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Driving Creativity in Out-of-Home Advertising

By Jimi Awosika.

I doubt if there is anyone here who is not familiar with Nollywood and a popular term in the Nollywood lexicon called “waka pass” played by actors.  It is the equivalent of a “walk-by extra”. And as you will expect, it is not a distinction that an ambitious actor will want to have on his resume. It is by far inferior to a supporting role and can definitely not be misconstrued to be equal to a “Cameo appearance”.

In essence a Waka-Pass is an actor that nobody takes notice of and so nobody remembers and so in the movie-grading tracker;a “Waka Pass”is an actor of no grade at all.

Now, let’s get on with the subject of the importance of creativity in outdoor campaigns.

May I ask;when commuters go past an outdoor ad and they find that nothing about the ad attracts or captivates them, will we be right to say that the ad is “Waka Pass”?

Let me repeat the question but this time being personal.

When commuters go past your outdoor ad and they find that nothing about your ad attracts or captivates them, will we be right to say thatthe campaign you created is “Waka-Pass”?


Imagine what this does to a brand!

And since the paying Clientsare human, I believe that such emotions as regret or even the urge to sack the agency will be stirred up in their hearts.

So when was the last time that you saw show-stopping adverts outdoors, ads that made you want to drive or walk by that route again; even though you had nothing of particular interest than your desireto see the ad once more?

It is against this background that the notion of GIGO applies to the subject matter that we are discussing this afternoon.

GIGO (garbage in and garbage out) posits that the integrity of output is determined by the integrity of input.

This presents the question before all of us here, advertising agencies, clients, industry regulators and consumers, this last category being everyone.

The question is; “Are we impressed with the quality of the creative input; with regards to the level of creativity of our outdoor campaigns?”

As professionals, we must introspect deeply on our identity strength and leverage it to make contributions that refine societyand define the march of our civilization.

This is because we are not mere“communications practitioners”.

Beyond the semantic implications that the word “creativity” conjures in the marketing and marketing communications disciplines respectively, there is a nuanced morality to the word.

Ladies and gentlemen, the evidence that I see, leads me to believe that we have a problem!

Great anxiety has come upon our industry as the phenomenon called the MCW (million-channel-world) has happened on us; bringing about what I will like to describe as the democratization of noise through the increase of channels.

For example, how do you remember an ad that you see in the midst of the lights and glitz of such places as Times Square in New York or Tokyo’s Glittering Ginza?And if this is too far-fetched, you may want to consider even a digital mega board on one of our inner-city roads in Lagos.

Largely, our present experience is that when outdoor campaigns are not staid posters, most of the ads on digital boards are either repeat placements from television- a structurally different medium altogether from the outdoor medium- or flashes and scrolls that run so fast across the screen.The conclusion that you can make of the effort is that all that the advertisers seem to want is to merely register their presence among the visual noise on the street.So the purpose of the investment is defeated because there is no remarkability achieved.

Even remarkability is only the beginning because theprofuse proliferation of technologies has brought forward new possibilities for previously existing channels and formats.The Holy Grail for outdoor campaigns; in fact all campaigns, is the word “Engagement”.
Consumers want to experience a brand and not just be sold to.

Let me pause so I canshare what I consider three show-stopping outdoor campaigns.

OBI- The Renovated Billboard:

Miserior- The Social Swipe:

Apotek-Blowing in the Wind:

You will agree with me that what we have just seen is creative storytelling on steroids.

Notice the emotions that all three ads stirred in people on the streets.

Theads were engaging; because they made people stop and participate;thereby weaving the brands into the narrative of the daily lives of people and communities. The ads made people smile and generate discussion-even among strangers that are passers-by; among strangers that were waka-ing pass, if you’ll excuse my Pidgin English.  It is no wonder these three outdoor campaigns are on a list of candidates for Cannes Lions this year.

So,talking about the nuanced morality as a role that creativity should play in the lives of people,we see that with these outdoor campaigns, creativity goesbeyond the ultimate economic benefit to clients through their brands.  Creativityhas been directed to perform a socially desirable role oftransforming the mood of even entirecities.This is a noble thing that spells good public relations for advertising.As in the case of OBI store, an outdoor campaign has been employed to correct environmental blight.

Think again about that statement: that “creativity can be directed to perform a socially desirable role”.The key word here is “Directed” and we see that it defines a responsibility for the agency Creative Director; that function that makes or mars an Ad agency’s product.This exemplifies the notion of the“Design premium”; where “Design” is the X factor that makes all the difference.We must note here that this takes the definition of Design beyond graphics, colours or even function.

