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Billboard creative | Large Format production | Out-of-Home media | outdoor resources | articles
Robert Fleege is a fetaured columnist at www.greatoutdoornetwork.com
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Robert Fleege on billboard creative.
THE IMPORTANCE OF "THE CREATIVE" IN OUTDOOR.
I have been invited to write an ongoing column for the Great Outdoor network newsletter and website focusing on the artistic side of producing excellent billboard advertising. First I want to introduce myself and tell you who am I to write this column?
As former west coast Creative Director of Clearchannel Outdoor I have devoted my career almost exclusively to out-of-home since my early days out of art school in 1993. Since 2000 I have been running a successful freelance advertising agency focusing on outdoor creative. Few people have more billboard and out-of-home executions under their belt. As far as the common outdoor mistakes I have done many of them, experienced most of them, and seen them all. My best work have been awarded by the industry but the only reward I seek these days is the cash kind in form of referrals and repeat business. As a tireless outdoor creativity evangelist writing this column is something I will really enjoy. Along the way it should become very obvious that I passionately believe in the unlimited power and inherent opportunities of the out-of-home media. What makes outdoor so powerful is that it is the only truly public media. The viewer don’t opt-in as you do with TV, print, internet, and Radio. This is why billboards continuously generate so much controversy (more on this in future columns) and makes for an almost dangerously powerful media that in the right hands can achieve amazing results.
Even though the creative standards have taken a giant leap over the last 15 years there are still a lot of bad billboards being produced, especially when you leave the larger metro markets. Bad copy (industry term for outdoor design & content) is costing businesses a lot of money. Hard earned profits are being wasted with bad creative (another industry term for content) not only in smaller cities but also in the most desirable markets where the mistakes are much costlier. I hope that this column will help the readers produce, demand and/or be involved in better creative being achieved.
Why is the creative so important? In a Vince Lombardi way I’d like to say it is not only important, it is everything. Media account executives/sales people and even advertising agencies often stress the importance of location and/or frequency. A vested interest perhaps? One could argue that it is of vested interest for a creative to pitch creativity but then again, if we cared so much about money we’d be wearing suits too. True, picking great location(s) and making sure the message is seen multiple times is important, but the audience does not see the media buy. They only see the creative. Bad billboard copy shown at multiple locations is just that -- bad billboard copy shown at multiple locations. Out-of-home creative is also very unforgiving. If you make a design mistake you pay dearly. If you “throw-up” at your audience listing everything you offer your ad simply will be invisible. Today’s audience is bombarded with messages and has made it the norm to tune out advertising. In other words, unless they know the real estate agent personally they won’t look twice at that big glamour headshot. The only effective counter measure is creativity. Creativity gets you noticed and give the audience a reason to pay attention. Creativity then becomes your permission to pitch. (hint, don’t abuse it) If you don’t go the distance paying your dues (creativity) the audience won’t pay attention and certainly won’t care that you just wasted thousands of dollars of media space.
In this column I will explore what makes great outdoor advertising. I will give you a long list of specific do’s and don’ts and you will acquire the wisdom to know when and how to break the rules. The message to take home from this very first greeting is the importance of the creative. It is what is seen and must be treated as the single most important factor of the whole process. You might think that it is a wasted effort to have a great outdoor concept or campaign in bad locations. Sure, it would be unfortunate not to get maximum exposure of a great campaign, but herein lies the secret to a great opportunity. A great concept even in a bad location will stick out. One inexpensive billboard can generate a massive amount of publicity, water-cooler talk, brand awareness, and most importantly sales. In fact, if a billboard does not generate media ink (coverage), a great opportunity might have been missed. More on this in future columns but the point remains; Creativity beats location and frequency any time.
You might already see the creative light but many advertisers find it hard to justify spending a little extra utilizing a pro (advertising art director and copywriter) when their graphic designer or webmaster was able to fit everything in just nicely. What you get from better creative is increased exposure and increased impressions. A creative outdoor campaign will require far fewer billboards to “cover” a market than a boring campaign. The billboards of a great campaign seem to be “everywhere” regardless of the size of media buy. Last time I checked media was far more expensive than great creative.
I chose to name this column “6 seconds, 6 words” to honor and promote the golden rule of outdoor advertising. (referring to the viewing time and length of recommended message) Yes, the same rule that used to be known as 7 seconds, 7 words. More on the Golden rule next time. Comments on this column are welcomed and appreciated via email email@example.com
Robert Fleege is a freelance advertising art director and copywriter specializing in out-of-home creative and production. Fleege’s clients, (which include small businesses, major corporations, outdoor media companies, and advertising agencies) span from coast to coast and border to border. You can view his portfolio and creative philosophies at http://www.fleege.com Comments on this column are welcomed and appreciated via email firstname.lastname@example.org
©2005 Robert Fleege. Republishing approved with byline and hot link.
The Golden Rule.
The single most important aspect of creating a great billboard is simplicity and respecting the golden rule of outdoor advertising creative; 6 words, 6 seconds. It used to be known as the 7 words 7 seconds but since its conception, the speed limits have increased and more driver distractions have been added. The rule simply implies that you shouldn’t use more than six words to get your point across since you only have six seconds to deliver your message. (that is if you even cut through the clutter and earned an impression in the first place) This doesn’t mean that one can’t make intelligent, complex, and intriguing statements (I don’t understand half the billboards on US-101 in SiliconValley) or that you can’t communicate a technical benefit or feature. You can indeed, but the key concept is ONE. As decorated copywriter Timo Everi of Hasan & Partners, Europe stated: "The number of ideas to implement in advertising design should be odd - and three's too many”
Have you ever experienced somebody throwing two or more balls at you at the same time? Unless you are an expert juggler you probably didn’t catch many, let alone one. Buying billboard media space is like buying the rights to toss logo stress balls at 200,000 people passing by. If you throw one ball at the time chances are most of your audience will catch it and walk away with your message. If you throw two or three different colored balls with different messages at the same time, very few people will catch any of the balls.
