Is the writing on the wall for flyposting?

Concerns that flyposting is giving advertising a bad name have forced the industry to redouble its efforts to stamp out the practice, says Lucy Barrett

The outdoor advertising industry has taken a great deal of care and gone to a lot of expense to clean up its act. Not just in terms of accountability, but in investing millions of pounds on sprucing up billboard sites. But there is still one thorn in outdoor’s side – illegal flyposting.

A walk down most city backstreets will reveal flyposters or “streetposters” as they are sometimes called, flaunting well-known brands, including Boots, Calvin Klein, NatWest, Revlon and Selfridges. The practice is almost without exception illegal, yet more and more usually respectable companies are allowing their brands to be carried on flyposters, and seem either not to know of or care about the consequences.

Two weeks ago the pharmaceutical company Ansell Healthcare flyposted London with a campaign called “ishaggedhere.com” for its Mates condom brand. The campaign has angered local councils, for whom flyposting is an expensive menace which they then have to clean up using taxpayers’ money.

The same campaign has also incurred the displeasure of two of the big four billboard companies after the flyposters were pasted on to their legitimate billboard sites covering existing campaigns (MW May 8).

Maiden Outdoor managing director David Pugh took action after one of his company’s 96-sheet sites was almost half-covered by a large flyposter. Pugh has written to Ansell managing director Mike Bennett demanding that the company pay &£2,000 in compensation or face legal action for criminal damage to his site.

Pugh believes the best way to deal with flyposting on his sites is to contact the advertiser directly to demand compensation, rather than contact the organisation responsible for distributing the flyposters. “It is often some junior person in a marketing department who is responsible for it, who thinks their brand is going to get street cred by flyposting,” says Pugh. “We tried talking with the companies that flypost but that failed, so now we stop it at source. The management of these companies often have no idea that what their marketing department has done is illegal.”

For local authorities recourse through legal action is often long and convoluted. Under Town and Country Planning legislation, flyposting is defined as unauthorised advertising and local authorities have to give written notification to the flyposter companies that they have 48 hours to remove the flyposters before legal action is taken. If this is not done the local authority can either pursue criminal prosecution, a route rarely taken, or issue an invoice to the flyposting company for the cost of the clean-up operation, which if not paid is taken through the civil courts.

Senior advertising industry figures claim to be pursuing ways to stop flyposting. “In this era of corporate social responsibility, I don’t think brands should be involved in criminal activities,” says the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) director general Hamish Pringle.

Diabolical Liberties, the ambient media company responsible for the ishaggedhere.com flyposters, claims there is a demand for the medium and says it is working with several regional councils, including Liverpool and Edinburgh, to sanction flyposter-only sites.

Diabolical’s new business director Maryanne McNamara denies her company deliberately pasted the Mates flyposters across legitimate advertising boards and claims that flyposting is no different to big outdoor companies erecting “poster sites without planning permission”. She claims flyposting is popular because “for the fraction of the price of an outdoor campaign advertisers can target a young market”.

But Clear Channel chief executive Stevie Spring says: “Some advertisers may see flyposting as edgy, but there is little proof that ads have been posted.” McNamara denies the medium is unaccountable. Mike Taylor a partner at media communications agency Monkey agrees: “Flyposting’s accountability has changed. We only deal with street poster companies that guarantee the campaign does not offend and is not posted over traditional formats.”

IPA rules state that member media agencies are not allowed to include flyposting on any media schedules. But the actions of others could ruin the reputation of the outdoor industry as a whole, as Posterscope managing director Steve Bond explains. “There are far too many ad agencies supporting it [flyposting], and because some councils put it under the banner of outdoor it is going to cause us problems.”

The IPA’s Pringle fears that consumer lobby groups will use flyposting as justification for their cause against advertising. He says he will make it clear to IPA members that flyposting is illegal and adds that repeat offenders may have their membership of the IPA reconsidered.

All well and good, except that the majority of these campaigns are booked by public relations agencies, which are not bound by IPA rules – although Pringle says he will be raising the issue with the Public Relations Consultants Association.

The IPA, outdoor specialists and media owners may be outspoken on this issue, but the fact remains that few flyposter companies, advertisers or their agencies are prosecuted for their actions, and companies such as Diabolical seem to have almost beaten the system.

However, their days may be numbered if they continue in the same vein says Pringle, who warns: “We will put a great deal of our resources and energy into closing down their activities, in partnership with the Outdoor Advertising Association, advertisers, local authorities and central government”.

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