OUTDOOR/AMBIENT: WHY MEDIA OWNERS GO OUTDOORS

Are media owners heavy users of the outdoor medium out of habit or do they understand something we have yet to discover?

When one group of like-minded advertisers uses the same medium consistently you start to think that they must know something we don't. Or at least that they have some sort of inside information, especially when that group of advertisers are media owners.

But do publishers and broadcasters really have insider knowledge or are they just doing the same thing that they always have because it's easy?

Either way, they face the same eternal challenge as the rest of us: how to stand out from everyone else. And when the medium you've chosen is out there on the streets and in public places, it's even tougher. You've got to work harder and faster; first to get noticed, and second to say something memorable.

So perhaps that's why more and more advertisers who choose to join the outdoor throng are eschewing conventional sites and staking everything on a novelty shape or situation. Some are going even further and venturing into the wild frontier of ambient media. So do media owners know what they're doing any more than the rest of us? Let's look at the evidence.

First up, a classic campaign meets an unconventional format in the The Economist's square jigsaw poster. For speed of communication you can't beat it, though it helps when you have such a well-established brand advertising heritage to use as shorthand. But the point here is that the novelty format is actually relevant, given the magazine's positioning. This is a publication that thinks outside the box for people who do the same.

If you can't get attention by a strong idea, why not do it by buying every site in sight? That's the route Channel 5, now known as Five, seems to have taken in its Edinburgh airport blitz. It's all very well if the message you want to get across is "Look how much money we have". Otherwise, it smacks a little of bullying.

Tube cards, like six-sheets, are favoured by media owners and are an engaging format as you have a captive audience. InStyle magazine uses them particularly well with the colour swatch cards, which on closer inspection are make-up and fashion tips based around colour.

I like involving and informing work. Tube cards lend themselves to magazines, as they can reflect and respond to the ever-changing content. But there is a trap. You can entertain and make the journey go quicker, but you still have to make the brand memorable enough to influence purchase when a newsagent is within range.

I guess the reason why media owners favour outdoor and six-sheets is the ability to inform quickly and efficiently. As in the case of Xfm's recent ad announcing that Zoe Ball is joining the station. And I use the term "ad" loosely; this is neither brand- nor concept-driven work. Xfm can produce examples of both of the above, but this isn't one of them.

It is simply an announcement, and it does its job cheaply and efficiently.

Perhaps it's the need for responsiveness that leads media owners into the wilder and wackier realms of ambient and guerrilla advertising. Hell, you don't even have to go through the inconvenience of booking sites.

You just get out there and do something. In theory, it's a great way of making a big local splash that feels part of something much bigger. Very cost-effective.

I am a big fan of ambient but it needs to be relevant and appropriate.

Potential consumers need to come across it and engage with the work in a natural way. As soon as you force the situation you are no longer in harmony and ambient. What you create is something bizarre and odd, that stands out for the wrong reason.

One of the best examples of good ambient from recent times must be the britart.com. The executions really engaged and seamlessly connected with their locations. And that is the real trick: there needs to be a good reason to do it.

Which brings me to the outdoor "ad" illegally lasered by handbag. com on the Natural History Museum. My criticism of this piece is that the laser seems to be the idea and even then I don't see its relevance. As any media buyer would tell you, placement is everything, so why is it projected on to a museum? If you're going to break the law, find a more relevant way of doing so.

Ultimately, media owners are like other big companies with multiple brands.

Some are stronger than others, and some get better creative executions than others. It doesn't matter if you are indoors or outdoors, for me the idea is everything.

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