PERSPECTIVE: Outdoor contractors take a smart line on indecipherable ads

Amazing, isn't it, that the car sector spent £31 million on

posters last year but, VW aside, most of it was rubbish? Perhaps it's

because TV is usually seen as the lead medium from which posters must

dutifully take their lead. Perhaps, too, the growth of pan-European TV

executions leads to a dumbing down of the creative process because

locally the client and agency spend too much energy warding off

excursions into the UK market by some Johnny Foreigner colleague.

Sitting in a traffic-jam on the Hammersmith roundabout recently, fresh

from the Campaign Poster Awards judging, I began pondering why many of

the posters there were, if not rubbish, certainly forgettable. Vogue,

Vauxhall, Honda, Jazz FM, some indecipherable financial services

shockers ... none of them provoked that reaction of astonishment that

good posters can do.

In fact, the last time I was truly blown away by a poster campaign was

more than a year ago and, I cheerfully admit, it had a lot to do with

the fact that I had just had a baby. The Weetabix poster by Lowe Lintas,

showing a baby using building blocks to spell the word paediatrician,

was the last poster to intrigue me in that split-second way that

posters, if they are any good, always do.

So, putting aside the "x" factor that all outstanding creative work has

in common but which we can never define, what would the components of a

good poster be? A good poster is not overcrowded, carries legible copy

and stands out from its surroundings. Strong and appropriate use of

colour would also be important, as would the strength of branding.

Humour can also be important in a medium with a long tradition of


Surprisingly, perhaps, since one might expect the ad community to feel

it does not need guidance on these blindingly obvious points, the More

Group's Adshel brand is launching a research service that will assess

the effectiveness of creative treatments on outdoor. A few years ago,

when putting together a sensible billboard plan was more by guess than

any in the poster industry would care to admit, this would have been

unthinkable. These days, the consolidation of media ownership in outdoor

means that posters are easier to buy, sell and plan than ever before. So

with outdoor trumpeting its position as the 8 per cent medium, now is

the time to take the issue of creativity seriously.

Years ago, Maiden Outdoor trod the same path by asking David Abbott to

isolate the common creative elements in poster campaigns that had

performed best in research. More's initiative (and I'll bet it has

something to do with its chief executive, Stevie Spring, having her

roots in the creative agency scene) strikes me as an excellent way for

poster contractors to demonstrate that they are more than just de facto

property companies.

And if it leads to better poster advertising, then it will have done

everybody a tremendous service.

- News, p7.