Tag Archives: outdoor advertising

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Things that kill: smoking, sin, being boring

I once bagged vaguely funny (or not funny at all) church signs for very rarely being “on message” or at all related to what goes on if the people the signs are for (passers by) choose to come through the doors of a church building. I was, perhaps, too dismissive, and my discussion with a guy from Outreach Media on that post presents a bit of a middle way… But my position hasn’t really changed all that much – most church signs are used poorly, and if they make Christians cringe, must be worse for outsiders.

I’m also not generally a fan of outdoor advertising – partly because it’s visual clutter, partly because in my opinion, unless you’re saturating a city with a very clear proposition to the people of the city, they’re a fleeting reminder of something people don’t care about – they’re intrusion marketing personified. Or boardsonified. They work for Coke – because Coke is in every shop you walk past after seeing the billboard, they work for people promoting longer lasting satisfaction in the bedroom – because they get media coverage for being shocking – and generally, they haven’t worked all that well for Christianity (thanks Harold Campling and the ACL). They do work if they’re attention grabbing and controversial, and an attempt to be part of a conversation that is actually happening – not the conversation you think is happening that people cared about 30 years ago.

Many churches have the capacity for outdoor advertising – be it a small sign, a letterboard, or a big space. It does not follow that all churches should use them. But if you’ve got the time and resources to think carefully about what you’re going to say, it’s the low hanging fruit of communicating with the people around you.

If you’re going to do them, you may as well do them well… While my preference would just be for clear brand information and a clear, and related call to action, something like: “This week here at church we’ll be looking at X – will you join us at TIMES” – but in a much more engaging, non-boring, non-templated way. The rationale for this approach is – statistically speaking the same people are passing by your church on their way to school, work, home, etc, so the sign outside your building is a long term visual presence for them, and if you can, over time, build the expectation that you’re not a weird cult, but are a church that tackles interesting issues in an interesting way, that will make their decision to come through your doors a little more informed.

I wonder if there’s something like the equivalent of a lectionary for church signs – where the whole gospel is communicated in a year, and if that could be made more winsome and engaging – maybe something like a catechism for church sign writers… but I digress.

This has, indeed, been a rather long digression. A setting of the scene, if you will…

 
A Sydney Church has cracked the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald for using this poster from Outreach Media.


Image Credit: Outreach Media

I have mixed feelings about this – I’m not sure, following the unfortunate issues of a few weeks back, that I want smoking and sin being associated so closely together. It’s a bit like Tony Abbott using the words “die of shame” – there’s going to be an immediate association drawn, especially when part of the argument is essentially the same, just with an explicit, rather than implicit, reference to the theological underpinnings.

But the story is pretty brilliant and engaging – and doesn’t draw the comparison.

St. Peters Anglican Church is on a highway. The sign is getting plenty of attention. I’m not sure how big it is, and how legible it is from the road – someone from Outreach Media might care to comment on that… but the “warning from the Bible” box is pretty gold.

Ignoring the response from the anti-smoking lobby – who used this as an opportunity to stay on message for themselves – this article is pretty brilliant, Andrew Bruce, the man on the ground at St. Peters, got a great opportunity to get some good quotes in, and he took it.

“Better to be a smoker that goes to heaven than a person who doesn’t smoke and falls under the judgment of God,” the Reverend Andrew Bruce said.

The billboard outside his St Peters Anglican Church, on the Princes Highway, is seen by about 40,000 cars a day, he said.
“Jesus is good news for smokers and non-smokers alike.”

The health risks for smokers are not a patch on the prospect of eternal damnation, he suggested.

“One is eternal and one is only for this life; I think that’s the point.”

Love it. I love this endorsement of Outreach Media too – at first read I had a problem, but I’ll explain why I don’t think it’s a problem after the quote…

“Mr Bruce said the organisation’s posters and billboards, which some churches pay to use each month, were deliberately designed to attract attention.

“I think the biggest sin of the lot is being boring. If we put up a sign saying ‘Jesus loves you’ that’s what people expect us to say. You need to strike deeper than that and engage people or it’s here today, gone tomorrow.””

Yes. Being boring kills. You won’t get an argument against that in these parts… I’d rather see churches put up signs about Jesus love than signs that aren’t about Jesus at all – but this quote isn’t saying “we’ll engage by not talking about Jesus” but “we’ll talk about Jesus in an engaging way”… the first is a possible interpretation of that quote, but the idea that we’re to “strike deeper” not “strike elsewhere” is pretty critical, and a point well made.

