Poster regulation is sign of market’s maturity

It is now commonly said in media circles that, very soon, posters will be the only broadcast medium. With the development of digital transmissions, it seems certain that other traditionally-broadcast media will see their audiences fragment, leaving outdoor as the only medium which is unavoidable and unmissable – especially for the young and upmarket.

But the fact that outdoor advertising is so very unavoidable means it must also bear the responsibility of ensuring that it does not offend public taste.

The new “yellow card” system, of regulation, as it has been dubbed by the marketing press (MW February 19), might be thought by some to go too far. After all, poster copy already has a higher compliance rate than other media, with 98 per cent meeting Advertising Standards Authority guidelines. Indeed, as ASA director general Matti Alderson has pointed out, there wouldn’t be much for the police to do if the general public was that well-behaved.

At the same time the rash of attention-seeking posters that hit the headlines of the tabloid press a few years ago hasn’t proved to be the problem some were predicting. Advertisers such as Benetton and Club 18 to 30 have, in the past, used their poster campaigns to garner column inches in the popular press, angering the regulatory authorities along the way.

But the best poster work continues to prove what has always been the case – you don’t have to sail close to the wind to get noticed, you just have to have a good idea. So are the new regulations an overreaction?

The outdoor industry’s buoyancy and future success depends upon preserving the integrity of our medium. If local city fathers see a stream of poster advertising that is offensive, our sites will ultimately be refused planning permission and 98 per cent of advertisers will find their last, and vastly improving broadcast medium, removed.

Of course, there will always be those advertisers who continue to use shock techniques in their campaigns for publicity purposes. But the regulations do at least do everything they can to make these people’s lives difficult. What a pain to have your copy vetted for the next two years, if you break the rules.

In truth, the new regulations simply formalise something that has been going on for some time. All the major poster media owners pre-vet campaigns for clients who have had an ASA ruling against them in the past. But instead of senior management having to take a view on the acceptability of the copy, this will now be done by the Committee on Advertising Practice copy advice team.

In the newspaper world, advertisement directors can always blame copy rejection on the foibles of their editor. The views of a few poster company directors do not always bear the same weight.

The regulation initiative also demonstrates the growing maturity of the poster industry, which has been underlined by the arrival of Postar – the poster audience research tool, jointly managed by the buying and selling sides of the industry. The specialists who plan and buy 95 per cent of the medium and the media owners are establishing a track record of co-operation. Which is not to say that when this, or any other issue, is discussed at StreetTalk 98 in Madrid this April, it will get an easy ride. But you can expect some sense to prevail.

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