Outdoor adverting in London: Transporting us into a digital future
By Jane McAnallen
Out of home – or OOH – advertising in London differs most acutely from the United States on two fronts: concentration on transit ads and an emphasis on digital signage.
Every red bus has a banner between the upper and lower deck for adverting, and a select few and a full display. The ads are targeting millennials, with ads for shoes, shows, games and movies making up the majority of ads.
The Tube is also thickly wallpapered in ads, from the walls along the escalators to the hallways tunneling between platforms to the walls of the platforms to the interior of the cars and even to the turnstiles letting you in and out of the station.
For all that, the majority of London is free of billboards or even walls of posters, aside from Picadilly Circus, with its vast display of digital signs reminiscent of New York’s Times Square.
The strange clustering of ads is simply a matter of regulation. There are only nine areas outside of the direct control of the planning authority, Town and Country Planning, rules that are made by the secretary of state. Among these areas are railway stations and bus stations and in or any any vehicle or vessel which is normally moving, according to Outdoor Advertisements and Signs: A Guide for Advertisers, a document published by Communities and Local Government.
There are also very strict rules for size, duration and illumination of advertising. Planning authorities can deny advertising that would be displayed where there are important scenic, historic, architectural or cultural features if the ad would affect the amenity of the neighborhood. These vague criteria allow neighborhoods to have more control over the look of their communities.
With such tight restrictions, advertisers have to come up with ways to get their brand out there. One such brand was the Liebig Extrag of Meat Company, makers of Oxo beef stock. When company owners bought their building overseeing London’s South Bank in the early 1900s, they were not allowed to advertise their brand as they wanted, so the architect, Albert Moore, designed decorative windows for the top of the towers that just happened to display OXO to people across the river.
Much in the same vein, advertisers today are moving to digital to draw the attention of people whose distaste for advertising spawns numerous regulations and even a campaign from Bristol to ban all OOH.
A huge amount of what OOH is in London is digital. Digital signs appear when entering the city, line the escalators in the Tube and create the Piccadilly Circus display. In May there was huge display billboard display adverting “Captain America: Civil War.’ There were ads all through the Tube for “Angry Birds: The Movie.”
According to Exterion Media, an outdoor media company that is the primary agency? for the London Underground, digital has several advantages over traditional OOH. Its website explains, “Movement attracts the eye … we truly deliver tactical and flexible opportunities… our digital assets are seen when and where it matters.” These digital ads can introduce “subtle movement to attract consumers’ attention.”
The level of digital signage is well beyond what this reporter has seen in any major U.S. city, and while there is no indication, anecdotal or statistical, showing a connection between community value on quality advertising, limited ad space and the rise of digital signage that can shift between multiple ads, the contrast between OOH in the states and OOH in Greater London is stark.
As another way to illustrate this difference, a Kickstarter campaign has as of May 21 reached its goal of £23,131 to take over all ad space in a platform in an underground station and fill it with cats. The aptly named Citizens Advertising Takeover Service is from the creative group Glimpse. It has the approval and the funds, and it’s no small wonder that a country that produced a petition called “Bristol: The City That Said No To Advertising,” a movement that sounds more like a quirky indie comedy than a cause, is replacing its advertising with fluffier communications.