Since creating the “curiously strong” mints campaign for Altoids over 15 years ago, I’ve appreciated the out-of-home (OOH) medium and all it can do for a brand. With Altoids, we took a tiny, virtually unknown confection and turned it into the number one selling mint in North America, all without making one single television commercial. Outdoor advertising took Altoids to places it had never gone before. And vice versa. It was truly a match made in heaven. And one for which I am eternally grateful.
Still, right now everyone is talking about social media. Rightly so. It is a game changer. At its core, social media is about establishing personal connections. But guess what? So is out of home. Frankly, the closer a message is to the street, the more “social” it becomes—and the stronger its connectivity with a consumer. Guerrilla marketing, street theater, wild posters, if done well, are riveting propaganda and among the strongest weapons in all of marketing. This is why, even as mass media fades in its importance to advertisers, OOH remains relevant, even breakthrough.
Unlike other media, out of home has existed since the beginning of time. From day one, nature provided Earth with numerous signs. The creatures of the Earth read these signs and acted accordingly. The leaves turned color. That meant it was time to build a nest, accumulate stores … mate. The sun itself was a moving billboard, motivating animal migration, feeding habits and other rituals.
It was no different for man. Signs governed his every move, heralding good tidings and bad. With man’s growing inquisitiveness, signs took on greater and greater meaning, shaping his belief systems and laws. He needed only to look up and he saw constellations: signs.
As soon as man began making his own signs, creativity was born. Though primitive, man’s need to create signs was intuitive. It still is. We want others to know who we are. What we want. To believe what we believe. To do things our way. Keep out! No trespassing! For centuries, out-of-home advertising has provided humankind a means to achieve its agenda. For better or for worse.
In 1958, Lady Bird Johnson tried to ban outdoor advertising in the United States. Called the Highway Beautification Act, her aim was to eliminate OOH advertising altogether. Despite her good intentions, the law failed. Frankly, Lady Bird couldn’t stop signs from going up anymore than we could stop making them. Creating signs is ritual, ingrained in our humanity. It is who we are.
Like Mrs. Johnson, I too dream of a beautiful America. But without signs? That’s not possible. Or necessary. I believe signs can be compelling, provocative and beautiful. Frankly, they better be. The scenery they are placed in front of oftentimes is.
He blogs regularly at Gods of Advertising.