OUTDOOR ANSWERS BACK: Increasingly, outdoor advertising is interactive, three-dimensional and, in some cases, mobile, Tim Woolgar reports

Six people waving down at you from car-seats mounted on a billboard 20 feet above the road is undeniably attention grabbing.

Six people waving down at you from car-seats mounted on a billboard

20 feet above the road is undeniably attention grabbing.

The poster, created by Banks Hoggins O’Shea FCB for Daihatsu last year,

certainly turned heads. Posters like this are perhaps better described

as ’mini-events’ rather than simply as interactive. They provoke a

reaction not just from the public, but from the media as well, which

multiplies the PR spin-offs.

Banks’ joint creative director, Chris O’Shea, was behind another of the

agency’s mini-events, to promote the Disney movie Pocahontas, which

involved having a real American Indian sitting on top of the poster

making smoke signals. The detail is vital, O’Shea says. ’I can tell you,

a real Red Indian is hard to find in London. It would have been a lot

easier to find someone to just dress up for the part but it wouldn’t

have been as good.

The fact that it’s a real Red Indian gives the press that bit extra and

it means more to the people who see it as well.’

BMP DDB’s Volkswagen poster, which had drivers popping bubblewrap on

garage forecourts, is a classic example of a truly interactive


The term may be interpreted more flexibly, however. Francis Goodwin,

managing director of Maiden Outdoor, one of the country’s biggest

outdoor media owners, says: ’If a poster creates enough interest for

people to start talking about it down the pub, is that interactive?

If it persuades you to pick up the telephone and contact the supplier,

that must be interactive.’

Purists may argue that no-one writes down phone numbers when they’re

driving or walking down the road, so direct response posters should not

be described as interactive. But the medium is being used more

frequently for direct response work and advertisers are getting creative

with their phone numbers. The number for Barclays b2 account - 62 62 62

- mimicks the brand name, for example.

Increasingly, posters carry an internet address as well as a phone

number, to draw people into an inherently interactive environment. At

Maiden Outdoor’s Posterinfo.com website, visitors can see campaign

posters, find out information about the products and advertisers as well

as vote for their favourite poster, enter competitions and so on.

Eric Newnham, managing director of the outdoor media buyer, Poster

Publicity, recommends a cautious approach. ’Lots of people say they’re

offering interactivity but you have to look at the quality of the

interaction. It’s an exciting part of the medium but it’s very easy to

be sold something that claims to be interactive when in reality the

nature of the medium is quite passive.’

Among the more truly interactive ideas Maiden has tried is the Channel 4

installation at Waterloo Station. Here travellers could interact with a

series of television screens using their mobile phones. Goodwin says:

’When you talk about interactive you’ve got to get away from the idea of

the poster as simply a two-dimensional medium.’

Maiden’s ’Adcan’ recycling machine has been on trial at Safeway

supermarkets, for example, with advertisers including McDonald’s,

Eurostar and Daihatsu.

Goodwin explains: ’The machine carries brand advertising. You put the

can in a slot and pull a handle to crush it, which activates a set of

tumblers like a fruit machine. Instead of cherries and plums the

tumblers have the brand logos and if you get three of a kind the machine

dispenses a prize coupon.’

Taxi Media sells advertising both on the outside and inside of London

black cabs. In some cases, the whole cab and its driver is transformed

into a mobile, interactive sales machine. Mike Toknell, the managing

director, says: ’The average journey time is just over 14 minutes, so

you have a captive audience. That’s a fantastic marketing


’We have about 1,000 cabs with full branded livery inside and out.

Inside, you will find leaflet dispensers, usually offering an

opportunity to respond by mail or telephone. With normal poster

advertising the golden rule is ’keep it simple’. But inside a cab you

can afford to do more, you can instigate a different kind of reaction.

You get greater awareness levels and greater response as well.’

In a recent project, Toknell’s Financial Times-branded cabbies attended

a special live briefing by FT analysts as Chancellor Gordon Brown read

his Budget speech. The benefits of the FT’s insight were then passed on

by the drivers to any passengers who showed an interest in the main

issue of the day. Other promotions have included having cab drivers hand

out free Kit-Kats and, during London Fashion Week, Evian-branded cabbies

dispensed facial sprays.

Toknell also runs Phonesites, which sells advertising space in BT

telephone boxes throughout the UK. ’Our research shows that 30 per cent

of the UK population uses a BT payphone every month. The medium is

particularly suited to younger audiences with 73 per cent of 16- to

24-year-olds using a payphone at least once a month.’

The phone sites can go beyond standard direct response by the use of

so-called ’hot buttons’. These are automated dialling buttons which put

callers straight through to the advertiser. According to Toknell, hot

buttons generate 40 per cent higher response than using phone numbers


Similar claims are made for the Instant Coupon Machines installed in

Sainsbury’s supermarkets by Aspen Media. Simon Ogden, Aspen’s managing

director, says: ’You have a machine with flashing lights dispensing

money-off coupons right by the point of purchase. In a recent promotion

for Tetley’s tea-bags we saw a 150 per cent sales increase.’

Aspen is trialling ICMs on Stagecoach buses in Devon. ’The buses have a

rolling LED display inside,’ Ogden says. ’We use this to advertise the

products and when passengers get off the bus they can take a coupon. You

can make it route specific, so if a bus goes past Debenhams you can have

the posters on the outside of the bus, the posters inside, the LED and

the money-off coupons, all pointing towards that outlet.’

The growth of interactive outdoor advertising is being driven by the

increasing availibility of new sites, such as buses and phone-boxes, as

well as by advances in technology. Goodwin says: ’We are always looking

at ways to increase the use of posters and sell interactivity. As well

as being the oldest medium around, we are also the most innovative.’


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