Antarctica billboard puts

Space Centre on the mapOpened 10 years ago, the Edmonton Space and Science Centre was faltering and actually close to bankruptcy when an unlikely savior came to its rescue: a series of audacious billboards that soon had paying customers flocking through...

Space Centre on the map

Opened 10 years ago, the Edmonton Space and Science Centre was faltering and actually close to bankruptcy when an unlikely savior came to its rescue: a series of audacious billboards that soon had paying customers flocking through the doors.

Big draw

In fact, says Lisa Kendrick, marketing director for the centre, only the West Edmonton Mall – which is 10 minutes from the centre – now draws more visitors, 500,000 people a year.

Elaine Mah, director of marketing and research for Hook Outdoor Advertising in Edmonton, says what started the turnaround for the centre was a superboard campaign for the imax film, Antarctica, shown by the centre in 1992.

IMAX films

The centre uses the Canadian-developed imax film projection system to show larger-than-life films in its imax theatre.

Antarctica, one of the most inhospitable continents on the planet – and the coldest, by far – does not support a lot of life, but it does have penguins, and Mah says it was these curious swimming birds attired in tuxedos that went on the first superboard the centre used.

Kendrick says the centre has always used dramatic ads that do not have a lot of copy, but do have high impact.

Mah says the superboards are 48 feet long and 14 feet wide, with projections adding about another five feet in height.

She says all superboards used by the centre are handpainted by the same person, but once they are out of rotation they are painted over and used again.

Kendrick says what the centre wanted was to give the impression that its exhibits were larger than life.

She says, since that first superboard, the centre has enjoyed considerable success with those that followed.

She says for the film, Mountain Gorilla, an oversized gorilla was used, and for Fires of Kuwait – in which a team of firefighters cap hundreds of burning oil wells set off during the Gulf War – the superboard showed the fires in the background, with three firefighters projected off it.

However, the superboard campaign has not always been smooth sailing.

Mah recalls the design for the film Tropical Rainforest called for a large constricting snake to be curled around the board with its mouth left gaping open.

One Edmonton man was so distressed by the sight of the snake he would call Hook to find out where the board was in rotation so he could avoid it.

(Hook has also had some quirky luck with other billboard campaigns. A board for the Capital City Raceway just outside Edmonton this summer had half a Plexiglas drag racing car coming through the board while a working drag race light – red, yellow, green – changed color at appropriate moments.

(Mah admits Hook had not sought permission for the working light and the city froze it at one color.)

For Titanica, the film on the White Star Line’s S.S. Titanic, which went down off Cape Race, Nfld. early this century, Kendrick says the centre wanted a ‘ghostly image,’ which was achieved by using on the board a half-ship – the other half already beneath the waves – that is lit up at night.

The Titanic sunk in the ocean after colliding with an iceberg.

Kendrick says for the centre’s next exhibit, ‘Sharks,’ she wants the superboard campaign to reflect the mystique and fear these creatures engender.

She says she is looking for something more than a dorsal fin sticking up – exploited so superbly by the movie Jaws – and is thinking of a board with a part bitten out of it.

Mah says creative for Sharks is just under way at Hook.

Despite the success of the superboard campaign, Kendrick says numerous surveys show it is not the medium people mention when asked how they found out about the centre’s exhibits – they usually say newspapers.

But she says the boards serve an important role because they prompt would-be visitors to look in the newspaper for more information.