Defined as the innovative humanization of products, services and systems to create market opportunity, design must now be understood as a management tool. This is the goal that every operative in the marketing communications process should aim for because commoditized words and graphics won’t cut it any more.The meaning of design should stretch to the notion of “deliberateness”; as in the choice of strategies and behavioursthat advertising practitioners employ to ensure consideration for relevance and resonance.  Again this has implications for positioning and therefore the meaning that consumers make of the brand.

It is in this regard that we should really thrive as admen as the key factor that we bring into the marketing mix is insight into the understanding of motivations that make consumers buy.Technology that is available today allows us do the kind of stuff that we would have considered science fiction in the past

Add Psychology; a discipline on which our business should naturally thriveand you see that every ingredient is there to help us create and deployimpactful brand storytelling,

So, I charge you Admen; Be Ad men!

There are no restrictions to thinking and concepts and so it cannot be one poster fits all.  Thedemand on creativity today is to ensure that ads are engaging.Peoples want to engage; to participate in the story.
What creativity requires is for us to have clarity about the message to be delivered and then go ahead to execute it literally so that the consumers can co-create the meaning of the brand from the demonstration of the brand promise that they have seen.

The axiom is “Don’t reel out the product features to me; show me the role it plays in my world”. It is the memories and emotions that the thought of a product stirs in me that are meaningful to me. This is what “branding” is about; not an enumeration of a list of features. That is common. As in “commodity”!

You can see this principle at work in the three outdoor campaigns that we examined.Advertisingmust know how to have the product engage the user by targeting her identity and emotions. This is why people patronize a brand for the simple reason that they like its advertising.

Let’s hear it fromDr. Daniel Kahneman; and I quote:

"What drives behavior in a complex world is emotion. Emotions are an important determinant of economic behavior, more so than rationality."

When we consider this theory by Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, we see that there is a big deal that creativity must achieve.

It spells a big impetus for the brand’s equity.

Regarding Dr. Kahneman and the correlation to the subject matter; let me give us food for thought at this point.Kahneman’s official discipline is not really Economics in the formal sense.He is a psychologist; notable for his work on the psychology of judgement, decision-making and hedonistic psychology.

After all, selling to people is all about having them buy into howthe product or service makes them feel good about their own lives;as they experience the subject of their purchase. This is the Ad man’s number 1 job.Call it retail therapy and seen in this light; it is a good thing if creativity can be employed to achieve this because people deserve to enjoy their lives.

So we see that if people in the creativity chain-and that is all practitioners- think like designers; they will create beautiful campaigns and make them work beautifully by converting the campaigns into customer value and market opportunity

Closely related to this is the need for Innovation Thinking.

As we know, innovation doesn’t come from optimization-               making what is known better.  Innovation is the execution of a transformational thought.

It’s so simple; it’s almost simplistic but the fact is that the solution to issues of creativity that we seek to solve primarily has more to do with the wetware- brains and our minds- rather that technology hard ware and software.The latter two, hardware and softwarehave become commodities that can be bought. Wetware is the brain and the mind.

Taking this definition into consideration therefore; can I propose that our advertising agencies commit our wetware to designing Positively Infectious Billboards(PIB) for short; such as we have seen in the examples that we looked at.The ones that elicit positively infectious emotions in the society while, at the same time, performing the economic benefit of selling brands and building brand equity.

What’s not to love about this proposition?

That’s why we must engage our business in adaptive-thinking mode in order to be relevant at all times. Relevance to our context will guarantee resonance of the content and communication of our messaging.

This is how we create value.

No, let’s talk some more about value.

The first question to ask is:

What is our concept of value? And what does our concept of value demand of our relationship with our Client?

In this respect, received wisdom tell us the following:

1. Memory is limited so people forget if nothing holds their interest to something that they can call up for future use.

2. Outdoor is the furthest from us so if it is not exciting it can be forgotten. Other media are more intimate because we can touch and feel them.

Which brings us back to Waka Pass!

Waka-Pass from an adman’s point of view is junk.

Why is it junk?
It is junk because in a moral sense, there is no recompense to both the consumer and the Client.  It is also a denigration of the practice of advertising because such work makes advertising lose its value.

So real admen should not be producing junk!

I believe that it is the right of Advertisers to demand cut-through ideas; not just slides that scroll through digital boards “ad nauseam”, a Latin expression for a discussion that that has continued for so long; to the point of nausea

In the light of creativity such as we are witnessing today, the traditional thinking about Out-of-Home advertising, as “a reminder advertising medium” is no longer sustainable.Unless your out-of-home communication cuts through clutter, allowing the consumer to sift through the visual noise and make sense of it, you cannot achieve stickiness and so will not be recalled for future use because there is nothing to remember. It’s as simple- and as serious- as that!

