Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ads for the great outdoors.

         Advertising is, ultimately, persuasion. It's not information, it's not news, it's not entertainment. Although all of those can be put to use if they help persuade.

         One of the biggest challenges, literally and figuratively, is the category called "outdoor". The big billboards we see on the highways and boulevards, the painted walls on the sides of buildings, and the smaller boards we see near supermarkets and on city streets.

         There used to be two types: paints and posters. Now most are actually huge computer print-outs, stretched between the frames.

          The first thing to keep in mind is that most billboards are see from cars driving by at 50 miles an hours or so. They have to be very simple. The Outdoor Advertising Bureau suggests using seven or eight words. The good news is that most people drive the same route every day, so they see your board often.

          Outdoor is often called the "reminder medium", because it's hard to introduce a new product so simply. The car companies use outdoor to show their new models, but use TV and magazines for the heavy lifting.

          The best outdoor advertising, like all print advertising, relies on how the words combine with the visuals. One of the all-time greats was a board for the VW "bus". It showed seven or eight nuns, in their habits, getting out. The headline: "Mass transit". When you put the words and picture together in your head, it was a delightful discovery.

          As a young copywriter in Detroit, I was called to a meeting about our client Chevrolet. It seems President Lyndon Johnson's wife felt that outdoor boards were spoiling the vistas of the great outdoors. Chevy was the biggest user of outdoor ads at the time, and wanted a response. What should we do?

         We had to create boards that didn't spoil the scenery, and maybe even contributed to it. We did beautiful designs that saluted the wide open spaces in words and pictures. My own contribution was a board that hat only the word Chevrolet atop the frame --- and everything inside cut out and removed. You would look right through it and enjoy the scenery.

         Somehow, the problem soon dissolved, but it was fun to try to solve it.

         Try writing some outdoor boards for a product you like, with no more than eight words. See what a good exercise it is.

         And it better be persuasive!

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