May 5th, 2020
Beacon of Light: Preparing for the pivot from Stay At Home to Out of Home
Sites referenced
Newcastle Central

The use of the famous Piccadilly Lights in Central London to carry messages on behalf of Her Majesty Queen and congratulations to national treasure Captain Tom Moore hasn’t gone unnoticed. These special moments have attracted impressive news coverage and broadcast interest from across the world.

This iconic site is owned by Landsec, but we at Ocean Outdoor are responsible for the content that goes up on the Lights. We first featured Captain Moore on April 18 when he was in the middle of his fundraising exploits. We just wanted to congratulate him and get the message out there a little bit more. It seemed perfect and ideal to also have him up there to mark his 100th birthday.

This prompted an early morning BBC Radio talk with broadcaster Vanessa Feltz who asked me how it all works and that led to an interesting chat about how advertising and media is doing when the government message is stay at home as opposed to out of home.

Here’s a recap:

We’ve got a really good relationship with Landsec and because the Lights are in such an iconic place, we know that even if people aren’t physically walking past it at the moment, it is still being picked up by TV, the papers and on social media.

We think of the Lights as a national beacon really, and we want to spread a bit of positivity, so whilst there are still advertising messages up there, we will often put up other messages to reflect key national events.

In terms of advertising, we have commercial messages from some of the biggest and most famous companies in the world, people like Samsung, and Coca Cola, and Hyundai, but we also set space aside to commemorate important events.

So, when London Fashion Week is on, for instance, or the Queen’s message to the nation with her message of support, we put that up there as well. And when something like that is up on the Lights you get tens of millions of viewers coming through other channels just to see the messaging.

As Vanessa pointed out, there are some astounding pictures at the moment of London streets without a vehicle or person in view.

It’s really strange. I think we’ll probably never see the like of it again. But it will come back and there will be the usual tens of thousands of people milling around there before too long (Westminster City Council guidelines applying of course).

Balancing Act

Since lockdown, I’ve come to regards the Lights as a bellwether for what’s happening in advertising and media. When the Captain Tom Moore message went live, we knew that people would be sharing it on their social media feeds and that it would be on the news because it’s such an uplifting story.

For brands, it’s all about balance. There’s a comfort and a familiarity in some of the messaging; I think it’s all about the tone. We’ve seen some great examples of brands just shifting their tone a little bit, saying that they acknowledge that people are going through hard times, but that they are there for them.

I think Tesco have done well with their Food Love Stories. It’s as if they are there right alongside you. We’ve also had brands like Paddy Power up on our other screens with a cheekier message which improves the odds of the NHS stay at home message cutting through.

If you’re sticking with the normal, straight advertising message, sometimes that will be relevant and good, but anything you can do to acknowledge the stages that people are going through I think will resonate more.

It’s really tough out there for all media companies, but we’ve got incredible media in this country and it’s important that they’re supported. The outdoor industry, for instance, funds so many public services and the money that we take through advertising – a ton of that goes back into Local Authorities to do good.

These are dark times and the media and industry isn’t immune. But we’re hopeful. We’re looking to the future, and we’re starting to see green shoots. The advertisers who had pulled off are starting to come back and have conversations with us about what they might be doing in late summer, early autumn.

Bring on the pivot from stay at home to out of home.

You can listen to Phil chat to Vanessa Feltz on the link below. The programme was broadcast on April 30th.

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