Planes, Trains - and Billboards | ...Gasp!

Planes, Trains

and Billboards

I was travelling back into and across London late on Sunday night, tired, yet pondering what I could blog on this week. My ghost-like train cut through the rain in a disinterested manner. The only other passenger was a teenage lad with a wide-brimmed bowler hat and hair like Robert Plant. As we pulled into Romford station, I peered out into the gloom and faintly discerned a billboard that asked me, “Who needs Twitter?”

Is social media now an intrinsic, inseparable part of advertising and marketing?

Being a Luddite, of a fashion, I was immediately drawn to whoever had conceived this. But the lighting and rain were so bad, that the only other copy I could make out was the, “Made of London,” slogan at the end of the board, which struck me as strong. So I noted it for later, along with the sad irony of this soaked billboard’s bold question, lost amid its desperate need for more public awareness.

The question posed by the enigmatic billboard got me thinking more generally; is social media now an intrinsic, inseparable part of advertising and marketing? The short answer is yes, of course. Any successful campaign that is in another medium will always get linked to and commented on via social media regardless. But can any agency or company worth its salt afford to not use it directly?

I am a little anti-social media, I must say, but I’m getting better. I like twitter, its fun and liquid mercury current. I recall an exchange I had with Stephen Mangan, where I enquired if he was related to Francis Mangan, the haulage driver based in Northwest Dublin. Turn’s out he wasn’t. I don’t like Facebook though. It was after I had drilled three people deep into one of the many six degrees of separation time-waste-warp-holes (back in the heady days of slack security settings) that I realised I had to quit. I was looking at photos of a distant friend’s, cousin’s, step mother’s third wedding, thinking that the uncle was looking well, in comparison to the Sardinia holiday photo album from two years previously, when my conscience slapped my frontal lobe.

So I bailed. But more fool any agency/company that does the same. There is too much to be gained, with crowdsourcing being a great interactive crucible, for example. The crux is not to ask whether or not to use social media, but thinking of genuinely excellent ideas first. If the idea is good, the medium can project it. But it can also undermine it. Be it a billboard, your printing, the acting in your advert, your pithy tweets, whatever it is, if it is not done well your concepts won’t resonate out into the world. And don’t be afraid to go with one idea if you truly believe in it. Dave Trott has written a great recent blog on the notion of being confident in your ideas, enough to pitch just one great idea.

Just harking back to last week, the Dutch Direct Mail pitch of ours ended up being just one, good idea. Well conceived and thoroughly polished, it was received exceptionally well. If you have three ideas, surely you know which one is best?

So I arrived at Waterloo with “Made of London,” still fish-hooked into my memory, and I googled it to discover that it is the latest phase in a Fuller’s ad campaign, a brewery most famous for their London Pride ale.

Having read up on it and seen the visuals I think it is a good campaign. It looks well. It feels authentic, conveying Fuller’s rich thread through London’s tapestry. I was born in Greenwich (Meantime Brewery. Pop into the Greenwich Union pub, its lovely). My Dad is a black cab driver. I’ve read Peter Ackroyd’s books on London, the Thames and what lies underground, and simply just love the city and the sadly diminishing old pubs. So this advert was very much a bit of me, even though I could not initially see it.

I suppose the lesson here is to make sure your tools and mediums of expression are sharp. Not really Fuller’s fault on the billboard, but then you need to make sure your suppliers and subcontractors are capable of communicating your vision.

My second train got stuck outside Clapham junction, where I observed a huge, impressive billboard. A reminder that they are not advertising has-beens. They don’t have to be bland and unremarkable.

They can still be used innovatively and rendered awe-inspiring, like this one from British Airways:

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But this one I saw was for Emirates. Aglow with a bright light emitted from a row of spotlights, akin to a runway at night, the plane appeared to be mid take-off, leaving the restrictive rectangular billboard. “Hello tomorrow,” it said. Chasing tomorrow is the game we are in.

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