Chris Kyme: Postcard from Hong Kong

Chris Kyme_April2016.jpgChris Kyme continues his "Postcard from Hong Kong" series and this month he reminisces on the great outdoor posters of previous eras...

Outdoor and out of mind?

Happy New Year, and I wish you a great year ahead whatever you're doing and wherever you're working (as long as you're not playing for Tottenham).

I caught this nice piece recently about the relevance and power of outdoor media in this oh-so digital age, citing a Netflix campaign which opted for good old fashioned billboards on Sunset Strip in LA to guarantee eyeballs and attract new writers and directors. You can read it here.

And it got me thinking - when was the last time you saw a really brilliant poster in your city? Something simple and striking and clever and entertaining which got your attention in a nice way? I'm not talking about the usual scampaigns you see at any awards show these days. But live. On the streets. On a bus. On a billboard. Out there in the public space working hard for whoever paid good money for it.
I bet you can't remember.

I love outdoor as a medium because it's so honest. You don't need any case study video to explain the idea, it either works or it doesn't. Growing up in advertising in London in the 80s we were treated week in week out to gobsmackingly brilliant ads staring down from 48 sheet sites all over London.

One fella I knew (Dave Waters, ex partner of Paul Grubb, both ex Gold Greenlees Trott) used to take the bus to work instead of the tube so he could look out for what new ads were up. We didn't need to wait for D&AD annual to come out. We were living it every day.

Victory V.jpgOne of the first posters that ever caught my eye and made me want to get into this racket was for Victory V lozenges, famous for being hot. There were no words. Just a brilliant illustration of a head being blown off of a body holding a pack of the product. No extra logo either. Just that. Stunning. Said everything. This was in the 80s, way before scam advertising was invented so whoever did it had the job of selling it in to a client ballsy enough to go with it. Oh what a feast of such brilliance we were surrounded by constantly. And it fired you up. made you want to sit down and compete.

I recall great campaigns for London Weekend Television (from aforementioned GGT agency), Fiat cars, Heineken, The Times, The Economist.

Then came the stunning 'Also sticks handles to teapots' ad for Araldite adhesive, which had a real car stuck to a poster. Gulp!

When we sat down to tackle a brief, we were being measured against such work. It made you try harder.

Araldite.jpgDo you see that in the public eye today?

Can we say that in Asia? And if not, why?

A number of years ago, I wrote and conducted a workshop in Hong Kong, on behalf of a media vendor, which I called 'The Principles of Outdoor'. It wasn't about creativity or how clever we creative people are. I simply wanted to try and help prevent clients from wasting money on ads that simply don't work.

I collected heaps of examples. Ads on escalator panels with 10-12 different messages (which need to be digested in 3 seconds), convoluted layout designs with all sorts of colours and elements going on in the midst of walking areas. My main points were the role of outdoor, how it can work, and how to make it work. The key theme being simplicity. Before you even get to being creative or inspiring.

It seemed to go down well, and we had a good session where the attendants worked on a brief to see what was sinking in. But looking around today, I don't think it had any major effect. And I see money being wasted on ineffective outdoor ads everywhere, breaking all the basic simple rules.

We see brilliant work every year turn up in award shows. Especially from countries in Asia. But let's not kid ourselves what is real and not real work. This rant is not about that. What I can't figure out is, why can't agencies convert such creative brilliance which is obviously within their ranks, into real big spending campaigns for the clients? So that we see it every day in outdoor, the greatest show on earth.

Fortune.jpgA few years ago, we got lucky with a half decent campaign for Fortune coughing products, which ran and ran big. We only garnered a nod in the local awards, but it was still nice work, and we had to sell it in. We had to work hard at selling it in and keeping it as pure as possible. In the end, I think we just got lucky. Lucky client at the right time. Because we have a bottom draw full of failed attempts to repeat it. People talk about hard sell. Damn right - good work is really hard to sell.

But having read that article, it made me think. Now there's a challenge for 2019 - get one great poster out there.

Best wishes for the year ahead. 

Chris Kyme is Co-founder and Creative Director at Kymechow, Hong Kong

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m said:

As a youngster in UK in the 80s, I can remember many memorable billboards, for tobacco clients in particular.

The Silk Cut ad is as ingrained in my brain as much as any TVC of the time (and it was the golden age of TVCs). Big piece of purple silk wit a cut in the middle. No words. Nothing.

Some similar B7H ads here

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