Special report: Creativity in outdoor advertising: Apple: message without words

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.

Rick Davis is senior vice-president creative director at Young & Rubicam in Toronto.

Agency: BBDO, Los Angeles

Client: Apple

Product: Powerback computers

We walk into the Apple boardroom. My favorite client in the whole wide world, the Apple advertising director, is sitting there eagerly awaiting the new PowerBook superboard that will grace the urban landscapes of New York and L.A.

This lady really knows her onions. She’s as much an advertising afficionado as any agency person I’ve met. She knows what makes good outdoor. Simplicity. Presence. Humanity. Content.

What she’s interested in is great outdoor. For her, great outdoor is all of the above, and more. She wants her outdoor to be an ‘event.’ She wants it to be as significant as the technology it’s designed to introduce.

With her is a new product development assistant, a former p&ger. Yikes.

The presentation begins with the account supervisor reviewing the strategy. Nice and simple.

Then, the creative team stands to present the board.

They briefly review the hot points: simplicity, presence, humanity, content.

Then, they show examples of some great work to get everyone in an outdoor mood. Up comes the Museum of Flight, followed by Boddingtons, Nike, and the San Diego Zoo. Nice stuff. Lots of Obies.

The advertising director smiles. She likes this stuff, too. It makes an event out of outdoor. It shows imagination and flair. And, as the creative team points out, it says big things about the client and the client’s product.

Meanwhile, the product development assistant sits passively. Yikes.

The creatives slowly and lovingly unveil the new PowerBook board.

It is stark and simple. The amount of white space is striking and powerful. In the middle, in thin black type, is the word ‘PowerBook. In the bottom right-hand corner is the Apple logo. Sitting atop the board, is an executive, his suit jacket beside him, with his Apple PowerBook computer on his lap.

The creative team lets the silence (the awe) fill the room. One beat, two beats, three beats.

‘Think,’ says the copywriter, ‘where else have you seen a billboard that so forcefully and convincingly demonstrates the proposition? The portability? The easy use? The simplicity?

‘Imagine. Actually demonstrating the product’s use on a billboard.

‘Don’t know why we have all that white space sitting there doing nothing,’ says the product development assistant. ‘We could reinforce our message with a headline. We need words.’

We listen. Silence fills the room. Yikes.

I draw the young man’s attention to all the wonderfully understated Apple work gracing the walls.

‘This is how Apple speaks,’ we say.

‘Apple speaks like a leader. Apple rewards its customers’ intelligence with equally intelligent communications. They expect this from us.’

Pointing to the superboard, we add: ‘They will be disappointed with anything less than this.’

My favorite client in the whole wide world stands and smiles, then shakes our hands firmly. She speaks no words. No words are needed to say she loves the idea.

She smiles, too, at the young product development assistant. She nods.

He smiles silently back.

No words are needed to get the message.