When will Pakistani advertisers start paying due creative deference to the outdoor advertising? Rafi Abidi poses the question.
In Pakistan, radio is TV and outdoor is print. Or, at least, that is precisely how most creative agencies treat radio and outdoor advertising. As to why things are the way they are, the reason is simple: when adaptation is an acceptable rule of the game, then why would people invest extra time, effort and hours into starting the creative process from scratch?
After spending almost two decades in the local advertising and media industry, I feel obliged to reveal a couple of things hitherto unknown to those who create and approve such adaptations: radio sets do not have TV screens and people don’t read billboards the way they read newspapers.
Although, radio, too, is considered as part of the ‘out of home’ (OOH) media canvas, this article focuses on conventional outdoor media and the importance of the creative in outdoor advertising.
So how significant is the creative in outdoor advertising? In a James Bond way I would like to say: It is important, damn important!
When someone asked Michelangelo how he made his statue of David, he is reported to have humbly replied with: “It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.” In other words, creativity is a simple process; what is not needed should be taken away from what is being created.
Outdoor advertising is all about concision. And, the most important element to keep in mind while designing the creative for an ad panel is the golden rule of six words, six seconds.
On average, ad displays enjoying good ratings offer their audiences a viewing window of six seconds. As the human brain reads words as images and with an average time of one second per word, a good creative for a decently rated outdoor display should not contain more than six words of copy. If the outdoor display is not a prominent one, then the number of words should go down in accordance with the viewing duration.
Yet, most billboard ads that I see in this country consist of verbose headlines; some even have a couple of lines of body copy leading into the header. Then, of course, you have the product shot, models, client’s logo, their contact numbers, their Facebook page address, their Twitter handle, their website address, price tags, disclaimers and dates in case of a limited offer tactical campaign. With due respect to the word ‘information’, this is sheer overload!
So, people of the creative community, spare your audiences! And, spare them the details that come with those unnecessary words that challenge their cognitive and reading capabilities. We don’t live in community comprising of savants who are gifted with the talent of being able to scan and retain that much information in a matter of a few seconds. If you must adapt a print ad for an outdoor campaign, keep editing the ad until there is nothing left to take away from it. Billboards that are designed to throw multiple messages at their audience end up leaving hundreds of thousands of people juggling with those messages and eventually dropping all of them.
Now, billboards aren’t cheap. Each one costs hundreds of thousand rupees per month – some even cost a million plus! And, while the audience doesn’t really care what information they retain and what they don’t, the advertisers should feel the pain of losing millions of exposures and the money that goes into funding a lavishly designed outdoor advertising campaign.
If the purpose of advertising is to communicate with an audience, then what good is a creative that fails to do so? Yet, surprisingly, there is a whole industry that is flourishing despite debasing the word ‘creativity’.
And, that’s just the commercial side of what a bad creative can cost a brand. Evaluating design from an ethical angle, the severity of losses faced by a brand can be much more serious.
Have you ever thought about an outdoor creative costing someone their life?
Consider this. I received a phone call from a friend who had just returned home after going to the cinema. Instead of talking about the movie, the first thing she said was, “Oh my God! Have you seen the Vaseline ad at the KPT underpass?”
Later in the conversation she explained how she was distracted by that never ending ad panel placed parallel to the road and how she miraculously escaped bumping into the car in front of her when the driver slowed down, perhaps, trying to see the overwhelming advertisement that almost surrounds its audience at 270 degrees.
I wonder why no one takes notice of such outdoor displays that can be a serious traffic hazard and risk putting people’s lives in danger. Both, as an audience and an outdoor media industry veteran, I can only term the KPT underpass wall wrap as a fatal distraction – a tragedy waiting to happen. Are the brand custodians willing to pay the cost associated with this act of wilful negligence?
Returning to the main issue, the complexities of design for an outdoor are fairly simple. All one needs to understand is that this medium is about simplicity, speed and brevity. Unfortunately, to incorporate these three basic elements on a two-dimensional canvas isn’t just anybody’s job. There is a reason why other countries have specialists who are dedicated to creating effective campaigns for billboards and other outdoor advertising displays. And, yes, they charge a lot more than your regular creative guy who only knows how to resize a print ad to make it look like a billboard design. Do we even have such a resource in this country? No, we don’t.
In a cost conscious market – where creativity is valued on the basis of floating minimum tariff cards – who, in their right state of mind would value a design specialist who is far more expensive than your regular creative resource? Well, that explains why our local outdoor advertising industry stays perpetually dazzled by its own mediocrity, doesn’t it?
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to ‘create’ means the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a solution to a problem, a method or device, or an artistic object or form. This definition highlights two primary aspects that are mandatory for any process to be termed creative: newness and relevance. By applying this basic understanding to the process of creating billboard ads, one can easily deduce that adaptation of print ads just won’t cut it in today’s highly competitive environment. The creative for an outdoor ad display should not be treated solely as an adaptation and must always be relevant to the medium it is designed for.
Rafi Abidi is the founder of Sign Source. firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in the January-February 2013 issue of Aurora.