Outdoor ads must stand out from the crowd and know their target to maximise impact. Ken Gofton looks at four firms getting it right.


Client: Mark Warner

Creative agency: Soul

Outdoor specialist: Van Wagner

Period: April (phase 2)

This could go down as a classic tale of agency creatives sticking to their guns in the face of client opposition and being proved right.

Holiday firm Mark Warner has doubled in size since 1999. Determined to continue to grow, it put its account out to pitch last autumn, and appointed Soul.

The company claims a higher percentage of loyal customers than is common in this price-driven industry.

Research suggests one reason is that Mark Warner offers a full range of activities, but leaves it entirely to individuals how active or lazy they want to be.

Expressing this freedom of choice was the key to the creative strategy, says Soul's creative partner, Bruce Crouch. But the agency also realised that rejigging the media spend, previously devoted entirely to national press, would release funds for a poster campaign in London. Two-thirds of Mark Warner's customers live in the South.

Soul developed a series of icons to communicate the active/laid-back philosophy, including a tennis ball in an ice cream cone. They are designed to intrigue, and not necessarily to be understood at first viewing.

"We hated them," says marketing director Nigel Ragg. "We told Soul not to bring the icons to another meeting because we would not use them. Now we have to admit they have worked, and done us proud. Growth will be up about 15%. This is remarkably good considering the industry's problems - some companies are down 25% to 40%. A lot of the credit is due to Soul."


Client: The Economist

Creative agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Outdoor specialist: PHD/Outdoor Connection

Period: Early-May

What is there to say about the much-awarded, much-applauded Economist poster campaign, except that it continues to surprise and delight? The 2003 spring burst has just begun, with lines including 'What exactly is the benefit of the doubt?'

The campaign was created in 1986 by David Abbott, and is still being copied today by brands as diverse as The Spectator and Club 18-30.

"Originally, it flew in the face of received wisdom," says Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO board account director Oliver Forder. "The view was that you could not build a brand using outdoor alone, and that a broad sweep medium such as posters was the wrong way to reach a niche audience of AB businessmen. However, we calculated that posters in the City could reach the right people, and communicate in the right tone of voice."

Up to a dozen executions are created each spring and autumn. Some are about the product, some the reader, and some what the product can do for the reader. A few are deliberately more cryptic. In the current batch, one has a fortune cookie revealing The Economist in Chinese characters. "The people who get these in-jokes feel part of the club," Forder explains.

Brand marketing manager for The Economist Jacqui Kean points to the continuing challenge to push creative boundaries while being sensitive to the global, political and social climate.

"Lines that worked in an era of conspicuous consumption, such as 'If you're already a reader, ask your chauffeur to hoot as you pass this poster', would clearly be dissonant today," she says.


Client: Smart

Creative agency: Maher Bird Associates

Outdoor specialist: BJK&E

Period: Early-April

A £2.5m integrated campaign including broadsheets, men's and women's magazines, radio and direct mail was developed by Maher Bird Associates to support the launch of the second generation city-coupe and cabrio from smart.

"Posters have been vital to all this," says MBA chairman and creative director Graham Kerr. "They are seen by people as they drive, or sit in traffic jams."

In all, 3000 48-sheet posters plus 150 six-sheets and seven Transvision screens were used. Distribution was national, but with additional weight in urban areas.

Across all media, the emphasis was on how different the smart car is.

On radio, this was expressed by using music that contrasted with what the listener would expect to hear, such as a blast of heavy rock on Heart.

With outdoor, it was more a case of avoiding the cliches of automotive ads. Instead, the posters featured relatively small cut-outs of the models, and played up the headlines, such as 'Avoid the middle of the road' .

"Being the brand we are, we have to build maximum impact on a challenged budget," says UK head of marketing Sam Bridger. "We don't have the luxury of creating a big TV campaign.

"Posters let us challenge perceptions with headlines that mirrored the brand. The one thing that was key was to reach out to like-minded people.

We don't have the same demographic profile as other small cars. It's attitude that unites smart owners, and the people who buy them absolutely love them."


Client: Adidas

Creative Agency: TBWA/London

Outdoor Specialist: PHD

Period: Second half April

Sports clothing and footwear specialist Adidas uses the international TBWA network for its advertising: offices in Amsterdam, New York and London contribute creative ideas.

Adidas has just introduced Climacool 11, an improved version of its fastest-selling shoe of 2002. It has already been the subject of press ads, a TV commercial and product-based posters, focusing on the technical performance of the shoe.

TBWA/London saw the chance to create something with a bit more emotional pulling power.

The product harnesses technology used by sports cars: air is forced through the shoe via side-vents in such a way that the flow increases in proportion to the intensity of the sporting activity.

Other features include breathable mesh, a ventilated tongue and sock-liners.

Such technical details are not the point of the giant 96-sheet poster created by TBWA/London. Three-quarters of the space is polar-cool, white background. Over at the right-hand side, however, stands England football captain David Beckham, with a pair of Emperor penguins admiring his trainers.

"David Beckham brings an exciting personality and set of attributes," says Matthew Shepherd-Smith, the agency's joint managing director. "He doesn't need to be bigger; his iconic status can carry the poster. But also, the style of Adidas posters tends to be uncluttered."

Wendy Taylor, senior marketing communications manager adds that after the international technical phase of the campaign, there was a need for a more human, emotional approach.

"David wore the product in the TV ads last year," she says, "and we needed to extend that association. The message really is, 'what do the coolest feet in the world wear?', with a double meaning for the word cool."


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