Last week, I had the pleasure and privilege of addressing the Federation of European Publicity Exterior (FEPE) on out of home (OOH) marketing. In case you couldn’t tell from their name, FEPE is the association for outdoor advertising in Europe. It is because of my lengthy experience with Altoids, and the resulting affiliation with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), that I found myself in Spain. I am passionate about outdoor advertising. Unlike the other mass media, I feel OOH is becoming more relevant in the 21st century, not less. And not just because of the obvious reasons, i.e. innovative technology and synergies with mobile. Below is a bit from my discussion, which I hope you find interesting. Bear in mind it was excerpted from an oral presentation. I was pointing to pictures while I spoke and I can’t include all of them here.

Along with social media, the new, new thing in outdoor advertising has been the explosion of digital technology. DOOH media spending will increase almost 60% from 2009 projections to 2013. We’ve all seen creative examples, tons of them already at this convention. Digital innovation has reinvented the medium. Yet, rather than feature more of these in my presentation, let’s look instead at some seemingly low-tech executions that, in my view, are as modern as anything out there.

Live roaches in plexi-glass!

Making the Chicago river Shamrock Shake green…

With these example we see the real power of outdoor advertising: an ages-old ability to generate ideas without QR codes, new technology or even electricity. Because of its old-fashioned pedigree, I think many of us try way too hard to prove how contemporary outdoor advertising is. We hasten to pimp the newest technology, arguing that it makes OOH competitive with all the other screens out there.

In the 70’s, digital watches were all the rage. So sleek, modern and cool, we all had to have one! And then we didn’t. We quickly rediscovered the timeless beauty of time. Now digital watches are just a curiosity. The ultimate irony: they are nostalgic!

Digital: far out and groovy!

I’m not suggesting digital formats are trite. Far from it. Its possibilities are endless and evolving. I’m just suggesting there’s something to be said for the old school as well. after all, the first sign one sees driving into Las Vegas says what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas as well as anything in the 21st century, maybe even more so.

I bracketed the above portion of my presentation with sections about signage, propaganda and popular culture. Signs comprised the very first ads on earth and will never become obsolete. I’ve shared some of these ideas on Gods of advertising before. If you are interested in my entire presentation to FEPE, please feel free to contact me.

Outdoor ads are old as man…

Didn’t see this yet…Old Madrid

Or this… New Madrid

As usual I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane, even though I was in business class, buffeted by droning engines, able to fully recline should I desire to. None of that mattered, I might as well have been straddling one of the engines. I don’t sleep on planes. Never could. Even when I drank all I got was drunk. Years later, I’ve learned to just read and write and watch a movie.

Today, flying from Chicago to Madrid was roughly seven hours. By the time I finished my dinner, I’d managed to kill almost three of them. Unfortunately, the movie player was acting up, though I wasn’t upset because the selection of videos was lame: “Rabbit Hole” and “Country Strong.” Pass. Fortunately, I’d brought along an excellent book, the memoir “Townie” by Andre Dubus III. Sometime after the first hundred pages dawn was flirting at my window.

Fill out the pointless immigration form. Seriously, what is the point? These are SO EASILLY FORGED. I didn’t even bother writing the correct flight numbers… All that remains is landing safely, getting my tired ass through customs (presumably with my bag), finding my driver (hardly a gimmie), and getting to the Intercontinental Hotel, hopefully before noon.

I know this isn’t a travel blog but travel is what I’m doing, so attribute the above paragraphs to my scrambled brains. Tomorrow I make a presentation on outdoor advertising to FEPE, the European Advertising Federation. It’s the same speech I did in Michigan last week. Only better 😉

Update from my hotel room:
Madrid is the cleanest city I have ever seen. Not a speck of litter from the airport to the hotel. Blue skies. 80 degrees. I don’t know what I was expecting but this exceeds it.

Now I must take a siesta…

For a job!

As many of you know I’ve been sans full time employment for a couple months. It is a situation I hope to remedy shortly…

I’m telling you this in lieu of a more typical piece because, well, I don’t have a more typical piece. I’ve been on the road, delivering a presentation to Adams Outdoor in Michigan (a real treat) as well as interviewing for possible job opportunities elsewhere (a real blessing). Next week I’m off to Madrid giving a speech to FEPE, The International Federation of Outdoor Advertising. Followed shortly thereafter by another interview in the States. In between these trips I’ve also been doing some exciting freelance projects with a former partner and colleague. All good news.

While I deeply appreciate and enjoy these things, to do them right involves preparation as well as footwork. Therefore, Gods of Advertising gets the short sheet. It may be hard to believe but I don’t just throw these pieces together. At the risk of sounding Like Sally Field getting her Oscar: I really, really try! And so I regret I’m not able to find an appropriate topic, let alone discuss it, because of these necessary distractions, which, as I’ve already stated, I’m grateful as hell for having.

Hopefully, on the plane tomorrow I’ll be able to hunker down for an appropriate story. If that doesn’t happen, I beg your pardon. Look, I know none of you get up in the morning looking forward to Gods of Advertising. I’m not that stupid or arrogant. But Gods of Advertising is a commitment and one I adhere to religiously. Writing, like working out, is something I seldom compromise.

Thank you for visiting and keep coming back!

Dying for your business…

Recently, a billboard went up for A&E’s gruesome but popular new series, The Walking Dead. For those unawares, the show is about dead people returning to life to feed on the living, aka Zombies. In this case, the board went up alongside a funeral care business, prompting countless media commentary on the “unfortunate” placement. It wasn’t just the local media that was provoked but all across America stories and pictures ran –sometimes negatively, mostly humorously- detailing the “unfortunate” juxtaposition of message and location.

After which, of course, the billboard company promptly issued an apology, calling it human error and an unfortunate mistake, and took down the ad.

Unfortunate? In one day I saw this image in my morning paper, in two of the blogs I read and on the TV news at night. That’s not tragedy, folks; that’s a windfall. For the price of one billboard, A&E got more coverage than they ever would have imagined for their show without paying a dime. And since it was editorial coverage, not advertorial, chances are great that viewers of it were actively engaged as opposed to benign.

And yes, while it may seem an unfortunate event for the funeral home, I’m betting they benefited from all the attention as well. Frankly, I’m not sure that’s even a consideration anymore…

Whether they or we like it or not, social media has broken down barriers, influencing our culture profoundly. We are no longer as shy about awkward moments. On the contrary we seem to get off on them. What once was considered embarrassing is now considered entertaining, interesting and provocative. Advertising is often the catalyst for this perfect storm. Outdoor is usually the touchstone.


In the above example, a health spa put up a somewhat risqué billboard advertising its waxing services. Someone inevitably complained but rather than take down the board the company sniped it with a URL: where folks could vote on whether the original ad was offensive or not!

My opinion: I think the whole thing was contrived to create buzz for the spa. The new paradigm suggests we don’t apologize for controversy but do it more.

Special note: This post will be part of my presentation to fepe: International Federation of Outdoor Advertising in Madrid.