Advertisers embrace ambient opportunities

As companies look to ever more pervasive ways to get their message across, Nigel Mansell looks at the history of new opportunities for the ambient sector

Five years ago, in an article in this very publication, we at Concord coined the term”ambient” to describe a wide range of non-traditional, advertising opportunities that existed outside the home. Until then, these had dismissively been referred to as “fringe media”.

Then, many people were sceptical about ambient’s long-term prospects, but the medium’s growth speaks for itself. In Concord’s annual report – Ambient Media 2000 – we forecast that spending on ambient will secure &£84.2m of client expenditure, compared with &£17.4m in 1994.Ambient is now the fastest growing component of the UK’s top growth sector, the “outdoor” market.

The success of ambient is underlined by the list of blue-chip clients who are now loyal supporters of the medium. In 1999, the top five ambient advertisers were Mars, Vodafone, Unilever, Nestlé and Kellogg. Behind these big spenders comes a list of other household names from every major marketing sector. Ambient’s growth is the result of a number of factors. Perhaps the most significant of these, is its ability to get through the defences of people used to blocking out traditional media messages. By studding a mixed media schedule with eye-catching and unexpected ambient ideas, the overall tone and feel of a campaign can be adapted or enhanced at a reasonable cost. Combining the inspirational qualities of ambient with the accountability and effectiveness of outdoor has been the real success story of the past five years.

Creativity has been another important factor in ambient’s advance. Often, the quirkier the idea, the greater the impact. EMAP’s campaign for Leeds radio station Aire FM in football club toilets is a classic example.

After David Beckham was famously sent off during Euro ’96, ads above urinals invited fans to “Give Beckham a Warm Welcome”. As men relieved themselves, a heat-sensitive, printed mat in the urinal revealed Beckham’s face. Whatever the merits of the campaign in terms of taste, it was spot-on for the laddish culture sweeping the nation at the time.

Ambient owes a great debt to the development of trolley advertising and washroom posters, now nationally established media. But it is also driven by an army of media owners introducing innovations to venues such as garage forecourts, shopping malls and tube stations. For the future, building wraps, phone boxes, traffic lights and lamposts look set to become nationwide ambient media formats.

Our research pinpointed 300 formats offered by almost as many media owners and found ambient lent itself to a significant majority of them. Ambient’s diversity may prove its weakness should the medium become labour intensive and uneconomic to plan and buy, but its cause will be helped by a website, courtesy of Blade and Optimad.com.

Nigel Mansell is managing director of poster specialist Concord

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