Last night at the ICA

Posted on 14/09/2011


I spend a lot of time, perhaps too much, thinking about up-and-coming digital media, but what about old school media? Dave Trott’s talk at the ICA reappraised one of the oldest mediums – billboard advertising, and suggested that it’s more relevant today than we think. Here are the 4 things I learnt:


When you see something and your first reaction is that you like it, it definitely isn’t new. Something truly “new” leaves you speechless. You have no way to frame or understand it.

How to advertise

Billboard advertising has to be immediate (and therefore simple). It can also be clever but only if it’s simple.

The three rules of advertising: repetition, repetition, repetition.

Think outside of the advertising space. What kind of context could it be in? How/ when will people see it and what should they do?

Ill humour

Some people will never be able to take a joke (like the bearded “graphic designer” who stormed out after Dave Trent called him an art director). You kinda had to be there to get the joke…

Ad planning, people and a new age

We used to typify people by the media they read (Sun reader, Mail reader, Guardian reader). We never really did this for TV shows (too many and too short lived), but with newspaper circulation in decline, do we need to find something else?

Perhaps not. Firstly, what would we use? Media is a window that’s been shattered into millions of interesting splinters, but most of them fail to sustain our interest alone. Instead, we can customise the kinds of media we follow, picking from thousands of websites to give us a meze of media. Now we can bump up or water down our perceived status by adding a different media resource into the mix (e.g. reading the FT and Heat magazine produces a pretty unique persona.)

It’s easy to forget that papers do still exist. NOTW is the exception to the rule, but newspapers are still the strongest, most consistent embodiment of a set of attitudes. They can’t undergo such dramatic reinventions as other brands, because theirs is the long game. Their business model encourages loyalty from their readers and are less susceptible to whims to attract a new type of customer.

Newspapers may still be able to help us understand the world and its different audiences, despite an increasingly fragmented world. But it does make me wonder: was it ever that simple? I refuse to believe it was, but simple is the only way we can effectively understand the world. Simple leads to huge generalisations, but it also makes advertising work.