SUPPLEMENT: The great outdoor spoofs

How do you prove that posters work in their own right? Simple. Run a spoof ad campaign. Claire Beale reports

How do you prove that posters work in their own right? Simple. Run a

spoof ad campaign. Claire Beale reports

The poster industry has been more vigorous in its efforts to illustrate

its effectiveness than almost any other advertising medium.

And outdoor can claim to have some of the most inventive and

entertaining case studies to support its arguments. For the poster

industry is home to the advertising spoof.

The idea behind the poster spoof is to provide evidence of the impact a

poster campaign can have. They have been adopted by the outdoor industry

because of the unique relationship between the medium and its audience.

Dennis Sullivan, the chairman of the poster specialist, Portland

Outdoor, points out: ‘There’s such an absence of solid qualitative

research in the outdoor industry that the poster contractors have been

forced to manufacture their own campaigns, and then test them.’

One of the problems that outdoor faces when it comes to audience

research is the passive nature of the medium.

Active exposure to ads cannot be measured according to the number of

people tuning in, or paying a cover price, or buying a ticket. Posters

are a public medium.

Of course, outdoor has its own audience measurement system: and a new

souped-up, more comprehensive one at that, in the form of Postar. But

while outdoor advertisers can now judge who is seeing their ad and how

often, where posters cannot match other media is in offering advertisers

a particular editorial environment to buy into.

Francis Goodwin, the mastermind behind some of the UK’s most high-

profile poster spoofs, and the managing director of Maiden Roadside,

says: ‘Outdoor is a pure advertising medium. Its impact is unfettered by

an editorial environment.’

So while other media owners spend thousands of pounds researching their

products and use the findings as a comfort blanket to convince

advertisers about the value of the environment they offer, outdoor

contractors have concentrated on proving that people notice posters, and

remember them.

But that’s where things become difficult. Many poster ads echo the

message of press or TV work from the same campaign. Some are simply

blown-up press ads or TV stills. When testing posters, how can

advertisers be sure that respondents are remembering them and not one or

a combination of messages from other media? The fact that advertisers

rarely use posters in isolation means outdoor has traditionally been

seen as a support medium for TV or press ads.

Poster contractors have also looked to research to prove the

effectiveness of outdoor as a standalone medium, capable of launching a

product into the market.

The answer for many has been the spoof poster campaign - an ad campaign

solely for outdoor, for a product that does not exist and hence has not

been advertised anywhere else. If people remember the ads, it’s solely

because they’ve seen the posters. This means that recall levels can be

used to show the role posters play in introducing a new product to the


The UK boasts some legendary poster spoofs, such as the campaign by More

O’Ferrall Adshel for an Australian perfume called ‘Sheila’, which

depicted a fragrance bottle with a ring of corks hung round it. Before

that, there was MOFA’s mysterious ‘Amy’ campaign - posters that told the

world, ‘Amy Doesn’t Like Slugs’. Indeed, the poster spoof idea has been

used throughout the world to prove the effectiveness of the medium.

But how seriously do advertisers and agencies take the findings of these

studies? How valid is an awareness score for an unusual product (Sheila

- the perfume that also kills flies) that uses the sort of wacky

creative work that wouldn’t get past the average marketing director?

Ivor Hussein, the head of media research at Lowe Howard-Spink, believes

such studies should be treated with caution: ‘Of course, the spoofs are

based on highly artificial situations and they are almost as much a

measurement of creative treatment as they are of the effectiveness of

the medium itself. Also, the fact that they are promoting new or unusual

products means that the results can’t be as relevant to established


However, he believes they can still be useful to the people who create,

plan and buy poster campaigns. ‘You can’t take these spoofs at face

value, but that goes for all media-owner research. And as for other

media-owner research, you can usually find something of value in it once

you understand how it’s been put together and its strengths and


MOFA’s managing director, Vincent Slevin, is blunt: ‘They’re balls as

far as pure research is concerned. But they’re great for making the

point that posters can be enormously visible if you’ve got interesting

creative work.’

If the contractors are sceptical, what value do the media buyers place

on the spoof findings? Nigel Mansell, the managing director of the

poster specialist, Concord, believes that the studies are effective PR

exercises, ‘but you have to take them with a pinch of salt’.

