Outdoor is in fashion, so why try to fix something that isn’t broken?

Posters have been used in advertising for centuries because they are simple and effective. Moving images only serve to complicate matters, says Ian Bohn

Outdoor advertising has virtually doubled its share of display revenue over the past ten years, so why are people constantly looking for new and more complicated versions of the medium?

There has recently been a surge of initiatives to bring the moving image into out-of-home. Screens have been installed at transport hubs, railway stations, airports, Post Offices, shopping malls, on trains, buses, in taxis and even in your local supermarket, each with varying levels of success.

The problem is that many of these break the basic rules of a good poster by demanding dwell time and overcomplicating the communications process. The essence of outdoor media has not changed much conceptually since its beginnings. It’s about capturing attention through a mix of location, orientation, physical size, traffic flow and, crucially, creativity.

At the outdoor conference in Barcelona in September, Ivan Pollard presented Robert Heath’s research suggesting that the delivery of poster messages, taking minimal effort to assimilate, leads to longer-lasting memories. This provides strong evidence for the enduring effectiveness of traditional outdoor.

Yet the new moving images are a different type of medium. It is clear that screen advertising requires greater attention, while the need for dwell time to assimilate messages can work against the interests of the hosting company. For instance, Maiden’s Transvision on mainline railway stations works well because it is targeting outbound travellers waiting for their train. The location is right and the programming relatively fast-moving to suit the demands of the audience.

Yet the much heralded but as yet undelivered XTP project planned for London Underground would deliver audience dwell time, but with persistent interruption from the trains.

And consider in-store screens. In an environment where the retailer requires shoppers to move around the shop making purchases, you do not want to create blockages in the “power aisles”. The only real dwell time is queuing at the checkout, too late to bring in extra cash at the till.

So what should we be looking at for the future? One area must be giant banners, which have enjoyed exceptional growth over the past five years. This is an obvious development area owing to the impact created by size, often in prime city-centre locations where other large-format advertising can no longer reach. The public likes giant banners and claims to remember them better than other outdoor formats.

So don’t get carried away with the new technology options in outdoor. Posters have survived in essentially the same format for so long because they are simple and both advertisers and audiences find them easy to understand. In today’s ever more hectic and complicated world there’s a lot to be said for these types of benefits.

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