An outdoor story in three acts by TBWA\ RAAD’s Frederico Roberto

Creating effective outdoor advertising is hard, says TBWA\ RAAD’s Frederico Roberto


I have a love and hate relationship with outdoor advertising. I love it because, unlike other traditional advertising media spaces like film, the possibilities are endless and not bound to a screen, for instance.

And I hate it because nothing really comes close to it. I’m talking craft, I’m talking impact and the absolute need to convey a crystal clear idea in an image and/or seven or less words. It’s tough. But it’s beautiful.

Tackling this challenge opened my horizons to broader approaches to outdoor advertising in the first third of my advertising career. Coming from a small market like Portugal, in which one has to be smart with the limited budgets available, we always had to maximise the impact and ROI. From very early on, I realised that going beyond the traditional bus stop or 8x3m outdoor was more than a possibility, it was a must.

Retail and window displays, street activations, installations, guerrilla marketing and other special executions became a staple in my arsenal. I could see people interacting with my ideas, taking photos, enjoying themselves, sharing them with friends and followers in blogs and, later, the early days of social media, with my very own eyes.

Advertising was becoming a two-way street for me

That first third of my career ended with a bang. Or two bangs, let’s say. A Cannes Lions award for a project – that was actually more like 3 in 1 projects – for Lisbon City Hall and Citroen on street art, and several work trips to Istanbul.

Well, people had told me that in Turkey, and especially in Istanbul, outdoor advertising was king. I dismissed those remarks with a snark. Until I got there. And, once again, I fell in love with outdoor advertising all over again. The sheer size, impact and influence in culture was prevalent and, truth be told, inspiring.

Then I moved to London, in early 2013, kicking off the 2/3 of my creative journey. London felt – and still feels, for now, at least– like the centre of the ad world. And as an ‘ad nerd’, as Anselmo Ramos coined it, I was like a kid in a candy store: red double decker buses, Piccadilly Circus, tube stations and awesome parks and summer festivals.

Paired with the potential of social media interaction and other innovative effects such as Augmented Reality and 3D, people could now interact, play with and personalise their branded experiences to their likings. How cool was that?

Innovation was moving this beloved ‘traditional’ media forward at the speed of light. Paired that with some witty British humour and I was in copywriter’s heaven.

The seeds of hyper-reality were starting to be planted, and I was ecstatic to be a part of it, working for different industries, such as entertainment, automotive, FMCG and sports.

Outdoor advertising can house every category of products or services, every brand and any idea. Just browse through any awards show Outdoor category and you’ll see the most diversified types of mediums, executions and mechanics.

Starting an ideation process with an inspirational key visual – that ends up becoming, most times, the main piece in outdoor advertising – is a great summarising exercise that we’ll force our creative brains to distill, improve, simplify and polish any spark of an idea that came tumbling into every creatives’ day-to-day.

And then, we build from there: does it require or need a special execution or build? Can it be interactive? Can it go bigger? Smaller? Animated? Expanded? Movable?

And here I am, having started my third decade in the advertising world, now in  Dubai, the centre of the new world (and not just the ad one). The place in which outdoor advertising is more than unavoidable, it’s an imperative in order to stand out, make a statement, and really show if an idea has ‘legs’.

Be it being shown in the unmissable Burj Khalifa, other huge print outs in billboards, bridges or magnificent retail stores across the entire Middle East, we can rest assured that it will be seen. So, it better be good.

Outdoor advertising is, more than any other region in the world, the main vehicle to run comms messages, in a somewhat paradoxical landscape in which people aren’t really out and about all that much due to the weather.

Sure, they drive everywhere, which just makes it all that much challenging. But when the idea is properly crafted, the photography and art direction are on-point, the writing is chef’s kiss, then you unlock something that no other medium, other than outdoors, has: a 1-2 punch of emotions, that will surely hit both brains and hearts.

By Frederico Roberto, ECD at TBWA\RAAD