‘Career women make bad mothers’

The intentionally controversial Outdoor Advertising Association’s new bus ads (good work Beta) are meant to ‘prove the impact of outdoor advertising’.

Well, hum. Outdoor advertising works. Like all advertising, it works best when it’s eye catching, well designed, viewable from a distance (why do people forget this? Just because it looks the right size on a computer screen does not mean it’ll look good on a 96-sheeter; and just because you’ve got tons of space doesn’t mean you should use it all!) and above all when it speaks to its target audience in the way they want to be spoken to.

But the idea that it needs to be contentious is perhaps not quite on the mark. Red-top newspapers make a living on shock horror headlines, which (unlike marketing) do not necessarily have even to be based on truth. They understand that in the competition for eyeballs, something that is controversial, preferably set in some multiple-zillion point black type, screaming some kind of celebrity gossip, pushes up circulation.

And we all remember the ‘clever’ advertising done at school or college, where some scrappy hand written sign screams ‘SEX! – Now I’ve got your attention…” and they then try to get you to turn up to some drama event, or rent a spare room, or whatever.

Good marketing gets your attention, and makes you think or do something you didn’t before you had seen the material. Grabbing your attention is the first, key part – but going for a shock headline creates a dissonance between the headline and the message that just gets in the way of what the aim actually is – which is to change people’s minds.

Personally, if someone is rude near me to try and get my attention I tend to walk away. If they’re funny, clever, (or pretty), I tend to want to know what it is they have to say.

It is perhaps too much to say that advertising should always be funny, clever and pretty – but whether it should be offensive is perhaps easier to say. Almost always, it shouldn’t be.


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