However, he agrees that they have some value. ‘This sort of research

does give an indication of what is possible - you can’t refute that this

particular piece of creative treatment generated that particular

response. At best, they provide a high benchmark that illustrates the

potential of the medium.’

Goodwin says there has been an evolution in the way spoofs are

conducted. ‘First you had ‘Amy’, which was more like a charity ad than

an ad for a specific product. So then we launched the ‘Sheila’ campaign,

which could have been for a real product, but wasn’t. There was some

criticism then that we were achieving the sort of results that a

campaign for an actual, existing product wouldn’t.

‘Later, in 1994, we found a real product - a bubble bath range called

Scallywags - that had never been advertised before and used it as the

basis to test the effectiveness of the outdoor medium. The test campaign

drove sales and underlined the value of posters as a solus medium.’

So does this research evolution actually signal the death of the spoof

campaign? Has the industry matured beyond the need for the spoof, with

all its flaws? Goodwin says: ‘Give it a few years and some marketing

director will decide the time is right to do another. And that too will

have some value all of its own.’


Sheila is perhaps the most famous poster spoof to be shown to the UK

public. The brainchild of Francis Goodwin, the then marketing director

of More O’Ferrall Adshel, the campaign launched in the spring of 1989.

Goodwin used the idea to test the effectiveness of the company’s bus-

shelter sites, but the results have since come to be seen as an

endorsement of the outdoor medium as a whole.

MOFA joined forces with Leagas Shafron Davis to devise ads for a

fictitious Australian perfume that was supposedly making its debut in

the UK. They depicted a perfume bottle, complete with a stopper shaped

like a typical bushwacker’s hat, with the immortal strapline, ‘Also

kills flies’.

MOFA decided on two different weights for the campaign. The first was a

single-weight campaign using 2,500 sites - measured after two weeks and

four weeks. The results revealed an impressive 30 per cent awareness

after two weeks. However, after four weeks this had only increased to 34

per cent.

In a double-weight campaign using 5,000 sites, awareness was 42 per cent

after two weeks, rising to 59 per cent after four weeks.

The campaign certainly proved that, not only could posters generate high

levels of awareness, but they could do so for a brand that was

previously unknown.

The findings were also used as evidence of the effectiveness of shorter,

heavier-weight poster campaigns.

Haka Bitter

Australia’s ‘Haka Bitter’ study was designed to prove that outdoor could

be used as a standalone medium.

The General Outdoor Advertising Company of Australia came up with the

idea of using an unknown beer brand to test the medium. A local brewery

liked the idea so much it began to brew and distribute it.

The GOACA devised four humorous posters to launch the brand and the

campaign ran at 50 GRPs for an eight-week period in the summer of 1993.

The ads ran in Brisbane and surrounding suburbs and the media spend,

Ausdollars 50,000 (pounds 24,000), was well below that of most of the


Despite its lower spend, and the fact that a combination of TV, print

and radio work was used for most other products in the sector, post-

campaign analysis showed that Haka Bitter had more than double the

unprompted awareness of established beer brands.

In an environment of well-established competitors, the Haka Bitter

poster campaign not only generated high awareness, but also prompted

heavy product trial over a short period of time.

However, Chris Tyquin of GOACA sounds a note of caution for contractors.

‘The whole process of a spoof campaign can do wonders for an entire

industry, but, as we have found here in Australia, your competitors can

undo all the good you might have done through irresponsible marketing

and unnecessary price cutting.’

Doris and Harry

Doris and Harry wasn’t so much a product as a service that Mediacom, one

of Canada’s largest poster contractors, used as the basis for its spoof

ad campaign.

It used bus-shelter sites for a series of personal messages from the

pair, (and their dog Rover) who were having a few marital problems. The

campaign ran in Toronto over an eight-week period at 75 GRPs.

The first ad in the series was a simple plea from the heart: ‘Come home

Doris, all is forgiven. Harry.’ It generated interest from the local

press and, by week two, when the message, ‘Go stuff it Harry. Doris’,

appeared, one member of the public was reportedly so desperate to find

out what the product was that she offered to pay to find out.

Mediacom received 26,754 calls in two weeks and the results at the end

of the campaign were hailed as a media breakthrough.

Doris and Harry were seen as a clear illustration of the possible impact

a poster campaign can have, although some agencies still questioned

their value to advertisers with more mundane products.


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