Special report: Creativity in outdoor advertising: Recruitment ad for the Big Boss

In this special report, we invited seven creative directors, known for their talent in out-of-home advertising, to identify their favorite piece of outdoor, and then, hypothetically, to 'sell' it to the client - in about 750 words.To make the exercise that...

In this special report, we invited seven creative directors, known for their talent in out-of-home advertising, to identify their favorite piece of outdoor, and then, hypothetically, to ‘sell’ it to the client – in about 750 words.

To make the exercise that much more challenging, we asked them to choose an execution that was not their own.

The objectives of this project were two-fold: to bring examples of great outdoor front and centre; and by analyzing specific executions, to get to the heart of what makes outdoor work.

‘What are the basic tenets, the guiding principles of creating successful outdoor’, we asked the participating creative directors, ‘and how does the chosen billboard, transit shelter or mural abide by, or even transcend, those rules of thumb?’

To get things started, we asked the creative directors to imagine themselves in a meeting with the client, faced with having to pitch their chosen execution.

Brad Riddoch is executive vice-president, creative director at Toronto-based Bates Canada.

Creative Talent: Marc Giacomelli, Martin Keen and Nigel Dickson

Client: The Archdiocese of Toronto

Product: The priesthood

As if the client’s reputation wasn’t intimidating enough, the room in which I found myself was huge.

It was only the waiting room.

The doors, if you could call anything that big a door, opened without a sound.

A man, looking as small in relation to the door as I now felt, gestured me in to the boardroom.

He held the door as I entered, and closed it behind me.

I don’t know what I expected, but it was a lot bigger.

Suffice to say it made the waiting room look like a waiting room.

Typically, he sat at the head of what looked like a runway, but was, in fact, the boardroom table.

He being the man who had created the world’s single largest family-owned and -operated service business from nothingness just less than a millennium ago.

On his right sat his son, the director of sales and marketing and the company’s advertising spokesman/mnemonic for at least as long as anyone living could remember.

They had that look on their face that clearly said they had seen it all before.

But, they looked me in the eye, smiled politely, and without a word, made it quite clear that I should now present.

‘Gentlemen,’ I began, making the long walk from my end of the table to theirs, ‘you are the global market leader.

‘No. 1 in share of voice, mind, sales and dollars,’ I continued. ‘One hundred per cent unaided awareness. You have an excellent reputation. Your product – unique.’

They smiled. I continued.

‘But, and I mean no disrespect, your business is dying.’ Literally. Loyal users are virtually all 50+.

‘The all-important 18-49 segment is slipping badly. It’s not just that they think you’re ‘unhip’. They aren’t even sure that you still exist.

‘Yes, you are still getting entry level consumers, but you’re not keeping them. Lapsed and light users are growing, with the ‘once or twice a year’ segment experiencing exponential growth.

‘And, I’m sure I don’t have to draw attention to your seasonality problem.’

I paused for a comprehension check.

They both nodded politely.

‘You’ve had a rough few years,’ I rationalized.

‘Competition has been fierce. What with international entries, some trendy new product introductions, and a lot of ‘new and improved’ news in the category, consumers have had an abundance of choice.

‘And, they are choosing your competitors.’

Their expressions were expectedly grim, though they continued to nod.

‘But, that, I fear, is not the worst of it.’

Now I really had their attention.

‘Your product is just not what it used to be.’

I waited for the thunder, the lightning, the fire, the brimstone.


They shared a look before returning their attention to me.

Either no one had ever had the courage to tell them the truth before, or they were frugal with their wrath.

‘The reason: in recent years, you have failed to attract the right kind of people to your employ,’ I said.

‘You need some new talent, new blood, no pun intended.

‘Think about it, what have you seen come out of research and development in the last few years?

‘What was your last new product? Line extension?’

Good questions, I could see from their eyes.

So, with an apologetic gesture to the son, I ventured into more sacred ground.

‘What about sales and marketing?’ I asked. ‘Both departments are completely demoralized. But, you can’t blame them.

‘They’re operating under guidelines that date back to the Romans.

‘Sure, it used to work, when consumers were less sophisticated and had fewer options. It’s different today. Consumers are more skeptical; they need a reason to believe.’

‘So, what, in God’s name, with all due respect, do we do?’

They caught on to the fact that it was a rhetorical question and allowed me to answer it myself.

‘We do a recruitment ad,’ I said.

I could tell by the way their eyebrows went down that they were not expecting this.

I pitched my voice up a notch. ‘But, not just any recruitment ad.

‘A recruitment ad that challenges prospective employees to not just apply, but commit.

‘An ad that boldly and honestly promises a career full of hard work and suffering with a fair amount of humiliation, persecution and degradation thrown in.

‘An ad that not only does all this, but, at the same time, communicates the immeasurable rewards that such a career path will offer now, and in the future.’

Their skepticism was moving toward curiosity. They wanted to believe me.

I took a moment to pull the foam core mounted layout from my portfolio and held it tight to my chest so that they couldn’t see it.

I hoped to visually reinforce my conviction by revealing I had but one ad to show them.

‘I’m sure you will agree that I have not described an ordinary ad,’ I said.

Their unchanged expressions said that they didn’t.

‘So, there is no reason that I would recommend an ordinary medium,’ I said.

‘You don’t run an ad like this in newspapers or trade publications. You run it on a billboard.’

Their eyebrows were knitting into that squint of incomprehension, so I hurdled on.

‘Only in billboard will you achieve the impact this message deserves.

‘A medium that will allow you to reach not only your desired target of prospective employees, but the skeptical masses.

‘You will remind lapsed users what your product is about by revealing the character of those you employ to make, package and sell it.

‘You will raise the morale of current employees by reminding them why they chose a career with you in the first place.

‘Most importantly, by going with outdoor, you take a leadership stance in a leadership medium.’

I had them. They were visibly anxious for me to show them the comp.

I feinted with the foam core, hesitated, as if suddenly remembering something, and delivered the closer:

‘Incidentally, since tone and manner is a tad more edgy than past communication, it seemed prudent to maintain your son as the spokesperson.’

I flipped the ad over.