The second question to ask is:
What does our concept of value demand of our relationship with the brand?

Creativity must be demanded of all practitioners through the value chain; from planning, concept, to execution.

This is where collaboration among all providers of service along the advertising value chainbecomes very crucial; especially when we consider the structural dynamics of the advertising business.Being that the Out-of-Home advertising companies are usually not the direct or initial agents to which Clients entrust their marketing communication work,it is the ad agency that should be initiating the positively infectious communication.

Permit me to amplify this thought by sharing with you a classic example of the high octane creativity enabled by the collaboration of creative thought as provided by the ad agency and technology provided by the outdoor practitioner.

WatchBA: The Magic of Flying :

The BA ads went beyond thinking “advertising” to using surveillance technologyin such a powerful way to link the core positioning of the brand with the expected reaction from the consumer. Lesson to take home: When practitioners work together; they can create magic.

And this throws up the issue of how advertising briefing must be done; together with what skills sets are required for game-changing creativity in the industry, going forward.

How was it done in the past?
The advertising agency received the brief, created advertising and passed it on to the Out-of-Home agency for posting.This old practice of briefing jobs in silos cannot satisfy the demand for relevant and resonant creativity any longer.  It is now imperative that the creative, digital technology experts and outdoor operators work together on the brief.  By doing this, we will easily achieve convergence as what is simply not seen possible because of the limitation of knowledge of technology by the writer/art director can be stimulated by insights provided by the experts in programming and computer design.

Yet a third consideration of value:
What does our concept of value demand of our relationship with the consumer?
The very mention of the word “creativity” implies foresight as the role of creativesdemands thatthey see what others do not see, articulate their observation and then communicate it with messaging thatis designed to persuade and compel prospects to take the desired action.Leaders in the ad business today, have a major responsibility to play in encouraging creativity in the industry. This means that agency leaders must ensure that everyone in the agency is “creative”.

This brings me to the proposition that contrary to the notion of creativity being the sole preserve of the Creative Director and Creative Department, it must ultimately be the foremost imperative in the job description of an adagency’s CEO.

The leadership of ad agencies must envision new possibilities by stimulating new thought.They must embolden the upcoming practitionerswith such virtues as boldness and iconoclasm that usually characterize creativity; resulting in innovations that break the mold and bring prosperity to Clients and the economy in general.  The world will always be at a better place when incumbent leaders lend their shoulders to younger generations to create work that dramatically breaks the mold.

And a final, critical consideration of value:
What does our concept of value demand of our stance on policy formulation within the industry?
It is clear to me from global observation that industries that have grown phenomenally have had the active involvement of the business leaders in matters of policy. This is important because the industry operates within the constraints of the existing political infrastructure.
Whenever I look at the digital outdoor advertising landscape of Times Square in New York and Tokyo’s Glittering Ginza, I cannot but see the interplay of polity and creativity. One cannot but appreciate the creativity and efforts to differentiate brands that are rife in such a landscape. However, this perspective must also be balanced by the awareness of how the relative latitude given for the development of such infrastructure helps a great deal. It is no doubt easier to be more creatively demanding in a landscape of several attractively competing outdoor infrastructures. When the landscape offers you only one digital outdoor in 50km, it is excusable to put on a bland presentation of product attributes.

But imagine if there were several digital outdoor boards per km. Now that would be a truly noise competitive landscape!

Again I think of the London underground, and the creative storytelling done for brands on the wall-posts as you ride up and down the escalators. Some are so creative; one sometimes wished one wouldn’t have to get off the escalator.

These are the possibilities in a landscape supported by a robust polity that drives true market competition. As practitioners, we must now migrate out of the shells of our individual agencies and begin to engage in the discourse that undergirds these issues.

These are the valueswe owe ourselves, our clients,our consumers and the industry.

If it is accepted that advertising largely shapes our view of the world, it is incumbent on us to create positive images that ennoble the consumer and uplift the worldAfter all by our assigned role of introducing new products and services to the publics that consume them, we are modulators of lifestyles; trendsetters and pathfinders crafting the narrative of proceeding culture to lead companies in the development of products that continuously improve the quality of life of consumers.

I repeat this is the value to consumers and society.

This is why our profession exists.
It is no mundane or pedestrian responsibility
Let’s determine to be enemies of Waka Pass – not only outdoors but on all media.

Jimi Awosika, CEO of Insight Communication, Nigeria’s leading advertising agency, made this presentation at the maiden edition of the Africa Signage Expo & the African Outdoor Advertising Conference held in Lagos in June, 2014.


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