Saturday, March 28, 2009

How to do good outdoor ads. Some principles.

Outdoor advertising is difficult. It looks simple but it is not. Why? Because it requires the ultimate in communication focus.

With TV, you have time to build a story. You use visual cues, time, movement, story, character building, dialogue and music - all to help you make a point. Radio has some of these advantages too. As does online. Even press gives you more time to make your case, give more information.

Not outdoor. You have to stop your audience, grab their attention and try and get your message across - all in the space of a few seconds before they move on.

So it is not easy. But here are some guiding principles:
  1. Clear Brief. Be very, very clear on what the most important message from your brief was. Most brands have more than one thing to say. They desperately want their audience to know the full story. They feel they are not doing their product justice if they don't try and get a few messages into the ad. They may be right but outdoor media is not good for this. If you have several messages, you may decide to use other media instead. This requires discipline.

  2. Comprehension in every execution. I was taught that every piece of communication needs to hold its own. It is not good enough to say that when you see the TV ad, the outdoor will make sense. This is lazy. If your outdoor is a scene from the TV ad, your audience still need to comprehend the message from your outdoor. The golden rule I go by is: Not understanding the creative is not ideal, but is forgivable. Not understanding the message is not.

  3. Single image. Make sure your visual stands out. From a distance, can your audience see what you want them to see? (And read what you need them to read?) I personally prefer a single image. So for example, in the billboard above, having this single image of a bottle works better than having 4 or 5 bottles. This allows it to stand out better.

  4. Demand colour contrast. The Club Orange bottle does stand out above, although personally I'd have gone for a white background. Think the blue is a bit weak. But at least it is not against an orange or red background.

  5. Aim for simplicity. Your visual should ideally amplify your message. And should be simple. Here the Club Orange ad is good. I'm assuming the brief says something like "Exaggerate the idea that Club Orange is made from real oranges, proved by fact that it has real orange bits". The outdoor ad does this, by showing the bottle cut in half exposing the oranges.

  6. Headline. No copy. You really only have room for a headline. No copy. This depends a bit on the ad format but the general rule is - the shorter your headline, the better. Part of this is a font size discussion. The longer the headline, the smaller you need to make the font. The smaller the font, the less chance it will be read. There are exceptions when headlines can be too big. Although this is less about size and more about the fact the words are competing with the image.

  7. Careful with caps. Unless your headline is just a word or two, don't WRITE YOUR HEADLINE IN CAPS. Caps are difficult to read.

  8. Branding. Make sure your ad is well branded. Don't hide your logo away. Some agency folk will hate this but remember your audience need to associate the message with you. You see your brand every day and you may be sick of seeing your brand properties, but most people hardly notice. As long as comprehension is not compromised, make sure your ad is as strongly branded as it can be. Also, I'd avoid any teaser outdoor campaigns. Teasers assume people will look at the ad, wonder what it is for and be interested. Most people just don't care. Unless you're loaded with cash, I'd keep away from them.

  9. Humour works. I was taught to always be careful with humour. What I think is funny, others might not. But if you know your audience and know what they like, research suggests that an ad that makes them smile will increase recall. Makes sense I guess.

  10. People and animals. Research also suggests that using people and animals can increase recall. I've see research on the bit on people before.

  11. White space is good. Give your headline and your image space to breath. Don't feel compelled to add a sub head if you can avoid it. This will add clutter and decrease readership and recall. Less is more. Keep contrast in mind when placing headlines. If you have white font, make sure none of the headline is against a light background.
Of course there will always be exceptions. Like this. No problem. Once you know the principles, you can make an educated decision about breaking them.

I'll upload some good outdoor executions over the next few weeks. Feel free to send me any you like.


Anonymous said...

Orange on a white background would have given you a Tropicana ad.

Illustrates how difficult outdoor is.

Paul Dervan said...

Good point. I just googled Tropicana and can see the orange on white. I thought I'd seen club orange on white before though.