You have to be crazy to work in media. And even crazier to work in out of home media. Bartho Janse Van Rensburg tells some tall tales.
Legend has it that in the 1970s, billboards used to be 150% sold. Media owners would post an advert on a site, take a photograph, re-post another advert on that same site and bill both advertisers for the same space. We can’t confirm whether this is true or not, but such tales have led to many still referring to the out of home (OOH) media sector as a “cowboy industry”. Isn’t this one of the compelling reasons we enjoy it so much?
Some say that you have to be a little crazy to work in media. This is especially true for OOH. It is somehow more tangible than other media. Its success is dependent on the milieu in which it finds itself at a certain point in time. Conditions such as nature, crime, the political and/or social landscapes, power supplies and authoritative acts all come into play. So, with all these factors, it certainly doesn’t suggest that people in the OOH industry are on the ‘wrong’ side of the sanity scale, but it helps.
Murphy’s Law is also so often at play in this sector, you know ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’. This is especially true when we work on ‘innovative’ developments, something new or original.
Here are a number of classic examples of Murphy having his way with OOH campaigns.
Some time ago, we worked on a campaign for an advertiser that wanted to launch a new product variant with one large-format site. It had to be a newly developed site. After days of brainstorming, numerous proposals to advertisers and further weeks of meetings with potential landlords, we finally had the perfect site – a large building in Johannesburg that would host the advertisement. One last board meeting was required in order for all the stakeholders to vote in favour of the development. Tragedy struck and the untimely passing of one of the board members had us back at the drawing board looking for an alternative site.
There was a construction site nearby and the scaffolding offered the perfect space for an advertisement. Further inspiration led us to propose that we make use of the large tree situated on the property as part of the creative aspect and fill it with hundreds of shimmering fairy lights, adding a touch of elegance to this fine product. The advertiser agreed and we were set to flight a week later. The day arrived and our crews arrived with material and the boxes of fairy lights only to find that the once beautiful tree was felled to make space for the building that would be in its place.
The environment can be deceiving. A site next to a busy arterial road seemed a perfect space to communicate the launch of a new TV/radio station. The site was booked but they didn’t anticipate the proximity of a private family graveyard on the farm that bordered this busy road. Visitors to this piece of sacred land had the slogan ‘Rise up South Africa’ staring back at them.
Even a bit of goodwill can go bad. A media owner converted their billboard’s substrate from vinyl to flex material. He therefore had to reprint on this new substrate to be placed on the billboard. This would be a ‘surprise’ to the advertiser who would be getting a brand new billboard face at no cost. The artwork used, however, was a version used elsewhere not intended for this billboard and when the product’s marketing manager drove through Worcester, a town in the Boland, he noticed that his billboard now read “Welcome to the Indian Ocean”!
There are countless more examples of campaigns that did not go according to plan, as most don’t. It is our priority as OOH specialists to ensure the success of any project. In return, advertisers need to be cognisant that OOH is a medium that relies on much more than handing material to flight/print. It requires patience and understanding of the risks to ensure a fruitful outcome. Great innovative executions are born when all stakeholders (advertisers, designers, media planners, media owners and others) meet to understand all the intricacies.
The old cowboy wisdom needs to be applied: “If you’re running ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure they’re still there. Take the time to slow down and ensure that everyone still has the same vision.
Is out of home media the #WildFrontier? Let us know in the comments what you think of the industry.
Bartho Janse Van Rensburg is OOH unit director at Omnicom Media Group.