Is the party finally over for flyposters?

Camden Council is taking a stand and prosecuting two of the worst offenders. Alasdair Reid canvasses opinion.

It is absolutely astonishing. The London Borough of Camden is just about the last organisation in the world you would expect to lash out at flyposters. The economy of the borough is hugely dependent on bars, clubs, markets and music - the very sectors that rely heavily on flyposting as a mainstay of their marketing activity.

The £250,000 Camden spends removing the mess is arguably peanuts compared with the tens of millions those industries generate. So cynics everywhere will be chastened to see Camden taking a moral stand on this one.

As was reported last week, the borough is taking legal action against named individuals at two record companies regarded as particularly persistent offenders - Sony Music Entertainment and BMG. This is the first time anti-flyposting reprisals have been personalised in such a way, and this alone will focus minds across the advertising industry.

Of course, flyposting is one of advertising's dirty little secrets and the amount of hypocrisy involved can be truly spectacular.

The way it normally works is that a creative agency does some cutting-edge (streetwise and possibly award-winning) work, the media agency plans it, the client signs it off - then they get a junior executive at one of the client's public relations agencies to buy it so everyone with a reputation to protect can put their hands on their hearts and say: "It wasn't me, guv." Because, of course, neither advertisers nor agencies would ever knowingly break the law.

But now, if the worst comes to the worst, they could be facing a five-year stretch. Few advertisers will want to push their ersatz street cred that far. So, have we seen the last of flyposting?

Well, up to a point, Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising at ISBA, says. Wootton has always maintained a firm line on this, issuing unambiguous guidelines to ISBA members - which, of course, they can then choose to ignore. That, he reckons, will be increasingly difficult from now on.

He states: "There are some people who have been flyposting who will retreat very rapidly, especially if they are mainstream companies or those that trade from a physical location." On the other hand, most of the worst offenders are not ISBA members. Still, from the media owners' point of view, any change in behaviour is welcome - flyposting is a particularly irritating burden to them because much of it is posted over existing advertising on their sites.

However, some apologists for "guerrilla marketing" techniques argue that media owners have taken a misguidedly uncompromising line. After all, some councils around the country (and around the world) have sought compromise solutions, putting up special street furniture and designating selected areas where flyposting will cause a minimal nuisance.

Stevie Spring, the chief executive of Clear Channel, says this is a complete red herring. She asserts: "People sometimes talk about forms of community noticeboard but the truth is the very people who want what they believe is street cred are those who are never going to use them.

"To me, it's a pathetic attempt by flyposters to gain credibility. When flyposters are looking for a clear, flat, visible surface, they find it irresistibly tempting to use someone else's display. That, to me, is just plain theft. My view is: good on Camden. I really hope they succeed."

Malcolm Cox, until recently the group marketing director of Emap Performance, knows a thing or two about flyposting. He says we should not underestimate the fundamental factors that drive advertisers to consider the medium.

"In a place such as Camden, with all its bars and clubs, that's where your audience is, so you are always going to get some form of street promotion," he reckons.

"In the future, it may not be flyposting. You might, for example, see a lot more leafleting, but it will always be there. The effect of this legal action may well be to shift it on to another plane."

And what of the creative community, will Camden's action do anything to make them less likely to flirt with flyposting?

Chris O'Shea, a founding partner of HOW, says creatives have always known that they flypost at their peril. "I was glad to see the big record companies being prosecuted," he says. "They pollute the environment. I would make a distinction, though. If the posters are for a band or some other small or local organisation, a roots-upwards thing with people striving for recognition, then it's far more permissible. Not all flyposting is environmental pollution."

- "There are companies for whom flyposting is a fundamental part of their marketing and they will probably have to change their media planning models in a fundamental way. On the other hand, those who are determined may just do more to cover their trails." - Bob Wootton director of media and advertising, ISBA - "A lot of these people who are flyposting obviously believe that outdoor advertising is the answer. This increases the likelihood that they will now do it legitimately. We would at least like the opportunity of having that conversation with them." - Stevie Spring chief executive, Clear Channel

- "Increasingly, many clients have a real need to engage consumers at street level because it's becoming harder and harder to do that using conventional media. If everyone else is doing it, and it is relatively risk free, you will find ways to do it yourself." - Malcolm Cox ex-marketing director, Emap Performance

- "You can forgive flyposting when it's an idea that's really good - one that has real impact or makes you smile. I can think of maybe two over recent years that have done that. When that happens it's not environmental pollution, it's close to acceptable." - Chris O'Shea founding partner, HOW.