Harnessing the power of posters

The biggest beneficiary of the dot-com ad boom has been the outdoor industry, and rightly so, says John Shannon. Campaigns in Europe have shown just how effective the medium can be

When the Internet first appeared, fears were raised that it would divert revenues from traditional media. As we now know, this has not been the case, and traditional media have been among the main beneficiaries as new online companies seek to establish their brands quickly and effectively.

Taking Nielsen figures for May as an example, UK offline advertising expenditure rose by 15 per cent compared with the same month last year. This growth was driven principally by the activities of dot-com, financial services and packaged goods companies.

Among the main winners in this boom has been the outdoor industry, which has seen spending on poster ads rise 62 per cent year on year – proof, if proof were needed, that what has been termed the “last mass medium” remains an attractive option for visibility and frequency.

Evidence that advertising works is much sought after. In this respect, outdoor specialists can turn to a number of initiatives, undertaken on behalf of the industry itself, which have caught the imagination of the public and suggest proof of the pulling power of posters.

Among the top 100 campaigns of the century in France, for example – as voted by the trade magazine CB News – is the case of Myriam, a model who became famous in 1981 as part of a campaign by poster company Avenir publicising the fact that it could renew sites overnight on given dates.

A first wave of the campaign, breaking at the start of August, showed a bikini-clad girl promising to “take off her top” on September 2. On that date, a new poster duly appeared, fulfilling the promise and pledging additionally that two days later she would “take off the rest”. The promise was again kept, albeit with the model turning her back, and the campaign became a national talking piece far beyond the confines of the media industry.

Recently, a similar technique was used by the Swiss outdoor company Société Générale d’Affichage (SGA) to prove the awareness-building power of posters. In July last year, the company launched a two-week campaign, featuring a previously unknown personality, across 4,500 sites spread nationwide. The posters carried no logo, but simply a picture of a mysterious red-haired model accompanied by the question: “Who knows Angie Becker?”

Towards the end of the campaign, SGA carried out a poll which found that spontaneous awareness of Angie Becker was 32 per cent, rising to 74 per cent when respondents were prompted. This figure was the highest ever, beating the previous record-holder, a Benetton poster.

In recent years, the quality of exposure afforded by posters has increased immeasurably, as has the ability to replicate campaigns across countries, whether through centralised or local purchasing. As the Internet age beckons, it is worth noting the contribution that a big-impact, high-frequency medium such as outdoor advertising can make to its growth.

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