Posters are the oldest medium for commercial and ideological propaganda we have. But despite laudable attempts at innovation – backlighting, lenticular, UV posters, aromatic posters, contravision and more – the format of posters has changed little in more than 150 years.
Posters are just large areas of static space. However, increasingly affordable technology such as the introduction of plasma screens, cross-track projection and the development of electronic ink mean that radical change is in the air. Posters could cease to be a static medium; movement is increasingly common and could soon be the norm.
The strategic and creative implications of this are profound. If we are really clever about how we harness the technology, we can start to revolutionise how posters work by increasing audience involvement. But, it does mean reassessing much that we think we know about the way posters work. Traditionally, posters appear for a defined time period, governed as much by logistical restrictions as by considerations of efficacy.
Once they are seen a few times their impact diminishes and they become little more than wallpaper. Electronic formats side-step this difficulty by improving scope for creativity and allowing advertisers to engage in a far smarter dialogue with the target market. Imagine the current Nike football “secret tournament” campaign unfolding in real time during a fortnight.
The flexibility that this technology could unleash has the potential to reignite the poster medium, allowing us to buy sites for any duration we want from five minutes to a year and to change messages almost at will. This will allow us to engage with customers in a way that, until recently, outdoor media could have only dreamed of.
Clearly the possibilities are immense. But the early creative use of LED screens has been marked by a lack of imagination. Many advertisers do little more than run a 30-second film with the sound turned down. It’s hardly surprisingly this has not been effective. The new screens may move, they may change as often as you want, but it is important to remember that audiences are not captive, they are passers-by.
Ironically, the basic rules of poster creativity still apply. There is, on average, just six seconds to get a message across. That means developing “blipverts” – five-second ads that get to the point quickly. Or you might choose to build a story over time, recognising that people generally pass the same spot regularly. Alternatively, you could enhance static images with some movement; the waving of a palm tree in a travel ad or the movement of a ball can help bring a message alive.
Obviously this technology is going to cost more. It is only worth paying the premium if the medium is used properly. So the challenge for advertisers is to create advertising that fully exploits its potential and finally drags the medium into the 21st century.
Matt Hanrahan is managing partner of Klondike