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Exhaust-Ing Advertising

Posted on July 30, 2002 and read 12,338 times

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Big ole’ Toronto is a city that is known for its intricate urban plan that forces most commuters to spend a better part of their day waiting in traffic, stalled on the highway or impatiently wishing for that light to turn green. If sucking on the exhaust fumes of a trillion cars on the road doesn’t kill me, the congestion that accompanies it will. The last straw to make a horrible commute disastrous is to see a 900,000 sq foot truck toting nothing but a billboard, holding up traffic while I frantically watch the clock in the hopes of making a deadline. Unfortunately, media buying conglomerates are finding new and more innovative ways to make my daily commute an experience from hell.

Outdoor advertising is in the midst of a treacherous change and it leaves many of us, both advertisers and consumers, sick to our stomachs as we attempt to make sense of how and where all this is heading. The old standby methods such as stationary billboards and supers are becoming less and less desirable in a market niche that hankers after the newest and most novel media placement packages that can elicit a response from its consumer base. A 10% growth in the last fiscal year certainly reinforces the popularity of outdoor media buys and this is partly due to the steady increase in mobile billboards and its popularity amongst Canadian advertisers.

A medium, such as mobile billboards, that promises to break through the clutter while achieving high impact impressions at a relatively low cost sounds like the solution to many branding problems that a small corporation might experience. Suppliers such as Mobile Media offer its clients a persuasive sales pitch to reinforce this. Their website offers “mobile advertising vehicles that look classy, with a distinctive presence all their own” and guarantees increased viewer coverage than static billboards. According to research on Montreal-based Euromobile, the prevalence of this media vehicle is certainly becoming mainstream after the execution of the Monster.ca and Bell Mobility Solo campaigns that utilized this mode of advertising. This method is gaining popularity especially for people who are trying to target the 18-24 year old audience that is hard to reach through mass media and of course with mobile billboards they can be targeted for approximately $17,000. These “masterpieces” are inexpensive and reach cities whose population makes up thousands or even millions of pedestrians and motorists thereby, ensuring that the message being communicated cannot be tuned out, thrown out or turned off.

Can advertising become more intrusive than this? A conversation with Don Saynor from J. Walter Thompson provided me with a holistic perception of what mobile billboards truly mean to him as a consumer and a Canadian advertiser. The general theory that Don holds towards mobile billboards is one of scepticism and contempt. The fact that commercials offset television programming and that transit ads offset rider cost and mobile billboards do nothing but add to the pollution in Toronto, left him both angry and disappointed. These mobile billboards offer nothing but added contamination, congestion and overcrowding of our already jam-packed urban areas and this is something that needs to be addressed by Canadian advertisers. Afterall, the environment and the quality of life that one experiences is directly effected by such media placements.

These mobile billboards rarely incorporate brilliant creative and carry nothing but the brand name and/or the client’s logo. The possibility of great creative being showcased on these backlit, rotating panel trucks is highly unlikely due to the fact that most advertisers have in fact realized the negative connotations that are associated with the medium would then affect the brand or the message. Large multimillion-dollar corporations rarely succumb to these media gimmicks because, much like Don, they believe that advertising should elicit a favourable response towards their client and their brand image. Another legitimate concern is one that can be found through secondary research, which proves that during the Bell Mobility Solo campaign, many of the mobile billboard trucks were consistently pulled over by the traffic police for hauling illegal parts and distractions.

The cities of Montreal and Toronto have both taken on mobile advertising and placed it on their political agenda’s. This declares that this medium is socially irresponsible, environmentally unsuitable and should be addressed appropriately. The worst-case scenario that can result from all this, is that the product becomes the subject of mass consumer backlash, which will negatively affect the client, the brand and the agencies involved in its execution. This is exactly the kind of detrimental attention that advertising aims to avoid.

The Canadian advertising scene is gradually evolving into becoming an integral part of pop culture as we know and experience it. Yet, it is the few “solely after the buck” guys who constantly strive to produce novel ways of reaching the consumer regardless of the inconvenience that it might cause them or the environment we live in. This kind of advertising leaves one saddened and unfulfilled for it becomes apparent that Don Saynor was totally on the money when he said; “there is no green sacred space in my life anymore”. The fact that an average consumer is bombarded by close to 17,000 advertising messages a day is more reason for us in the advertising industry to work harder to keep our consumers duly satisfied. These mobile billboards travel that extra mile and become physically detrimental to those who come in contact with it. While some of you might find these sentiments offensive or untrue I would like to leave you with the message that people loathe any from of advertising that is disrespectful, rude and/or intrusive. Mobile billboards certainly fit the bill on all three of those requirements and arrogantly shoves its way into our lives by bringing environmental chaos with it.


Jana Kumar
Advertising Journalist
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