OOH: The most in-your-face medium

Billboards are very powerful marketing tools, argues DDB’s Ramsey Naja

I’ve always had a problem with heavily-branded clothing. It’s not just the vulgarity associated with displaying the logo of an expensive brand – Indeed, I think that people who do this should emblazon the words “I can afford” across their chest before adding the brand’s name.

No, it is a little more, erm, let’s say commercial than that. You see, I am in advertising. And advertising costs money. So the moment the brand that I wear starts wanting to have its presence felt, is the moment I want them to pay me.

Presence, you see, and its feeling thereof, is the name of the game. And nowhere does it manifest itself more than in OOH. That’s because a billboard is presence. A billboard is real estate. A billboard is a landmark.

A billboard is “take-a-rightturn- after-the-Huawei-hoarding”, “I-live-in-the-Noon-building” and the most in-your-face medium that also happens to be the most precise representation of what the message is.

And, let’s face it, it doesn’t take much to know on which exact billboard you’d love to have your message displayed, just as it doesn’t take much to know whose tee-shirt you’d like your brand printed on.

I, for instance, would love to advertise brand “Naja” on Times Square, Leicester Square and Jennifer Lawrence.

And I honestly think either of the three would make me famous, simply by my brand, well, being there. Could you say the same about websites? Or even TV? More to the point, is there anywhere better than either of those three for a brand which, say, has a universal call for action?


And yet today, this is not enough. Oh no. Because today, I’d want data – the data that would make the Naja Inc. marketing department feel that they put their money in the right place or the right eyeballs.

Because today everyone is terrified of being asked how they spent their budget, and because, today, the message is not as important as the medium that carries it.

That’s the tragedy of it all: the fact that we are in that intermediate stage where we are focused on the process rather than the outcome, where the plate is more important than the culinary creation and where the information extracted from the location of the tee-shirt wearer is more significant than what the tee-shirt says.

Because we are getting drunk on data and its ability to protect marketing jobs rather than focusing on sales and the ability to make people buy our product.

Many years ago, I sat in a conference, astonished, as someone forecast that one day, brand-specific, individual billboard messaging will be briefly triggered off by the presence of a brand user in the vicinity.

Days later, an OOH tycoon told me about sensors that would analyse my commuting habits relative to message locations and optimise those messages accordingly.

Today, and with the benefit of industrial-sized hindsight, I look back at both with admiration and disdain: admiration because the forecast was pretty accurate, and disdain because while both saw the technology’s ability to underline – perhaps even magnify – the medium’s power, they were actually inadvertently contributing to its eventual subversion to the weasel snowflakiness of mediocre marketing staff whose career ambitions ride on analytics’ BS value rather than real growth.

Indeed, this is why you have million-dollar hoardings on Sheikh Zayed Road with headlines that are more beige than the desert behind them.

This is why once-proud brands are more interested in the medium than the message and why persuasion has been relegated to the role of second fiddle, while marketers are fiddling with efficiency and the metrics that justify it.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with optimising performance, and the tools that are at our disposal today to measure that of what I believe is the king of media, are as spectacular as they are needed to make ROI sleep better.

But just as is the case with digital and social media advertising, they have created bad habits that are as addictive as they are toxic, not to mention seemingly justifying an overwhelming shift from substance to artifice.

After all, who needs psychological persuasion crafted by human inspiration, when cold science can pretend to achieve the same at a fraction of the cost?

Who needs a creative agency when machines can churn out basic messaging, manipulate its presence and make it look like it’s performing equally well?

And who needs discrete, thoughtful branding when a brash tee-shirt can be made to look like high fashion – and cost just as much?

By Ramsey Naja, Regional ECD at DDB