In My Opinion: David Shearer: Outdoor – the advertising medium of the future?

IN my role, I’m often asked to make some predictions about the future of the media landscape – this is a task fraught with pitfalls; I’m often taken to task about why none of my predictions come true.

Over the years, I have learned my lesson and usually preface any discussions of this nature by quoting Einstein (and why not?): “Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience.” As I have yet to experience the future, how can I possibly know anything about it?

So, having acknowledged the folly of any type of future-gazing, I’m going to do exactly that, by claiming that outdoor (or posters, if you prefer the 20th-century term) will be the advertising medium of the future.

It’s at this point that I must own up to the fact that this is not a wholly original idea; I first heard it from John Hegarty, one of the foremost creative people in advertising – ever. So I feel it is my duty to acknowledge my original source and, after all, who am I to disagree?

Firstly, outdoor has become an increasingly prominent feature of our urban architecture and now comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I’m not going to list them all, but the number of formats is increasing all the time.

I might also suggest that poster formats may be the architecture of the future. They are also becoming all the more sophisticated, with in-built digital capability meaning that posters are now more akin to large-scale television. And, in some cases, you can even choose to interact with them.

This vast plethora of digital solutions in outdoor is beginning to attract all sorts of different advertisers to the medium and the sight of brands (or let’s face it, a semi-naked David Beckham or Kate Moss) in large-scale technicolour is always likely to increase your ‘cool’ quotient with the image-obsessed individuals we all are today.

This ubiquity works well when trying to reach an increasingly urban, mobile and connected population. The overwhelming majority of this population still have to travel to work and regardless of how, or how long, your commute may be, you will be singularly unable to avoid various types of posters.

In the glorious world of advertising, eyeballs (or available audience, if you prefer) attract advertisers’ money.

Another factor that may contribute to the potential success of outdoor is, ironically enough, the increasingly fragmented nature of television viewing in the UK. This doesn’t herald the demise of television (far from it) but there are fewer and fewer big-rating programmes among our schedules these days. Of course, there are still a few commercial programmes that ship audiences in the multi-millions: Downton Abbey, The X Factor, Champions League football and Britain’s Got Talent, to name virtually all of them.

However, it is this scarcity that plays into the hands of the outdoor market. Any advertiser who wants to build their brand quickly with a mass audience is desperate to access the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the commercial television offering. And they’re willing to pay large sums for the privilege! I would contend that this means that these programmes will soon be the sole property of large multi-national brands with advertising budgets to match. A ghetto of Gillette, perhaps?

It wouldn’t be exaggerating to claim that this is already the case with Champions League airtime already.

So, a medium with large scale audiences, many and varied formats, increasingly digital solutions and at a price that makes it broadly accessible, sounds like a medium of the future to me.

Remember, you heard it here first – unless , of course, it doesn’t happen!

David Shearer is managing director of the Edinburgh office of the media planning and buying agency, MediaCom.