Don’t make Waterstones’ mistake with your posters

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The UK bookseller Waterstones [sic] has been doing some odd things lately.

Last week, much to the horror of grammarians, the store announced it was dropping its apostrophe.

Waterstone's poster, London December 2011 - click to expand

This is not the first instance of the company’s strange behaviour though.

Just before Christmas I spotted one of its posters, shown on the left.

So, what’s wrong with it? Well, it contains about 100 words. And it was sited on a busy pavement where pedestrians rarely stop. And it was in a scrolling light box fixture that displays a series of posters on a loop. For about 3 seconds each.

3 seconds to read 100 words?

Unless you’re the world’s fastest reader, there was no way you’d get what the advertiser was trying to say.

Maybe there’s an opportunity to advertise a speed reading course?

I had to be quick just to capture the poster on my camera, before it scrolled up into the innards of the lightbox.

Waterstones is one of many advertisers who aren’t thinking about the context of their ads.

If you go around London with a critical eye you’ll notice quite a few posters you haven’t been noticing.

Sometimes the problem is that the poster lacks graphic impact, so it doesn’t catch your eye.

But more often it’s a matter of there being simply too many words for you to take in at a glance.

In cases like these it’s clear that the creative team and the media buyer or planner didn’t talk with each other beforehand.

If they’d done so, they wouldn’t have created and placed posters that people couldn’t read. Ads that wasted the advertisers’ money.

Think about where your poster will appear

If you’re creating a poster, imagine how long it would take you to read it in situ. And consider, realistically, if you’d have enough time to take it in.

If it’s facing a busy road, I’d recommend using not more than 4 words.

Last year I saw a poster next to the M4 motorway that had at least 30.

Ideally run a concept that uses only a visual and logo without a headline.

Of course there are places for long-copy posters. They’re spots where people have “dwell time”. Inside bus shelters and on train platforms, for example.

I love the cross-track poster medium in the London Underground. It gives you an excellent opportunity to seduce your customers with a long read – as long as you make it an entertaining and informative read.

Maybe Waterstones should have run their posters as cross-tracks?


2 replies
  1. Dean
    Dean says:

    Thanks for your comment. I see that you work in Manchester. Perhaps poster advertisers there are more economical with words than they are here in London. Or maybe you’re just a very fast reader?

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