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Cities without ads? To really appreciate something, imagine life without it

No doubt along with many readers here, I was recently reminded of “Cities without ads” where billboards and posters have been torn down, cited as an affront – ‘visual pollution’ – to the urban cityscapes which they decorate.

Like many ideas, it’s one that surfaces in cycles. While there’s no threat of it happening in London it still gave me pause; so I allowed myself the indulgence to think (just for a moment) about what our city would be like should our industry cease to exist – because often to really understand the impact something has on you, or to use and appreciate it in a new way, it’s best to imagine what life might be like without it.

Imagine a Tube or bus ride without banners, posters or screens. I can see two kinds of people: those who look furtively down at their phone in the hope that they’ll be saved from even the shortest period of being unoccupied; and others who stare absently at a concrete wall or tile with growing apprehension of that day’s first meeting.

Nike campaign London Undeground

Walk out of the station and it would be an even starker scene, as concrete, steel and glass overtake your field of vision. It’s not engaging or warm; and it’s a fair bet to say the infrastructure is starting to show neglect, because the time and money media owners put into the upkeep of streetscapes which house advertising, is now not there.

But setting aside the infrastructure, advertising improves the commuter’s experience by informing and entertaining them on their journey. We know 73% of London commuters prefer buses with advertising, and this is even higher in the Underground with 87% welcoming ads in this environment. This latter fact isn’t surprising when you understand commuters spend an average of three minutes on a platform, and then 13 minutes in a carriage.

What really makes the Underground environment even more powerful is using deep audience insight to deliver attractive, inspiring and relevant content. 

This is what transforms an ordinary journey into an extraordinary one. It allows for the placement of even more relevant advertising in strategic locations. The right content, in front of the right people, at the right place, at the right time.

Irrelevant or inappropriate content stuck in front of the wrong crowd is one of the main arguments given against OOH advertising. But this is an outdated perspective - digital OOH, driven by data, gives brands flexibility to adapt messages almost instantly, and in some cases even quicker than online.

02 campaign London Underground

Going back for a moment to aesthetics and form: there are great examples where advertising has been integrated within urban landscapes. Our own Les Ecrins de Paris billboards are enveloped by a painted cityscape, extending from the wall as if a giant child’s building block jutted out from the rest of the brickwork, which gives the entire iconic space an interesting, yet playful sensibility.

So to re-appreciate and fall even more in love with OOH, do as I did. Strip it all away to bare iron and rock for a moment. Now think of all the people walking placidly past that space, and what we know about them. Put the frame back up and insert an image or video that speaks to those people, who then stop to take notice and fire up their mobile device to make a purchase or find out more.

Then as they walk off, having been entertained, informed or educated in some small way, know that it’s we who do it in a way no other can.

Blog by Shaun Gregory, first published on Digital Marketing Magazine