Pitfalls lurking beneath super billboard success

Triumph’s latest billboard blunder points to wider problems in the giant poster industry, such as inflated prices and safety non-compliance, warns Steve Bond

Bra advertising has been one of the great successes of outdoor advertising in recent years, highlighting the ability of the medium to get an ad noticed and talked about. Unfortunately the recent furore over the Triumph banner featuring Kelly Brook highlights a new type of problem for the medium.

The Triumph billboard was due to go up in a specific location. There was even a press launch publicising the event. But Health and Safety officials apparently objected and the billboard wasn’t installed. This unfortunate incident could well be the tip of an ominous iceberg.

The new craze for ever larger billboards, banners or building wraps holds some spectacular opportunities – but also some pitfalls – for the unwary advertiser.

A year ago there were probably only a couple of companies dealing in these kinds of sites. Now there are about a dozen. Why? Because advertisers such as Orange and Nike have been quick to spot the potential of such attention-grabbing sites.

However, any advertiser contemplating such a site should be aware that it may be dealing with new companies, some of which are getting into areas where they have little experience. As a result, while the outdoor industry as a whole is well regulated and thoroughly accountable, this new offshoot of the medium doesn’t appear to be either.

Ask these dozen companies what kind of permission you need for a building wrap, and you’ll probably get 12 different answers. Not very reassuring to an advertiser which wants to make sure that it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Triumph.

The prices asked for these sites are also spiralling out of control. These ads obviously attract attention. But for the same money as one building wrap, you could buy a campaign of about 100 96-sheets across London. Is one wrap really as effective as that?

Of course, it’s perfectly possible to buy sites like this at the right price, and without encountering any planning problems. Posterscope, as an outdoor buyer, has already put together a number of these deals. While the results have been good, if things continue as they are there are bound to be more problems.

These sites are a potentially brilliant medium – but we mustn’t allow their reputation to be tarnished by Triumph-style incidents, or by greedy pricing which turns advertisers off.

We need more accountability. We need to know that the people selling the sites understand all the issues involved, and we need consistency from one company to the next.

Perhaps companies dealing in giant billboards need to come under the wing of the Outdoor Advertising Association. Or possibly the answer lies in the formation of a new body covering this area, which will assure advertisers of agreed standards in their operations.

Steve Bond is client services director of Posterscope

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