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How to be “on message” and engaging with the message of Jesus

This is turning into a bit of a series, or a saga, on Christianity in the public sphere. I’ve actually got a couple more up my sleeve too. So if you’re enjoying them… stay tuned.

Back in the post about billboards from a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Islamic “Jesus: prophet of Islam” campaign in Sydney. I didn’t pay a huge amount of attention to it in the post because the ACL Rip’n’roll thing was more timely, but it has been interesting to watch the Sydney evangelical juggernaut respond to the billboard challenge with grace and the proclamation of Jesus.

Here’s the Islamic Billboard (and the associated SMH story).

The Centre for Public Christianity put together a really nice interview with the Muslim guy behind the billboard, which you can watch below…

Jesus a prophet of Islam? from CPX on Vimeo.

And right off the bat the Sydney Christians have been on message – starting with Bishop Forsyth who responded by disagreeing with the sentiment of the billboard while welcoming the discussion (unlike the Catholics).

“The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, said it was ”complete nonsense” to say Jesus was a prophet of Islam. ”Jesus was not the prophet of a religion that came into being 600 years later.”
But the billboard was not offensive, he said. ”They’ve got a perfect right to say it, and I would defend their right to say it [but] … you couldn’t run a Christian billboard in Saudi Arabia.”
The bishop said he would pay for billboards to counter those of MyPeace if he could afford it, and ”maybe the atheists should run their billboards as well”.

Turns out that last statement (not the atheist bit) didn’t fall on deaf ears, and some funds were fronted to respond with an appropriate Christian message. And this is it.

This billboard sits on the M4, a highway in Sydney, getting stacks of traffic and, at the very least, making it clear that not all Christians are bigoted idiots. So full points for that. If people do use this as an opportunity to engage in conversation with Muslim friends then this could be a really amazing story where the media give coverage to the question of who Jesus is.

I’ve had a chat to one of the guys behind this slogan tonight and I really appreciate the way they worked to keep grace at the heart of the response in order to avoid being combative or defensive, and they’ve made it all about Jesus. And they’ve made it welcoming. I love the “Aussie Muslims/Aussie Christians” thing and hope that some really good dialogue is born out of this. I’ve written a piece for the aussiechristians.com.au website, no idea when my bit will go live, but head on over and join in any discussion that happens on any of the posts. Just do it with grace, and understanding that the aim of the campaign is to have a friendly, grown up, dialogue about who Jesus actually is. If you don’t want to participate, pray that the outcome of this campaign will be fruitful conversation about Jesus.

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How not to use billboards, and other things the Australian Christian Lobby should learn about the media

What a fortnight it has been for the outdoor advertising industry. Never has religion won them so much mainstream media coverage. Well. Not since the last atheist outdoor advertising campaign in the states.

Here’s the thing. From an advertising perspective, campaign wise, billboards are a pretty rubbish way to do things. If you have a $10,000 budget for a campaign just about the last thing you want to do with it is hire a billboard. You could phone the number of people who will care about your billboard for less than that cost. Billboards are good as part of an integrated media campaign, and they are an especially good way to get media coverage if you put up something outlandish. In fact, the only reasons I’d ever advise using a billboard (and ever have in the past) is a) if it’s free. Like a prize, or some sort of in kind deal with the billboard company, b) if you’re selling high volumes of low value impulse products (like a chocolate bar or a soft drink – Coke reckons if you see their logo six times in a day you’ll buy a bottle), c) if you’re saying something incredibly outlandish and you want to generate media coverage.

This last option is where my interest lies, and in the last few weeks (well months) there have been some interesting case studies in outdoor advertising from religious groups that have become mainstream media stories.

PR companies calculate the value of their marketing efforts using a metric called “equivalent advertising value” or some multiple of the advertising value to get equivalent exposure. I think this method is bollocks, but it can be hard to quantify the value of PR. You can ask why in the comments. It’s not really worth going into.

First cab off the rank was the hugely successful rapture readiness campaign that probably received, in EAV terms, significantly more than the initial advertising spend globally. Billboards don’t come cheap. But neither does TV air time, and this billboard campaign was getting a story an outlet per bulletin for days leading up to the event on broadcast media and features pre-and-post. All because this guy bought some billboards. That’s what you want when you buy billboards. People to notice, to talk, and for buzz to start. That’s why billboards, generally speaking, are more shocking than other ads. You only see them for short bursts so they have to grab you, but they also need to be newsworthy if you want maximum exposure. This is why the push to get g-rated ads is bound to fail, eventually, because shock value is so intrinsic to the medium (we’ll talk more about the ACL below).

