector produces a static image and costs half the
price. Her company can provide both and has worked for plenty of
blue-chips such as Nike, Adidas and Dior. She reckons that slide
projection has only really got going in the past six years or so, as
advertisers have latched on to the PR capital to be made, while lasers
have been around for about 20 years or so.
There are a number of outfits which will now put a 50-metre high picture
of your managing director on the White Cliffs of Dover or the Houses of
Parliament for you (how legal that might be is a grey area). Or, for
something a little more permanent, you could go to specialists such as
Mega Profile to sound them out on the biggest poster sites in town.
Where to run ads featuring a bunch of grapes with the strapline
"seedless" and the objective of encouraging men to have a vasectomy?
What could be more natural than in men's loos. Marie Stopes is one of
the latest in an increasing stream of clients to sign up to the use of
what the media owners prefer to call "washrooms". One of the biggest
outfits is Admedia, which started up in the mid-90s and now has sites in
all motorway service stations and 220 shopping centres. As well as the
more obvious clients, such as Pharmacia with an ad for incontinence
relief, Admedia's client list includes Mercedes-Benz, McDonald's, Mars,
Coca-Cola, BT and Cadbury's. Not forgetting Duckham's Oil, which set up
a stunt ad with a fake urinal constructed above the others on the
New technology has also brought urinal ads which can be activated when
aimed at. Another company in the washroom business is CPA, which has
blue-chip clients including Levi's and Sony and is the first company to
bring accountability in the shape of barcoding to washroom ads. It seems
washroom ads, which started out in the US 30 years ago for local
advertising, have entered a new dimension.
Postcards from the bar
At first people used to slip one or two into their pocket discreetly,
not sure if they should have paid one of the bar staff, but it's now
routine to sift through the free postcard racks at clubs and restaurants
across town and stuff a fistful into your bag. Postcards are one of the
highest- profile elements of a division of ambient media which the
poster specialist Concord defines as "distributive". Concord's survey
judges the whole sector, including everything from takeaway lids to wage
slips, to be worth £27 million in 2001, increasing a whopping
fivefold since 1996.
The postcard business is largely sewn up by an international outfit
called Boomerang. Boomerang Media in the UK bought out one of its
biggest competitors earlier this year. It now distributes 220 million
postcards each year out of 3,160 venues. Advertisers can buy into a
whole series of different sorts of venues, including cinemas, health
clubs or secondary schools and Boomerang claims that its School Cards
have a higher reach than the top five teen magazines combined. Takers
have included Virgin Cola, while Tropicana ran a successful campaign
across health clubs.