Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s central square, strums with the music of its many thousands of visitors each day. In that historic place, lattes are sipped, famous fashion houses are admired and tourists photograph the museums and cathedrals built as long ago as 1293. Such is the cultural and economic importance of the buzzing square, that when its buildings need restoration, the city’s authorities ensure that little is disrupted. The ingenuity of the partnership between the City of Milan and the outdoor advertising industry means that hardly anyone would know that renovation was even taking place.
The Arengario Palace in Piazza del Duomo recently underwent a massive five-year refurbishment. A digital building wrap was placed on a construction scaffold in front of the museum, and it mimicked the original facade of the building; at times, however, high-quality fashion adverts and other advertising appeared on the digital building wrap. The benefits of this installation were many: not least that visitors are protected from the dust and dirt emanating from the building site and were still drawn to see the museum, even in an unfinished state.
What is more, the special advertising placements covered the media façade’s capital costs.
Speaking of the building wrap, the city’s authorities said at the time: “A public window into the Milanese community and culture, the façade not only posts advertising, but also showcases the city’s history and art. The shimmering wrap contrasts with the cathedral’s gothic façade, but the juxtaposition also marries tradition and commerce, Milan’s two building blocks.”
What is South Africa’s position on building wraps? Has the outdoor advertising industry embraced the possibilities of this relatively new form; its ability to make an enormous impact in ‘prime’ positions; its relatively low environmental impact; its digital capabilities and its appeal to advertisers as a short-term installation? And does the City of Johannesburg, for example, see the potential of covering much-needed restoration projects of some of the city’s historical, yet terribly dilapidated buildings?
City of Jozi and Out of Home – a marriage made in heaven
Says Barry Sayer, CEO of Continental Outdoor Media, building wraps have a significant impact on the consumer: “Building wraps can be seen as public art installations – they are intended to have a major effect in a short time frame. Usually, these building wraps are also placed in prime positions, usually because they are seen as temporary, and because they have the ability to be installed in ‘sensitive’ places, like ancient churches and museums.”
Sayer suggests that a conversation begins between authorities, heritage custodians and the outdoor advertising industry needs to happen as a tangible way forward.
Beyond the purely commercial aspects of using building wraps as an impactful out of home medium, these could add enormous value to the City of Johannesburg’s restoration efforts, for example. It seems that a leaf can be taken out of Italy’s book – it’s a win-win situation for both the government and the outdoor industry if they work in tandem.
“There is more of a policing culture imposed by the authorities, rather than one of co-operation,” noted Sayer. “It is however the outdoor advertising industry’s responsibility to demonstrate how building wraps over historical renovation sites bring enormous return on investment for the local government.”
But, the Institute of Architect’s heritage representative in Gauteng, Brian McKechnie, is not positive that building wraps would aid urban regeneration in Johannesburg’s inner city. He cites the example of an illegally erected building wrap at a heritage site on the corner of Commissioner and Rissik streets. “There were obviously no plans to restore the beautiful, yet neglected façade of the building. The Provincial Heritage Resources Authority lodged an objection, and eventually the hoarding was removed… after about two years! Sadly, the considerable income from the wrap was going straight into the building owner’s pocket (who) certainly… has no intention to restore the building,” said McKechnie.
He believes that the laws governing building wraps in Johannesburg are too lenient, with the enforcement of outdoor advertising in the city being a “massive problem”. McKechnie feels that at present, building wraps and advertising are a hindrance to heritage preservation and urban regeneration.
The Battle of Building Wraps vs Billboards
However, this might be a long way off, particularly because the South African outdoor advertising environment has traditionally been populated by large billboards (printed and most recently, digitally formatted), free-standing signs, bus-shelter advertising and advertising on commercial vehicles (buses and taxis).
Says Steve Collins of Mediasoft Outdoor Advertising in his blog: “Building wraps… have had enormous impact on the industry. Building wraps present the possibility for maximum impact on a scale not previously considered possible; (they) are arguably the most dramatic graphic format.”
But, note many in the outdoor advertising industry, installing building wraps is a very expensive task. Frikkie Cornelius, CEO of Primedia Africa, says: “Although they can be a substantial investment, as far as achieving high impact and significant visibility, nothing can beat a building wrap.” In fact, Cornelius notes that his company is currently building a 3 000m2 wrap (details may not yet be divulged), highlighting the medium’s possible scope.
In contrast to billboards, building wraps are placed over existing structures with no separate structure needing to be built. Collins says: “(Building extra structures) such as billboards, causes additional obstruction to the skyline and surrounding environment.”
Skyscrapers, such as Sandton City in Johannesburg, are totally transformed by building wraps. Primedia Outdoor’s Wide Open Platform recently adorned the famous landmark with Standard Bank’s Moving Forward campaign. The bank’s message was visible as far as the eye could see. This certainly could not be achieved with a billboard campaign.
Another example of a successful building wrap execution was Impact Media’s Nike “Write the Future” campaign.
Impact Media said in a statement after winning a silver Loerie award for their efforts: “Standing 30 storeys high and 138 metres tall, the installation on Johannesburg’s Life Centre building is the largest interactive digital communications experience on the Johannesburg skyline to date. As part of Nike’s global Write the Future campaign, this towering interactive installation was more than just a regular building wrap.”
This enormous, short-term installation, featured soccer legends Robinho and Ronaldo. One hundred messages from fans all over the world were displayed each evening on the screen, having been sent to a central node that then broadcast them on the wrap. These messages, together with the impressive football stars, were set against an LED installation made up of 207 520 bulbs!
Impact Media’s managing director, Richard Wilkinson, said that the building wrap form enabled the campaign to be “visually spectacular” and that the interactive capabilities of the out of home media form added a whole new dimension to the potential of outdoor installation.
This particular campaign was done back in 2010, so you can imagine the possibilities now. So, whether the city starts to work in tandem with outdoor media companies or not and whether the more traditional billboard companies find favour in wraps, this form or media is taking off in a big way because of the huge possibilities it offers.
This story was first published in the January 2013 issue of The Media magazine.