Some people would say this billboard is offensive because of its use of Papyrus and the fact that the guy in silhouette looks like he’s constipated. But the message got cut through because it was such an outlandish claim, and because the guy buying them had spent so much money. But you don’t have so spend millions of dollars not talking about Jesus to get media coverage for your religious billboard.

You can also, as it turns out, make claims about Jesus that shock people. Especially if you’re Islamic. And you claim Jesus as your prophet. One wonders if most Muslims have stopped to read what Jesus claims about himself in the Bible which would seem like a pretty natural approach to history (though the Bible is seen as an unreliable witness to Jesus’ prophecy, or so I’m told). So this billboard campaign offers interesting opportunities to have that conversation (see DavidOuld.net for how that might work). But not all Christians view the billboard this way. Evidently. Because some clown tried to tear it down. Which would be a masterstroke of media manipulation if it ended up not being a Christian who did it – because again, a controversial advert, with a controversial follow up, is gold for newspaper editors everywhere. And represents value for money for the advertiser.

Generally speaking, I’m a fan of freedom of speech, which means I am naturally opposed to censorship. Not viewing guidelines. But the prevention of ideas being able to be freely transmitted. Some ideas are criminal, and transmitting them is worthy of being locked up. But as a general rule people I disagree with should be allowed to advertise their messages. Because that’s consistent. The playing field is level. I hate the idea that we are a “Christian country” so therefore other religions shouldn’t be allowed to advertise. It’s wrong on about eight levels. Well. Two. We aren’t really a Christian country, and even if we were, that shouldn’t stop us letting minorities have a voice. There’s censorship of ideas, which is bad because liberty is good, and there’s restrictions on liberty for the sake of not hurting others. Which is good, because hurting others is bad… which brings me to the big gay controversy…

Two people. Cuddling or engaging in foreplay. Necking. Condom in hand, lowered suggestively towards groin. Clothed. The words rip and roll displayed prominently.

Safe sex message or not, I think you’d have a hard time convincing most people that the above scene is “G Rated”… it’s simply not. The subtext is clear. And while being “G Rated” is framed as being about children, it’s really not. It’s about protecting people from things that offend them in public places. I don’t think you need to worry about protecting people from things that offend them where they have a choice to turn off. But a bus stop doesn’t present you with that sort of choice. So even if the subtext goes over the heads of children, which I think it probably does, and even if the message of that ad is important, and it is. I don’t think a bus stop is the place for it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had somebody out there fighting for G-Rated outdoor advertising.

Oh wait. We do.

The Australian Christian Lobby.

I’ve said before that I’m not really a fan of the Australian Christian Lobby. I’m not a fan of their approach to church and state, to morality, to the fundamental assumptions they have about what is a good witness to people, what will change behaviour, and how Christians should contribute to society. But I could support them on the outdoor advertising thing. I really could. But in this case. Their message is lost. And the advertisers win again. Because the Australian Christian Lobby’s Wendy Francis has a track record of being “homophobic” – thanks to an ill-advised tweet while she was running for Family First. I use the quotes there because she’s not actually homophobic, but rather is said to be. I don’t think she’s scared of gay people, I just don’t think she knows how to approach the issue of homosexuality in public from a Christian perspective. For more on homophobia and a Christian response to homosexuality you should read Brad’s post. I’ve written a couple of things about a Christian approach to gay marriage too.

The problem with the ad described above is that it features two males. Which meant that rather than being about “G Rated Advertising” this was always going to play out as a Christian Lobby Group being homophobic gay haters. “They’re not just scared, they don’t want gay people in the public eye.” That is how the response played out. It was like watching a car crash. And it has made this campaign, and this billboard, one of the most talked about advertising campaigns in Australia at the moment. One of the most talked about topics. And Wendy Francis and the Australian Christian Family First Lobby played right into their hands. Poe’s Law says Christian fundamentalism will be indistinct from Christian satire, and if the ACL hadn’t complained about the billboards the company behind them should have started a Christian satire organisation and complained. It was predictable. It was geared perfectly to not be outrageous and be outrageous at the same time. The company behind the campaign said:

In designing this advert to appear in general settings we were careful to ensure:

  • the models are fully clothed
  • the picture does not depict or imply a specific sex act
  • there are no rude or offensive words used
  • the men are depicted in a non-discriminatory way

While this might be true, I’d still suggest that the ad wasn’t G Rated, and therefore isn’t suitable for outdoor advertising, which should be designed to accommodate the twin poles of freedom of speech and reasonable protection of people (including children) from offense. This was an ad designed to evoke a response. Rip’N’Roll is provocative. I don’t think you can dodge that. Be it describing condom use, or the situation in which such use arises, it is clearly not family friendly.

