Saturday, June 13, 2009

Outdoor Ads: How to Keep Out of Trouble

The following article appeared in Adweek and was written by Steve Birnhak, CEO of InWindow Advertising. I must say, despite operating many illegal street level storefront billboards, the company has a concerned vision of their place in the public sphere, which is unusual to say the least. That said, this call for responsibility does not fully address the concerns of the public and is more a guide for trying to stay out of trouble.

What I'm not sure Steve, or the InWindow understands, is that advertising doesn't have to be aggressive, lewd, or out of place, to be aggressive, lewd, and out of place. In this article Steve talks about certain types of advertising which take advantage of new technologies and which have the potential to be "annoying". He is right. Loud, shocking, moving, bright, distracting, and arresting advertising is being fought by public advocacy groups all over the country. Digital ads especially are being questioned time and time again because they are distracting and potentially dangerous to the public.

Because these forms of outdoor advertising are new, they are immediately questioned by the public. Confronted with them for the first time the public must okay their addition to our shared spaces and in many cases we aren't granting them the right. Steve, running InWindow, I assume believes his advertising ventures to be socially acceptable and not obtrusive. They are after all silent, still images, often a mere 80' by 30' tall. What I think is misunderstood is that the public, put in a position to question the legitimacy of all outdoor ads would likely do so. The billboards, phone kiosks, bus stops, newsstands, subway platforms, subway cars, taxi toppers, bus ads, corporate graffiti etc. are no less obtrusive to us, they are simply too much a part of our city fabric to be noticed. In fact they are just as out of place as the new technologies which are meet with such strong opposition.

PublicAdCampaign hopes to not only fight new forms of insidious corporate messaging, but also shed light on the public's right to curate its the shared public spaces. We can as a whole, determine the look and feel of our public environment, our concerns and our desires, despite how fixed in place many aspects seem to be.

VIA Adweek

Feb 9, 2009 By Steve Birnhak

Not too long ago, outdoor advertising was thought of as a static medium defined by billboards and lifeless signage on highways, buses, phone booths and the sides of buildings. While the interactive nature of other facets of advertising dramatically increased, outdoor was not believed to be a tool for actively engaging the target and, short of incorporating some kind of lascivious or shocking content, creating memorability.

In a relatively short time, however, outdoor has caught up. Today's marketers can zap coupons, promotions and all kinds of content to a passerby's mobile phone using Bluetooth technology. Ads can respond to the movements and gyrations of the pedestrian, causing them to not only notice an ad, but also to spend time in front on it. Holographic and augmented-reality technology, like those recently introduced in street-level, storefront displays are sure to capture attention.

As with any other segment of advertising, some of the strides made within the outdoor niche have been met with controversy and opposition. The new technologies and tools available to marketers seeking compelling and noticeable outdoor campaigns have also created challenges and landmines that need to be heeded so as to avoid unwanted attention from angry residents or politicians looking to make a name for themselves on the local news.

There are some fairly easy ways to avoid trouble:

Consider the neighborhood: Is it residential or commercial? Determine whether the neighborhood is more likely to be quiet during the day and vibrant at night or the other way around. Think about noise sensitivities if your display uses sound. Adjust the "live" hours of your display to ensure that it is not disruptive, but still active during peak traffic hours.

Mesh with the neighborhood: You should also take into account whether the cosmetic nature of the display not only meshes with the look and feel of the neighborhood, but also contributes to its aesthetic quality. If you're not familiar with the neighborhood, a good idea would be to speak with someone at an outdoor ad firm who is an expert in the area so you can determine ahead of time whether your display is likely to cause any problems.

Use technology properly: In terms of technology use, recognize that as useful as something like Bluetooth can be for instantly connecting with a passerby, it also could be annoying if used improperly. The teenager returning from high school might love to receive, via Bluetooth, an offer to trial the latest kung fu video game. But will the middle-aged stockbroker? Again, consider the general populace of the target neighborhood when deploying a Bluetooth enabled feature.

Avoid repetition: Finally, ensure that you are not pinging the same person repeatedly since many people often walk the same route each day and, if they are not interested in your promotion, they will not want it offered to them time after time.

Keep things cool: A general note on deploying any interactive technology: ensure your feature, cool as it may be, will not cause any kind of "freak out." Avoid anything that has the potential to startle an adult, scare a child or even enrage a dog, such as loud sudden noises or unexpected movement. This is especially important for displays that are active at night and in urban areas where most people are even more sensitive to surprises.

The opportunities in outdoor continue to evolve, becoming more dynamic and exciting. But like anything else, they must be pursued carefully and with respect for the surrounding environment to take full advantage of the opportunity and avoid any adverse outcomes. And when pursued in this manner, the potential with outdoor to engage the consumer in meaningful, active and creative ways has never been greater.

Steve Birnhak is founder and CEO of Inwindow Outdoor. He can be reached at

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