Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2018

The great outdoors

Why great conversations always take place outdoors.

One of the great moments in the ‘Audi versus BMW’ battle boiled down to a single billboard in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. Both German manufacturers are leading automotive brands. So, their rivalry creates enormous talk value every time they push the envelope. Not just when it comes to their respective engineering design and technology, but also when it comes to their pointed advertising.

Set against a gorgeous picture of a newly-minted Audi A4, the headline stated, “Your Turn, BMW.” A few weeks later, BMW responded by planting a billboard on the opposite side of the street, on the rooftop of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf café, displaying a picture of their new BMW 6 Series. The headline was a one-word snub. It said, “Checkmate.” Not to be outdone, Audi resorted to social media to ask their fans for a suitably cutting retort, thus crowdsourcing thousands of ideas and simultaneously creating massive engagement. Both brands won.

The power of outdoor media (or OOH/Out-of-Home media), that’s anything that’s likely to reach the consumer when s/he is out of their home, is an explosive that gets fused if it’s misused. Even though it is a staple of the media mix, it’s important to understand what it is. Apart from billboards, outdoor includes point of sale, street furniture (boundary walls, bus shelters, pole signs, kiosks, etc.), infrastructural displays (building wraps, bridge mounts, underpass wallpapering), transit advertising (trains, planes, buses, rickshaws and taxis), mobile and digital boards and guerrilla advertising on ambient media.

Even though outdoor is vehemently pervasive, it is beginning to lose eyeballs. We are told that we see hundreds, if not thousands, of outdoor messages every day; yet, we will be hard-pressed to recall any of them because most of us see these as visually-obstructive noise or pollution. We take them for granted as part of our urban landscape – proving that if outdoor has to work, it has to work harder.


Great outdoors can shoot a brand out of obscurity to stardom. Even if it’s a single buy. The technique is to be true to the power of the medium and resist the temptation to treat it like a brand’s extended packaging: beautiful, but dumb. Great outdoor starts a conversation. Ignites intrigue. And powers engagement.


And the way to make sure that outdoor works harder is, oddly enough, to make sure it doesn’t work so hard at all. In other words, don’t burden your outdoor media with heavy lifting. Use it as a conversation starter. You see, until very recently, a billboard was simply a way to spread greater awareness about a brand because it’s almost impossible to convey a complex message on a medium that is seen for only fleeting seconds. So, it was used as a support to recall TV, direct marketing, radio and print – which are suited to do the heavy lifting. But when you put more than eight words on a billboard, not only do you risk losing your customers’ attention, you risk clutter and confusion. You also risk wasting your money – especially in an age where people are either speeding by or preoccupied with their smartphones, portable or mobile devices.Which is where the silver lining comes in.

In the digital age, outdoor can be more than a conversation starter. It can also be an instant ‘teleportation’ module when you marry your outdoor with digital. With the advent of mobile technology, outdoor can direct traffic to your digital assets through the use of QR codes or website addresses to reach your social media pages, campaign or brand specific portals and apps like Instagram or Snapchat for unprecedented mileage.

The only reason why you should overlook this is if your outdoor is inventive enough or remarkable enough to stand on its own merits. Does it have 3D components or human interaction? Does it make a surprising statement or instil a shocking pleasure? Is it enough to cause controversy that will be debated and engaged with? Does it have the pulling power to get people to photograph it or share it on social media? If not, teleport your prospects to where the rest of the conversion can take place once the conversation has started.

At the right site and in the right context, great outdoors can shoot a brand out of obscurity to stardom. Even if it’s a single buy. The technique is to be true to the power of the medium and resist the temptation to treat it like a brand’s extended packaging: beautiful, but dumb. Great outdoor starts a conversation. Ignites intrigue. And powers engagement.

Our job is just to make sure that we don’t get in its way.

Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.