But the real clincher, and what must have had the company rubbing their hands together with glee was the way the story unfolded. Adshell, the company responsible for the ads, pulled them (strategy anyone?), as a result of a “grass roots” campaign from ACL supporters, possibly in response to this Facebook update from Wendy Francis (that again sails close to the “homophobic” wind – it is clear the two males are an issue, despite what she might have said to Sunrise this morning).

This prompted an outcry. A hoard of angry men and women descended on the ad company waving placards featuring the picture from the ad. This made the news. Politicians got involved. Twitter erupted. The model in the photo chucked a tantrum throwing emotive language around. The billboards are now back up and everybody wins. Except the ACL. Whose important campaign about Outdoor Advertising standards is doomed to failure because they’ve got some idiot idea that talking about your opponents campaign and marketing message is somehow going to get it less attention.

If you get a bad review from the media you shut up. You don’t show all your friends. You don’t fan the flames. You wait for the hubbub to die out. Why bring attention to somebody else’s story. The better move from the ACL would have been to take photos of the billboards and interview people catching buses from the bus stops in question to build a case against non G rated outdoor advertising. But they’re all about pigheaded tenacity in every battle. And not about the war. And apparently about as interested in talking about Jesus as Harold Campling. How can a “Christian Lobby” bang on about stuff so much saying so little about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You get a free hit on national television on a popular breakfast show and you paint us all as moralising potentially homophobic wowsers. Why not talk about Jesus, even if it’s linked to what Jesus said about marriage and sexuality.

The more we get distracted on the little things, and the more our reputation is built on the way we deal with the little things, the less people listen to us on the big ones. It’s interesting to me that while a guy like Wilberforce was obviously motivated by the gospel, and a passionate witness for Christ, the good deeds he did are in some sense kept separate from that. I can’t ascribe motives to the guy. I don’t know what he was thinking. But I like that things like the RSPCA and the abolition movement, while motivated by his faith, had their own identity. While I think the outdoor advertising campaign is a good thing for society I’m not sure it needs a “Christian” stamp. Maybe we’d be better served if we weren’t creating confusion between what Christians are on about (Jesus hopefully) and what people interested in morality (Christians included) are on about. We don’t want our good deeds to be separated from our motivations – but we don’t want them to cloud the gospel either. That needs to be clear.

We’re Christians because we love Jesus, not because we don’t like other people putting safe sex messages on billboards. Even the Muslims want to talk about Jesus. And we can’t get it right.

That is all.

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A deadly serious mistake

I love this story. Partly because it’s about zombies. I haven’t written about zombies for a long time. Partly because it’s one of those advertising placement stories that is almost too good to be true.

A billboard ad for a zombie TV show, The Walking Dead, was placed on the external wall of a funeral parlour.

“An advertising firm has apologised for placing a billboard for a TV show called The Walking Dead on the side of a funeral parlour.

The unintended, “unfortunate juxtaposition” caused raised eyebrows in Consett, County Durham.

The roadside advert for the Channel 5 post-apocalyptic drama has since been removed from the exterior wall of the Co-operative Funeralcare premises.”

Have a kit-chat

This is a nice piece of outdoor advertising. And the heading of this post is a reference to what a conversation on this chair must be called…

From Flickr.

Mac time

I love clever billboards. This one from McDonalds is one of the cleverest I’ve seen for a while. Their outdoor advertising department is doing a good job…

Lights, camera, action

Police should spend more time providing deterrents to people who speed and less time pulling them over for “allegedly” running stop signs.

They should install these billboards everywhere…

Found here.

Sticky marketing

Human Rights activists spend far too much time sitting in cages in public spaces and doing things that are too easy to ignore. Largely because they’re so obnoxiously offensive that we immediately shield ourselves from the horrors they describe. Their campaigns aren’t generally “sticky” for this reason.

Stickiness is an important part of any marketing campaign – finding a message that is memorable is vital if your product isn’t something that involves an immediate and spontaneous purchasing decision (like a bottle of Coke). 

Stickiness was particularly important to this UNICEF anti-landmine campaign, in a more literal sense.

Adhesive stickers with bottom side simulating a detonator for explosive were placed on the pavements in Zurich. When the passers by checked their shoes, they saw the message from UnicefIn many other countries you would now be mutilated! Help the victims of landmines!