You don’t have to press advertising folk or marketers too hard to come up with their favourite poster campaign. Whether it’s The Economist’s clever copy, British Airways’ "#lookup", numerous eye-catching Nike ads, Araldite’s iconic stuck-on car poster, or any number of mood-shifting political campaigns, out-of-home packs a memorable punch.
Gideon Spanier, Campaign‘s head of media, who chaired the debate on the state of creativity in OOH, kicked off the conversation with the recognition that, while the £1bn sector is in rude health, with revenue up for the eighth year in a row, there remains a concern that not all marketers and creative agencies are still inspired to create engaging OOH creative.
Posterscope CEO Stephen Whyte said: "OOH has a long history of strong, impactful creative and, today, brands such as Apple are using it to great effect, but lately this has tended to be an exception rather than the norm."
He asked what the challenge is for creative teams, and why they are not excited about the creative opportunity in OOH. "As an industry, we need to do more to champion the creative strengths of the medium. Seeing more powerful, engaging OOH will be the best way to motivate both agencies and clients to want and demand the best work for their brands."
And creatives themselves still love OOH. Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather Group UK, said: "When I trained, distilling the campaign message to four words on a 48-sheet was considered the skill of advertising. It’s what got me into the industry."
With many evolving formats, the medium may have lost its essence by trying to be all things, according to Justin Tindall, group chief creative officer of M&C Saatchi. "It’s become a generalist in a world obsessed with specialists," he added.
Barnaby Dawe, global chief marketing officer of Just Eat, appreciates the traditional marketing mix and the extreme measurability of pay-per-click in equal measure. OOH is one of his brand’s key advertising channels.
"The climate in which we operate, where the CEO and CFO want to see ROI, means that PPC becomes an unhealthy addiction, with its ability to demonstrate instant effectiveness," he said. "Outdoor is up against both traditional broadcast media and also new media, such as carousel and canvas ads on Facebook. As a generalist marketer, I’m keen to show how effective a combination of both performance and outdoor media can be."
Creative legend Sir John Hegarty, founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and The Garage, said the challenge faced by OOH is also manifest in the wider ad industry.
"A generation of marketing directors are failing to understand how to build powerful brands – they confuse persuasion and promotion," he argued. "Focusing on just short-term promotional messages. They’ve lost faith in long-term brand building. Maybe it’s too difficult for them?"
In this environment, there has been a loss of bravery in committing to a medium that doesn’t have the rack of analytics of digital. "For clients who are driven by, and rewarded for, an almost instantaneous focus on results, it can be difficult to keep posters on the plan," Rick Hirst, CEO of Carat UK, said.
Katie Dulake, head of brand and marketing at TSB Bank, added that OOH can play a different role. For a challenger brand, it provides reach. "Our brand purpose is bringing local banking back to the UK. It’s all about where people live and work, so OOH is great for that. It also supplements our physical brand presence – our branches – on the high street," she said.
However, there was a feeling around the table that creative agencies don’t design for the medium. "A 48-sheet brief could have been career defining at one time," said Claire Beale, global editor in chief of Campaign, who pondered whether creative directors still fought over them.
"We used to go out and look at poster sites to get an idea of context and where the message would be," Robert Campbell, creative entrepreneur and co-founder of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, said. "People do not give it that time any more."
Helen Weisinger, who recently joined Outdoor Plus as chief client officer from a creative agency background, said there was a knowledge gap in the market and education was the key. "Creative and measurement are the two areas where people don’t know what OOH can do yet," she contended.
De la Fosse suggested specialist OOH media agencies and media owners should increasingly work with creative agencies to stimulate creatives and push boundaries, as was the case with Ogilvy & Mather’s "#lookup" campaign for British Airways.
Glen Wilson, managing director of Posterscope UK, suggested the industry might be lacking bravery, and that incentivising creativity either through reviewing the creative awards programmes for OOH or reducing the cost of inventory based on creative excellence might be the way forward.
Hegarty advised agencies to get back to basic principles and an understanding of how value is built.
"Technology enables opportunity, creativity creates value," he said. "So, as posters increasingly become a digital offering, [they provide] creative opportunity and cultural importance. They should also embrace wall painting. Call it Craft Advertising. Think how famous Banksy became from his wall art."
The consensus was that, rather than focus on what posters can and can’t do, there is a need to focus on deliverables and objectives – to get back to what OOH does best and change the conversation to highlight that this is a medium where creativity can flourish.
Group photo (back row, l-r) Gideon Spanier, head of media, Campaign; Stephen Whyte, CEO, Posterscope UK; Julian Linley, multimedia consultant; Barnaby Dawe, global chief marketing officer, Just Eat; Claire Beale, global editor-in-chief, Campaign; Helen Weisinger, chief client officer, Outdoor Plus; Glen Wilson, managing director, Posterscope UK; (front row, l-r) Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK; Nicky Bullard, chairman and chief creative officer, MRM Meteorite; Rick Hirst, CEO, Carat UK; Justin Tindall, group chief creative officer, M&C Saatchi; Sir John Hegarty, founder, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and The Garage; Robert Campbell, creative entrepreneur and founder of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R; Katie Dulake, head of brand and marketing, TSB Bank
"Apple’s ‘Shot on iPhone’ is one of the best poster campaigns of the last three years. I don’t care how many pixels the camera has. If it takes pictures like that, I want it" – Sir John Hegarty, founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and The Garage
"If you can’t tell the story on a poster, it’s not a story worth telling" – Nicky Bullard, chairman and chief creative officer, MRM Meteorite
"Data and technology present a great opportunity for DOOH but we shouldn’t ignore the scale, creative opportunity and fame-building strength the medium provides" – Stephen Whyte, CEO, Posterscope
"There’s pushback against clickbait to focus on quality content that speaks directly to an audience. It’s hard to gain attention through the noise online, but posters can cut through by virtue of being more environmental" – Julian Linley, multimedia consultant