“Outdoor is not print even if it’s printed on paper.”
If simplicity, speed, and brevity are so important why then do billboards get so cluttered? The biggest creative problem with outdoor advertising is that advertisers and designers treat it as print. Outdoor is not print even if it’s printed on paper. The real world challenge is how to keep it simple when you are trying to implement a marketing plan thicker than the 9/11 report. Here’s a great lesson I picked up from a fellow outdoor creative early in my career. John Pavao Creative Director of Clearchannel, Cleveland, taught me to take notes at the creative briefing on the back of a business card. Your client will quickly realize that the required information laundry-list is too long. At the very least, at the end of the briefing go over and sum up the “required elements” on the back of a business card. Throughout the creative process you must question everything that’s on the billboard. Are the suggested required elements really required? Why? Just because marketing books tell you to include all your business information in your advertising it does NOT mean a phone number or an address automatically belongs on a billboard. In fact, in most cases (think 95%) they don’t. I realize that not including phone numbers and address information sounds controversial and it is. I will dedicate my whole next column on this phone number/address issue. For the time being however, everything including the phone number and address MUST remain on the usual suspect list of stuff to eliminate. I have built a career around a simple mantra of mine that I would like you to take to heart : The billboard is finished when there no longer is anything to take away.
“The billboard is finished when there no longer is anything to take away.”
- Robert Fleege
In advertising you need to focus on a single idea per ad. In outdoor advertising that’s not enough. In outdoor your “single” idea also must be simple and fast to understand. Once you have decided on an idea or a few separate ideas you will need to start implementing them. It is important that you work with and execute several ideas even if you eventually only need one. The true strengths of the ideas will become clear once you start stripping them down to the bare essentials. You not only eliminate what you can but also question the art. Remove clutter in your visual/photo. Ask yourself; how can I make the photograph faster and more clear. Then you need to rewrite your headline. You start with the “blue-line” headline. What-should-the-headline-say headline. Then you start “saying” it in different, better, and shorter ways. Even when you are working off an already existing great headline. See what happens when you make it shorter. Can you get it down to 6 words. How about 5, 4 , 3, 2 ? Many times the headline improves dramatically when you eliminate a few words. What about the tagline? (often confused with headline) Take it out unless it is part of the concept or “used” as a headline. Make sure it reads well. (not just on your computer screen)
Another great technique is pretending that the audience can’t read or doesn’t understand English. How would you present your message without words(text). One of the best copy (text) free billboards I can think of is the Apple powerbook billboard consisting of a blank billboard (except for product name; POWERBOOK and Apple logo) with a 3D figure sitting on the top left corner of the billboard with a laptop in his lap. (BBDO) Not only was it simple and clever but it clearly communicated the potential and benefits of wireless computing (which was quite new at the time).
Be prepared that sometimes the client will not appreciate your simplicity efforts and suggestions until it is too late. When a busy vinyl is hung, the billboard joins the hundreds of invisible creations that are screaming to be ignored. Sadly and wrongfully the out-of-home medium is blamed. It is up to us, the outdoor professionals to stop these avoidable and ugly creative crimes. The easiest way is simply to prevent your client to view and evaluate your creations up-close. When presenting, post your artwork across the room and politely ask your client not to get any closer. The most simple ads will stick out as the most powerful creations. Hold off the celebrations. You are not off the hook yet. When you are asked (and you will be asked) to just add the phone number and the address you must say politely NO. You will be asked to explain why. Sorry, you are on your own until next the column.
If you really want to test the strengths of your creations you should not only view the artwork across the room but you should only view it for 6 seconds per viewing. To avoid conference room embarrassments (not to mention the street kinds) it is very important during the design process for the designer to get away from the computer screen and evaluate the work printed and posted across the studio.
When Italian artist Michelangelo completed the David statue arguably the statue of all marble statues he was asked how he was able to create such a masterpiece. Modestly he explained that the image already existed in the block and that he simply removed stone that wasn’t needed. With Michelangelo as our inspiration let’s do the same to our outdoor ads. Let’s pay attention to the golden rule and keep it simple. The punishment for ignoring the rule means wasting thousands of dollars. The reward for honoring it and utilizing outdoor for what it is, can lead to massive results, fame, and fortune.
Robert Fleege is a freelance advertising art director and copywriter specializing in out-of-home creative and production. Fleege’s clients, (which include small businesses, major corporations, outdoor media companies, and advertising agencies) span from coast to coast and border to border. You can view his portfolio and creative philosophies at http://www.fleege.com Comments on this column are welcomed and appreciated via email email@example.com ©2005 Robert Fleege. Republishing approved with byline and hot link.
Check out David Bernstein's great book on Billboard advertising.
Robert Fleege is a freelance art director and copywriter specializing in creative outdoor billboard advertising design & production. Out-of-home Posters and transit media. Wallscapes, Bus Posters and bench advertising. Nationwide Media, Creative and production services: Akron, Albuquerque Atlanta, Atlantic City, Austin, Canton, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Worth, Houston, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New Jersey, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Reno, Richmond, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, St Louis, Tampa Bay, Toledo, Washington DC.
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