If TV is the evil stepmother of interruptive media, then outdoor is at least the wicked stepsister. Billboards can be beautiful, grandiose and colorful breaks in the urban landscape. In the worst case, however, they can be obtrusive visual polluters. Most people would agree that we don't need more outdoor advertising. Though few of us likely want more billboards, most of us do want to live on a sustainable planet. Could there be an opportunity for brands to leverage these extremely visible spaces in a better way?
Vacant billboards are synonymous with tumbleweeds in symbolizing urban decay. The Ad Council is a non-profit organization that offers media companies the ability to fill these gaps by offering professionally produced PSA's within remnant (a/k/a: unused) advertising space. During the ad recession of the past year, I've seen outdoor vendors resort to PSA messaging en masse to fill otherwise ugly outdoor spaces.
During this great recession, it certainly is encouraging to hear about businesses that are going a step farther and actually creating new outdoor spaces (and hence new jobs), by using a combination of technology and green media. This is a gargantuan task, given that unsold inventory in all categories has been at near-historical highs in 2009.
Adopt-A-Watt is an extremely forward-thinking company, premised on a sponsored advertising model, which has some resemblance to the adopt-a-highway programs across North America.
"Businesses pay for a small solar panel in some public place, and get a sign proclaiming their generosity and acting as advertising," according to Thomas Wither, the principal and founder of the program.
The program creates a revenue model for the school district and municipality, offers both social investment and green investment association for the sponsor, and --- most importantly --- offers children a safer environment, powered by sustainable technology.
A creative director at a national interactive agency responded to my request for submissions with a bright idea. He wanted to remain off the record with his name/agency, and openly asked that his idea be borrowed by any entrepreneurial media leader in the outdoor space. His idea combines green marketing, interactive mobile marketing, and outdoor advertising.
"Why not offer unique text codes in busy urban corridors on billboards, whereby the sponsor brand/company 'plants a tree' for every unique text received? Do they have green technology for billboards yet? I'm sure they could run a live digital ticker updating the number of trees planted."
No more than 30 seconds of Googling shows that, indeed, there is a plethora of green tech for outdoors: a green outdoor solar scroller; recyclable billboard material; solar panels for illuminating transit ads. Such an idea then could be powered almost entirely by sustainable technologies and practices.
Whether or not green remains chic over time, it's increasingly clear that the willpower, creativity, initiative, and leadership required to indelibly entrench green into the media industry does exist.
Please contribute to the discussion below or contact me directly with any other ideas regarding innovative uses of sustainable technologies to promote green in our industry. Stay tuned for next month's article, "Green: Print."