Now that’s what I call Outdoor

Last year a good friend of mine who is an academic told me I needed to read a book called Culture and Prosperity by John Kay, a leading economist and FT columnist. Subtitled “Why some nations are rich but most remain poor”, Kay explores why market economies outperform socialist or centrally directed markets, “an important contribution to the post-1990’s reassessment of capitalism” penned one critic.

Although the book is hardly what I would call a rollicking good read, I found myself using ideas explored in the text in a wide range of conversations. One section that caught my eye started with the phrase: “In the 1970s, economists struggled to explain the increasing prevalence of costly but contentless advertisement in the market economy” and “biologists puzzled to explain the ubiquity of costly but pointless displays in nature”

Hugely simplistically, he hypothesises economists and biologists working independently came to similar conclusions. Displays of extravagance (showing-off) are important in all relationships, whether it’s a peacock’s flamboyant displays, advertisers demonstrating a willingness to indulge their customers or even women dressing to impress each other.

Now I am not suggesting wasteful advertising is always a good thing. However, with return-on-investment being at the top of the agenda of many advertisers and their agencies, I believe there is still a place for showing-off. This has commonly, perhaps mistakenly, been put forward as “brand” advertising rather than other marketing aimed at directly selling a product, where return on investment can be measured.

Creative agencies come up with ideas that lend themselves to places they’d like to show-off in. We’ve all seen example such as TV commercials deliberately displayed in “event” shows, whole covers of newspapers “wrapped” by advertising and special build poster sites.

I don’t think these are about adding up the cost of doing the advertising and comparing that directly to how many extra pairs trainers, cans of drink, or mobile phones you sell. It’s more about demonstrating to your customers you are willing to invest your resources in a continued relationship with them, because otherwise the advertising would serve no purpose.

Outdoor advertising competes well in the cost versus value context that determines media planner’s selection of the right media channels to reach the consumers they are targeting.

But, billboards, building wraps and digital are some of the greatest show-offs possible. When you’re outdoors it’s nearly impossible not to see some of the most prominent displays particularly when they are plastered with an arresting visual image and/or slogan.

One example that epitomises this is the Ocean Outdoor “Two Towers” giant LED screens straddling the M4 close to central London. Bean counters would question why you would want to display in stereo what could equally well be done in mono, one side only. This misses the point, one side is OK, two sides “Now That’s What I Call Outdoor”. Anyway that’s what one outdoor buyer told me last week, and he is normally regarded as being as price (and value) driven as anyone.

It’s about time Outdoor collectively trumpeted the premium and Peacock nature of much of what they can offer to advertisers nationwide, not just by the M4.

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    Thanks for the compliment Ivan, but I don’t really consider myself an “academic”, just someone who enjoys nothing more than a bloody good read!

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    Robin Wight’s book is very good on the psychology of display – he introduces the idea of what he calls the “reputation reflex”. The peacock’s tail is the analogy from nature.

    There are quite a few perfectly rational reasons why we should prefer to breed with (or do business with) organisations which visibly have resources to spare. And hence there are certain kinds of messaging where the addition of factual or apparently persuasive content may make the communication LESS effective, since by making the ad functional you are reducing its power at communicating extravagance. Luxury goods brands, most notably, almost never say anything factual at all.

    One really important conclusion to draw from this may be that the act of advertising may sometimes be more communicative than the content of advertising.

  • Ivan Clark

    Jezza, I was not a reader of the Independent either but who else can you trust for your long-form news? I don’t want the Guardian’s medicine and what with the NI titles under a cloud and the political positioning of the other broadsheets not for me, I wish the Independent well. Ivan

  • Chris Worsley

    I very rarely read any newspapers these days but I must admit when I do it is the Independent so I too wish them well. Having said that I have always found Hari a bit overbearing and more suited to the Grauniad which I gave up reading 15 years ago. The Observer seems to have been subject to a coup by stylists and interior decorators and as for the rest… thanks.

    We only read ‘newspapers’ to have our prejudices reinforced as far as I can tell and what’s the point of that?

  • Jeremy Lee

    The Guardian’s as pernicious as the Daily Mail. And NI is very tarnished as you say. Never managed to get into Indy – never seen the point. Perhaps I should try it again but Laurie Penny gives me a pain. You read her rants on Twitter? Ridiculous

  • john lush

    You seem a tad caught up with a single journalist, who though did wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, it was pretty minor. Try the Indie for a whole week, and try to understand the brand/product. Its well balanced, unlike many of its competitors, and gives a rounded in depth view on the world. Change always unnerves some people, however the Indie changes are well thought out, and bring a better flow to the paper.

  • jason frost

    Love the re-design and the politics – if only the Sport section was better and bigger.