Had the train station become a bank branch?
That’s sort of how it felt walking through Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station every morning on my way to work this week.
Ascending the escalator from the platform I’d see enormous Bank of Melbourne posters dangling from the steel girders high above the tracks and a Bank of Melbourne billboard on the wall as I reached the mezzanine level. All space not occupied by a retailing brand bore the bank’s purple colours, logo and name including the fencing around the tracks, the staircase, more billboards at the main entrance on the busy corner of Collins and Spencer and even a Bank of Melbourne ad just below the roof a couple of stories up.
The only thing that was missing was the Bank of Melbourne itself. For if you were hoping to deposit a cheque, open an account of apply for a home loan at the Bank of Melbourne you’d be out of luck.
In addition to the advertising blitz, Bank of Melbourne was giving away free coffee in Bank of Melbourne cups served by baristas in Bank of Melbourne t-shirts. The only thing that didn’t bear its logo were the sachets of sugar and sweetener.
I duly queued up. The coffee was crap and the bean grinder broke down – I’ll avoid the temptation to draw comparisons with bank service in this country and instead ponder what’s actually going on.
I went to the website of Southern Cross Station and clicked on the button marked “Advertising“. The page contained this message:
If you would like to advertise your business or services at Southern Cross Station, contact JC Decaux.
Just who is JCDecaux? It’s a French-based global ‘outdoor’ advertising giant specialising in selling advertising space across three divisions: transport, billboards and street furniture. In 2012 it earned nearly $3.8 billion revenue. It employs over 10,000 people and is the largest outdoor advertising agency in the world. The second biggest is a US company called Clear Channel Outdoor with revenues of $3.16 billion.
In Australia’s JCDecaux’s main local competitors are: oOh!Media, the world’s 11th biggest agency and APN (12th biggest), which has two subsidiaries – Adshel and Buspak.
Australians see all of these company names everyday. Guaranteed. You may not notice them – the intention is not to promote them but the ad itself – but they will be somewhere on the billboard or poster. Like this one:
Unlike the dominant forms of advertising – television and radio – outdoor advertising is almost subliminal, somewhat Orwellian.
Your eye registers the ad as you rush past it in the station, at the airport, while you’re waiting for a bus. Perhaps you even stop to ponder it, but more often than not you barely even notice. Next thing, you’re craving a hamburger even though you just ate or a new mobile phone, despite their being the latest model in your pocket. More than likely, you’ve been influenced by a piece of outdoor advertising you barely even noticed, but processed sub-consciously.
The JCDecaux annual report provides some fascinating insights into the ubiquitous-ness of outdoor advertising and its ‘out there, but not really there’ dichotomy.
For example, did you know that street furniture advertising products include all of these: bus shelters, public toilets (blokes, you know the ones when you’re having a slash), self-service bicycle schemes, kiosks for flowers or newspapers, public trash bins, benches, citylight panels, public information panels, streetlights, street signage, bicycle racks and shelters, recycling bins for glass, batteries or paper, electronic message boards and interactive computer terminals.
Transport advertising covers major airports, metros, trains, buses, trams and
other mass transit systems, as well as express train terminals serving international airports around the world.
JCDecaux’s billboard advertising includes the M4 Tower, the UK’s tallest
purpose-built advertising structure at 28.5 meters tall, as high
as a seven-storey building on the main highway to Heathrow Airport from London.
How does JCDecaux and Clear Channel get access to these public spaces? Generally it negotiates an agreement with city authorities and either pays them a fee or a percentage of the revenue they earn from the ads they sell.
According to JCDecaux’s annual report, the outdoor advertising market is worth around $35 billion annually across the globe, about 9% of the total global advertising market, which is worth around $500 billion.
A relatively small part of the market, but highly influential, highly influencing and somewhat sly and invasive.
Something to think about the next time you get a strange craving or find yourself staring at one of these, while urinating in the airport toilet: