'Dull' outdoor faces calls to get creative

'Dull' outdoor faces calls to get creative

Outdoor: although many executions have come under criticism, this one for The Economist this week won a gold award at Cannes

The outdoor advertising sector was this week warned that a lack of creativity is threatening to stall its success.

Senior industry figures have predicted that unless more original thinking is focused on outdoor work, the sector - which has grown faster than any other area of the media - could become stagnant.

In a keynote speech at this week's international advertising festival in Cannes, Don Sperring, managing director of JCDecaux Airport, said: "Outdoor is an exclusively message-only medium, which is why good creative is so important. Perhaps the medium has increased at a faster rate than the creative."

His comments coincide with an article published by specialist agency Posterscope in its newsletter which warned that "the standard of creative work is not matching infrastructure and research improvements".

One danger is that unless the quality of outdoor creative improves, the medium could fail to deliver the same return on investment to advertisers as other sectors.

The concerns were shared by creative directors, media owners and specialist planner buyers. They criticised creative agencies for failing to pay attention to outdoor, saying that legacy TV or press creative ads were going up on outdoor sites too often, rather than campaigns designed specifically to make use of outdoor's special qualities.

Paul Grubb, joint creative director at DFGW, said: "Agencies have become very lazy. The great thing about outdoor is that it's a chance for fame and a lot of people overlook that. It's got to be really impactful and make you want to look at it and at the moment there is little of that around."

Grubb also added that technological innovations and new opportunities presented by the industry were affecting the quality of the creative. "People have been coming up with more clever ways to do outdoor and what's happened is the media has become the creativity and that's a bad thing."

Stevie Spring, chief executive at Clear Channel Group, said: "Six-sheets can sometimes look like press ads on steroids. Most of the bad campaigns that I see are giant press ads trying to be a six-sheet. What that's about is junior creatives or creative directors thinking an ad at a bus stop is for people standing waiting for a bus rather than the people passing it."

And Nigel Mansell, managing director of Concord, said that outdoor creative is often taken from TV. "In a lot of circumstances, it doesn't translate well," he said.

Alex Thompson, managing director of Portland Outdoor, agreed that not enough posters are designed with the site in mind. "Too many of them are still converted press ads with small typefaces and too much copy," he warned.

But he added: "Some incredibly famous ads have been created on posters."

Part of the problem comes because outdoor is often part of a mixed media campaign, said Steve Cox, Viacom Outdoor head of planning and insight. "If TV is in there, then the chances are that you are going to want to create some synergy between your TV and outdoor campaign, if for no other reason than the cost of producing TV work."

But industry leaders said they could not detect a recent fall in standards.

Clear Channel's Spring said: "I don't think we've got any classics up at the moment, but I don't think that there has particularly been a downgrade."

And Graham Bednash, of the Michaelides and Bednash communications agency, said. "It's always been the case that you will only get a handful of really amazing creative ideas going on posters. People will always have a rose-tinted view of the past, during the '60s, '70s and '80s. It's the right thing to call for more creativity, but it's the usual rule that 10% of what happens is good."

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