It is easy to drive past a billboard without paying too much attention but not so if the entire building has digital images projected onto it…Tanya Farber finds out about the outdoor medium of building wraps.
Now that we truly live in the ‘society of the spectacle’ as imagined by French philosopher Guy Debord, it was a matter of time before buildings themselves were seen as canvases for marketing space. And, one wonders, what next?
According to Richard Bode, who heads up BlueChip Outdoor: “With the abundance of billboard opportunities in high-demand areas, it has become essential for advertisers to break through the clutter. There are so many opportunities still unutilised in this sector.”
But, he adds, every out of home (OOH) campaign should include one large format site that works in synergy with billboards rather than competing with them.
One of the flagship innovations from his company came in the form of an oversized and icy bottle of beer. “The Hunter’s showroom that we did in Cape Town with a 3D Hunter’s bottle and snowscape was a very successful innovation,” he says. “This concept was so well received that it was implemented at one of our other showrooms at 24 Central in Sandton. Great outdoor advertising gets people talking. The two then received exponentially more exposure due to coverage in print media and radio.”
Richard Wilkinson of Graffiti Impact Media concurs, and says that 3D elements and digital technology are being used on an ever-growing scale because of the frenetic competition to be noticed.
Simon Wall of Tractor Outdoor took it a step further in April this year when, for client Emirates Airlines, he erected a billboard (attached to a building in trendy Kloof Street, Cape Town) that is home to a vertical garden that stretches across the ‘continents’.
Taking inspiration from “the early vertical garden installations in Europe and South Africa’s abundant indigenous vegetation”, his ‘creation’ is six metres high and 12 metres wide and is made entirely of wood and vegetation.
In this case, the concept had to grow – quite literally – in public. For others, secrecy is key.
Building wraps are often used to cover up a building while it is undergoing renovation or the gentrification process is taking hold. But, while the building wraps conceal the concrete structures within, advertisers work hard to shroud the wraps themselves in mystery until they are ‘unveiled’.
Wilkinson says Graffiti Impact Media has secured the rights to develop a landmark site in the heart of the Sandton CBD.
“This exciting innovative media platform will go live early in 2012 and it will be the first in Africa’s Manhattan. Watch the area early in 2012!”
Several other OOH agencies declined to comment for this feature, saying that the sharing of information could potentially reveal upcoming ideas and innovations to competitors.
Other industry players are not the only potential threat.
Another one looming on the horizon is the unstable economic situation abroad which, says Wilkinson, could have a domino effect for those in the local industry.
“Demand for building wraps and large format outdoor has remained strong this year despite the economic downturn,” he says, “but next year could be more challenging depending on what happens with the Eurozone situation and the lag affect it may have on our economy. The weaker rand has already resulted in increased production costs as our materials are imported from Europe and our digital technology comes from the USA.”
But by far the biggest cost in this industry is the actual space itself. That might explain why ‘illegal’ wraps, according to Angelika Kempe, owner of Ad-Ops, are so ubiquitous.
Earlier this year, she wrote on the ‘look local’ website that the fines imposed on advertising space trespassers are hardly a deterrent from a financial gains and loss point of view.
“The repercussions of being caught by the department that handles outdoor applications at the City of Johannesburg offices are insignificant compared to the huge revenue stream generated by high impact sites,” she explains.
Johannesburg is, however, in the process of clamping down on illegal sites. Wilkinson says that because of this, council has become very stringent and the permission process “has become tedious”. It sometimes takes a whole year to get a site approved.
“Given the small window of opportunity on some sites, many fantastic opportunities fall by the wayside,” he says.
“The overall regulatory environment requires a full understanding of the by-laws and their application,” says Bode “and we have to work within those confines.”
Because of the complex nature of the by-laws, some companies outsource the role of negotiating around the legalities of any building wrap or other OOH campaign.
BlueChip Outdoor, for example, makes use of Property Development Services, a town planning consultancy specialising in outdoor advertising legislation in over 30 municipalities throughout South Africa.
So what’s the way forward?
“A recent article in the press stated that the City of Johannesburg is facing major financial problems,” says Wilkinson, “and the outdoor advertising industry could make a major contribution to their revenue stream if the by-laws became more reasonable and all parties played by the same set of rules.” Wilkinson says that international research has shown that spectacles of building wrap proportions don’t affect traffic at all so there is nothing stopping South Africa from keeping up to date in the outdoor advertising department.
He says this would stimulate the industry, create more jobs, sell more products and grow the economy as a whole.
“It is time for outdoor media owners to get together to formulate a plan on how to work with council to create a set of ‘world class’ by-laws,” he says.
In a city like New York, OOH and wraps have almost fused with the identity of the buildings themselves and have become part of the city’s landmark characteristics. Times Square is now synonymous with the spectacle of its brightly-lit digital advertising on the sides of its buildings, and 3D elements have also become more and more popular. The Hankook Tire advert launched in October last year, for example, used a giant and eye-catching replica of a tyre which curved around the New York Marriot Marquis Hotel. A year later, it has probably been seen by 35 million people.
In an ironic twist of fate, the blank and foreboding facades of apartheid architecture provide the perfect ‘canvas’ on which buildings wraps can truly come to life. n
This story was first published in The Media magazine.