The Tyranny Of The Screen?

Screens are everywhere now. In our homes, obviously, on our phones, tablets, laptops, in pubs and bars, in buses, in petrol stations, shops, pretty much anywhere that you can put a screen, someone is putting a screen there.

Now it seems outdoor advertising spaces are slowly being replaced by screens. These two went up last week just down the road on Shoreditch High Street. The one on the left came out of nowhere, there wasn't an ad space there before, the one on the right replaced a large portrait space that's been there as long as I can remember.

I wrote a while ago on the need for advertisers and agencies to approach advertising with more respect for our surroundings and culture here. I think we have to extra careful with outdoor. Much advertising sits in with things we have actively chosen to consume, TV, radio, websites etc. and goes a long way towards paying for that content to be made.

But outdoor advertising intrudes into our everyday lives, our everyday surroundings. And that is part of its power; a simple message can be put in front of large numbers of people, even if those people aren't always conscious of it. So I think we have to be even more careful with outdoor. It's the ultimate uninvited guest in our lives, as I talked about in this article here:
"But I do think there is a responsibility when using outdoor not to despoil our environment with poorly designed, poorly photographed, shouty, ugly or stupid posters. These things are twenty feet wide and bigger for God's sake. We have a responsibility to make our work add to the world around us, not abuse it..."
Outdoor advertising had been unloved for a long time. I'm sure there is a feeling among some that it has been left behind by the advance of new platforms, digital and interactive advertising. I don't agree with that, I think that, done well, outdoor advertising can be extremely powerful. The problem is, so little outdoor is currently done well. It is definitely possible to still do great outdoor, as Apple recently proved with their work for iPhone.

I think in general it is falling foul of advertising and marketing peoples' seeming inability to simplify messages. Advertising is getting more complicated and convoluted, and that doesn't favour a medium with a famously short attention span. Remember the old '8 words' rule for posters that you were probably taught at some point? How many contemporary outdoor ads manage that currently?

I don't think the answer is to replace outdoor spaces with screens. I know it might give the media owners something new to say, or to sell. I understand that it gives them the ability to serve more than one ad in each space, and time executions around day parts.

But you know, above all of that, they are just so goddam ugly and intrusive. They invade our space much more than the simple, passive, printed spaces. Yes, those traditional spaces required skill and craft to make them effective. Maybe those skills are in short supply? Maybe they're still there but stifled within agency systems and the complicated approach to marketing? But, when it is done very well, outdoor advertising can almost reach the level of artistry.

Whereas these screens are more like visual litter, beaming out their ugly, gaudy messages at us 24 hours a day. Surely we can do without more screens surrounding us?

What do you think?


  1. I'm starting to hate advertising. And I help produce it. (Mind you I also help produce route after route after route that never sees the light of day).
    While we're at it I'm getting pretty fed up of the internet too. All of it.

  2. Its possibly down to clients and certain agencies preaching the medium is the message and that he brand needs to be at the forefront of new more cost effective mediums, in an age when many have lost sight of how to distil a brand idea and proposition down to a simply worded message and/or image
    As well as being intrusive and sounding like a killjoy, I also think this development has a potential safety risk: the driver distracted as they try to follow and decipher a 30 second loop... as they untangle the cars or scrape up the pedestrian or cyclist, the driver will state " Sorry, I was distracted by that car insurance ad up there..."

  3. Maybe just go for a nice walk in the park, anon?

    After I press Caps Lock.

  5. Outdoor ads should be banned, full stop.

  6. There is definitely a threshold where general public notices "visual litter" and wants to reclaim the city it covers up. Poland has a problem with loosely regulated - sometimes even illegal - outdoor sites ruining city aesthetics. I posted an extreme example from Warsaw under your last article on the subject. As a result, a grassroots campaign popped up called "I don't buy from rag-hangers" (translation mine) with naming and shaming on social media. Not sure how effective it was but it shows the sentiment.

  7. That new screen on Shoreditch High St. is a real eyesore, quite literally. I wandered past it yesterday evening and it nearly blinded me. Too big, too bright and too close to pedestrians.