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Sustainable Rotterdam

The city is re-inventing itself

Defining Urban Spam

Sunday, October 29, 2006


For some days now I can see from my apartment that the Pathe cinema at Schouwburgplein has been covered with an immense printed advertisement of Nike picturing Spanish tennis player Rafa Nadal. Finally, today I decided to check it out and take a closer look - even when that's not really necessary since it can be spotted from the distance. The values in which we foresee a sustainable Rotterdam clash with this kind of practices, the ad is simply an outrageous piece of urban spam as annoying as receiving 120 unsolicited e-mails on a day, with the difference that this one will be there for several days.

There's nothing wrong about branding the public space as there's nothing wrong in using e-mail to extend the message of a brand. Actually, I believe that clever branding can be as meaningful in public space as urban art is. But tha's exactly what marketers, agencies, and local authorities should ask themselves when deciding to cover an entire building with a printed ad: how meaningful and appropriate is this for the context - the city - and citizen-market?

Yelling doesn't make your message and experience better or outstanding. For a printed ad in public space to be relevant it is about meaningful content using the appropriate format for your target group or niche.

1. Content
Functionality of printed ads is purely informational and unidirectional; there's none - or limited - room for interaction limiting engagement with citizen-market. Basically what I have observed are three versions of content:
  • Priced sales and special deals
  • Presentation of a new product, collection or service
  • Announcement of events; concerts, parties, local festivals
How relevant are these informational messages within the context of a city and how the citizen perceives them? Personally, I may find practical to encounter announcement of events because those are relevant pieces of information for me when taking the pulse of the city and writing this blog. Yet, other channels are available to get the same information, extended, and right up to date delivered to you which results more efficient and meaningful - i.e. e-mail newsletters, Google Calendar. The same applies to priced sales and presentations of new products/services; it rarely happens that those are shown when looking for them and being prepared to experience the unidirectional message.
  • Who thinks that by purely sticking a picture and a text line on my nose, that I didn't choose or aimed to get, I am going to get a positive attitude about the brand?
2. Format
Printed advertisement in public spaces takes a variety of formats, mainly differentiated by size, materials and supporting elements. Ranging from few square cm in flyers to several hundred square meters in building coverings, the general perception of printed advertisement in public space - at least here in Rotterdam - is lack of consistency in formats.
I would like to catalogue and capture visually the variety of formats that can be encountered around Rotterdam and create a Flick set. Send us your pictures and I will add them to the set, alternatively you can use the tag 'sustainablerotterdam'.

Regarding format, the questions that should be asked are:
  • How does the format of the advertisement add value to the experience of perceiving the content and the public space?
  • Does large mean better or more appropriate?
  • How do these formats and supporting elements cope with the original design of the urban space?
3. Target group
When an informative message is literally placed at the middle of the street, we may say that it lacks focus and takes an arbitrary strategy; by definition a limited rate of citizen-market may feel that the message is meaningful and appropriate for their own interests and needs. Additionally, it can be observed the doubling of roles in the target group;
  • How can the individuals that experience the urban context be defined; citizens, 24/7 foreseeable consumers, both?
  • On what basis is the trade off citizen-market managed?
  • How do local authorities balance the always welcome cash-flow of revenues of commercially exploiting the public space and its appropriateness?
The combination of the above described elements may lead to either appropriate or inappropriate use of the public space, the latest it's what I call urban spam; the ultimate plague of the dense urban space. Would you like to contribute to the discussion and answer any of the above questions? Leave us a text comment or voice message at Odeo.


posted by Oriol P., 5:32 PM

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