Outdoor Special > Time for creatives to show their sexy side

In today's fast-moving society, a successful outdoor campaign has to stand out from the crowd. Media Week examines how creative agencies are catching people on the move.

Ocean Outdoor's cylindrcial IMAX Cinema site in London's Waterloo
Ocean Outdoor's cylindrcial IMAX Cinema site in London's Waterloo

Until now, many in the advertising world have regarded the creative behind outdoor advertising as somewhat less prepared than the sexier side of brand messaging, such as television or newspaper advertising.

In the past, the same outdoor creative has, all too often, been used regardless of type of site and regional location.

Yet the creative that may look fabulous on a 48-sheet roadside billboard in Manchester will be very different from one that works on a supermarket screen in Reading.

But times are changing, and fast. With technology allowing people more time away from home or the office, as well as innovations in the types of outdoor ads available, agencies are placing a far greater focus on the creative side of catching people on the move.

So how should outdoor companies work with media and creative agencies to ensure that outdoor creatives are site-specific and do justice to the client's campaign? And what is the secret of a successful out-of-home creative execution?

Inappropriate executions
There are many occasions where perfectly planned campaigns have been let down by inappropriate creative executions. For example, creative developed to be viewed within the pages of a magazine is not effective on roadside posters, which deliver huge audiences, but only offer a six-second opportunity for people to view the message as they drive past.

Roadside and railway panels, retail parks, malls and gyms would all benefit from varying the creative theme, in order to maximise audience targeting and improve ad recall.

Louise Devlin, marketing manager at lamppost ad firm Streetbroadcast, feels that outdoor creatives need to change and that the willingness to make the leap is there.

"Outdoor usually has to deliver all these different audiences and environments using one creative treatment," she says.

"This sells short the communication potential for the client. In fact, on many occasions, exactly the same creative is run in national and local press, in magazines and outdoor."

She adds: "Synergy across environments is certainly needed. However, letting the media mix work is paramount and so it is vital to use variations on the creative theme that make best use of how each element delivers its audience against the communications objectives."

Devlin believes the most effective campaigns are those where the creative enhances the detail within the integrated multimedia activity demanded of media agencies.

The out-of-home industry agrees that, as the world moves towards the increasing array of digital communications, paying attention to appropriate creative executions for each channel will become increasingly important.

Devlin says: "As a media owner, we usually see the creative once it has been printed and posted.

"However, Streetbroadcast offers clients the opportunity to 'see their ad alive' before the campaign goes live as part of our formal booking process. We create short movies (for digital products) and jpegs (for static ads) for our clients."

Craig Willis, head of strategy at JCDecaux's Open strategy division, helps clients focus on the key elements of an outdoor campaign using the OC Optimiser. The Optimiser was born out of targeted research by the group to establish exactly how people read outdoor ads.

Willis says: "The challenge is much harder these days. The consumer is far savvier and, while the quality of creative work has increased in recent years, creative agencies are still learning and there is still some way to go."

He adds: "As for the opportunities that arise from new technology, it is still very much finding its way. Agencies have to understand that it is not just about taking a television ad and stripping it down for a digital poster.

"There is a fantastic opportunity if the messages are right. Day-part will make an increasing impact as more digital screens appear and brands can tailor their ads to the times of day they want to be seen.

"But the creative has to be excellent and brands cannot rely on new technology to make their products stand out."

Clear Channel Outdoor encourages advertisers to use the group's creative pre-testing programme to ensure that campaigns have an eye-catching creative.

About 200 people from around the UK are questioned on a brand's proposals for a new campaign about four weeks before it is due to start. The sample is tailored to reflect the brand's target audience and the results are available two weeks after the survey begins, allowing another two weeks to make any necessary changes.

The questionnaire can be crafted to match the audience, but usually includes questions that test whether respondents consider the ad to be eye-catching, clearly branded and easy to understand. Other typical questions test whether respondents have absorbed the key messages and whether the ad makes them more likely to purchase the product.

Simplified process
This may sound pretty simple and logical stuff. However, in a world where technology can make life more complicated, Pip Hainsworth, marketing director at Clear Channel, believes it is often good to simplify the process from the outset to ensure that technology does not dominate an ad, when the consumer prefers simplicity itself.

"It's about finding audience solutions and putting the consumer at the heart of the communication," says Hainsworth. "This means that we are able to come up with a tailor-made outdoor plan for advertisers that can dovetail with the rest of their media."

Hainsworth points to a recent campaign for Heinz ketchup, which she believes really caught consumers' imagination. The campaign used a variety of different formats and the ads were carefully located to trigger a different message about the brand, with the big message hitting shoppers as they walked through supermarket doors.

Hainsworth says: "This was an incredibly successful campaign; it showed that altering the creative to set off a series of triggers in people's minds really does work." Proving the campaign's effectiveness, sales of Heinz ketchup rose 11% after just two weeks.

Hainsworth is wary of allowing technology to invade people's lives too much. The ability to Bluetooth messages directly to consumers' mobile phones when they walk past an ad should, in her view, be an opt-in service and not something they are forced to deal with - otherwise Bluetooth will become even more intrusive than junk mail.

"Technology will change things," she says. "But we should not forget what makes a great creative now and lose sight of that in the face of new technology. There will be so many new formats that creatives are going to have to learn what's possible and what works."

She adds: "There is an opportunity for creatives to make incredibly beautiful and telling ads. But the key thing to remember is that, however beautiful the ads are, they must get the message across in milliseconds. Otherwise they are wasted."

For Grant Branfoot, managing director at Ocean Outdoor, the challenges are something to be enjoyed. Ocean has some interesting and striking sites, including the cylindrical IMAX Cinema in Waterloo, London.

"There does need to be more conversation with the creatives so they understand these sites, which can be complicated," Branfoot says. "Some sites demand certain rules with sight lines in different places. Everyone says the logos are just going to get bigger and bigger, but there also has to be some clever and simple messaging."

Whether a 48-sheet, bus shelter, or scrolling digital roadside site, the designers of outdoor creatives face the biggest challenge of their lives. As experts predict outdoor to take more revenue than any media other than the internet in the coming years, the once back-end of brand-building is more important than ever. So, creatives: get creating.

Read more from the Media Week Outdoor Special

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