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Ashtray ads foiled

By The Drum | Administrator

April 6, 2006 | 5 min read

When the smoking ban was introduced last month, few could have anticipated the arrival of a new advertising medium: the humble ashtray.

Rather than get caught up in the ‘right or wrong’ debate over the ban itself, one enterprising Glasgow company decided to make the most of the situation with a new marketing concept. The idea: fixing ashtrays outside pubs so that smokers now being forced to smoke outdoors would have somewhere to put their stubs, but would also act as a platform for carrying advertising. The Scottish Executive – through Mediacom – became the first client to sign up to place its smoking ban ads on the ashtrays.

Enter Glasgow City Council, who dictated that the premises which signed up to the ashtrays, required planning permission for the ashtrays, if they were to act as poster sites. As most didn’t have it, the roll-out of the ashtrays as a medium had to be halted.

Gary Clark, a director with CJC Media – which launched the ashtrays – is frustrated with the issue. “Every building is required to have something like this outside to comply with the ban,” he says. “We supplied 1200 for free to begin with [with a view to selling ads], but then the council got in touch so we’re now selling them just as ashtrays. The issue seems to be that some planners have decided that the ashtrays as poster sites are ‘diminimus’ (meaning too small to be legislated for) while others say they are not.”

The ironic thing with the ashtrays is that pubs are allowed to advertise anything they sell inside their bars (such as alcohol brands), but not any of the Scottish Executive’s socially responsible messages.

It’s an example of an otherwise innovative and intelligent marketing idea falling foul of the law, but is also an illustration of how ambient continues to push the boundaries of traditional media. “Ambient media really used to mean fly posting but it seems to have been overtaken now by things like washroom poster sites as well as stunts and field marketing,” says Joe McAspurn, managing director of Ignition. “If you look at the drinks industry, sampling in bars is no longer just about a pretty girl giving away free drinks, it’s now about putting on a show for 10-15 minutes. That type of guerrilla marketing is much more prevalent now.”

But what’s the point of coming up with these new and creative ideas only to have them shot down by local authorities? Mark Evans, managing director of Glasgow-based Kommando, is keen to point out that one of the most important factors to consider when planning ambient activity is the legislation involved. Evans says: “Everything we do in terms of guerrilla marketing activity is researched thoroughly beforehand.

“Different councils have different rules, planning bylaws and legislation. For example, we’ve done work with acid-etching, where we will brand a company’s logo onto a street. It’s not counted as graffiti because the acid is biodegradable and, as we wash it off ourselves, actually counts as street cleaning. You get away with that in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but Westminster has much stricter rules.”

Last year ad agency 1576 courted publicity with its giant ‘golf tee’ model for client Gleneagles, which was erected in a field near a busy motorway. Creative director Adrian Jeffery says: “We contacted the local police to find out if we were the correct distance away from the road. We also contacted the local council to check their planning regulations and then paid the farmer who owned the land so that we could use his field.”

Brushing up on the law is particularly important when, as with CJC’s ashtrays, a company is essentially creating a new advertising medium.

Glasgow-based Agripa is responsible for inventing and patenting a system which allows easily-exchangeable adverts to be mounted on the sides of lorries. However the creation of the system took time, as sales and marketing director Roseanne Grant explains: “We were going to operate on public roads, so we had to be completely safe. We received accreditation from MIRA, the Motor Industry Research Association, the Vehicle Certification Agency, called VCA, and on top of that got our own European E-Type approval. We also built reflective panels onto the system so that we were not just selling ad space, we were actually selling something that makes the vehicles safer on the road.

“There was about two-to-three years research between the initial concept and the time it went on the roads.”

With so much effort involved in ensuring that an ambient campaign or platform is legal, many people might allow themselves to revert to more traditional media channels. However, used correctly and with the right time and effort given over to research, the results can be highly effective. “When these things work out it’s just fantastic,” says Kevin Bird, joint creative director at Family. “You encounter the ’you can’t do that, it’s never been done before’ attitude and you just say ’well, how can we make it happen?’ It’s just really exciting. It’s easy to give up on it when you’ve got problems. It’s easy to just go with a more conventional press ad. But when it does come together it can be really successful, both from a creative point of view and for the client.”

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