Outdoor shock tactics: some lessons to be learnt

A number of people have asked me why I haven’t commented here on the furore surrounding the Outdoor Advertising Association’s controversial campaign through ad agency Beta. Frankly, apart from not liking kicking someone when they’re down, fools rush in, and I wanted to comment after the initial noise died down and emotions are in a less heightened state.

Some lessons to be learnt.

If you build it they will come does not apply if there is not a good reason as to WHY people would come. How many existing online forums already cater for sports fans, armchair political activists and mums? I think trying to get significant numbers of real people into conversations within online communities requires more than some controversial slogans on posters. Surely these communities must be seeded well in advance to be buzzing and ready to receive the eyeballs driven by other media activity.

If you’re going to upset someone, know what Pandora’s Box you are opening, mothers and working is a highly emotive issue. Not just in cyber-land, I remember the Daily Mail’s attack on mother, newsreader and presenter Fiona Bruce for returning to work so soon after her second child.

Many clients and agencies do not believe that using shock copy to attract attention is meaningful if the results are then used as research into the effectiveness of the medium. A more “real” use of posters, with brilliant creative of course, would have more credibility.

A trade body’s own members will sometimes use an opportunity like this to announce they are leaving. This not only generates some (trade) PR for themselves but also lets them play goody-two-shoes to the offended party, presumably in the hope of securing some goodwill media budgets.

The agency Beta is in need of some good old-fashioned PR advice to restore their image. Holding-up your hands quickly and unreservedly is definitely a good start, but the mumsnet.com fallout could linger.

If you display a large and highly visible trade campaign, competing media companies will undermine your credibility by implying you can’t sell your media during this period to paying advertisers.

This ill-advised campaign should never have seen the light of day. Fortunately it is unlikely to have caused any significant damage to Out-of-Home media, although it is also unlikely to have attracted any new advertisers to the medium, surely a key part of the whole strategy.