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The Truth About Wild Posting & How to Not Get Fined*

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes, 27 seconds

The Truth about Wild Posting

The grungy look of wild posting can fool you. But wild posting is a big business.

As an Out of Home (OOH) media buying format, wild posting follows the supply and demand of property – as well the whims of what brands and their consumers perceive as “cool.”

In this definitive 4-part guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about one of our favorite forms of Out of Home (OOH) Media:

  1. The Origin Story of Wild Posting
  2. The Economics of Wild Posting
  3. How Much Does Wild Posting Cost? and…
  4. How To Not Get Fined*

1. When Wild Posting was Wild: The Origin Story

The roots of wild posting run deep. Early references to bill posting connect the practice to entertainment marketing. Wild posting, or “fly posting” as it’s called in the UK, was big in the Victorian-era. In 1872 the International Bill Posters’ Association of North America formed. This organization would later become the still-existing Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA). Charles Dickens wrote of fly posting in 1879 in his Dictionary of London.

But modern wild posting as a medium stems from the culture of protest in the `60s, and the punk music scene in `60s and `70s in London, Berlin, and New York.

In a pre-social media era, early wild posting advertised musical performances. Venues without legal liquor licenses couldn’t place ads in newsprint, which was costly anyway. Street posters, stencil graffiti, and sidewalk decals covered walls and scaffolding in neighborhoods where real estate was cheap or vacant. Over time, in New York’s Lower East Side, SoHo, or East London, wild postering became part of the neighborhood landscape.

Like Twitter, wild postings delivered blunt, fast-composed declarations of news, events, and opinion. Artists glued screen-printed posters, sometimes printed by hand, to walls with wheatpaste. In the `70s and `80s counterculture, wild posting, as a crude method of advertising, was 100% punk. This subversiveness was ideal for young record labels, nightclubs and artists. Groups who couldn’t afford advertising on billboards or in glossy magazines anyway.

In short, the “revolution has been commoditized” and wild posting is now part and parcel of a modern urban media buying ecosystem.

As years passed, these neighbourhoods have gentrified. The 2013 Metropolitan gala, “Punk: From Chaos to Couture” heralded this messy punk aesthetic. A grungy early era of out of home media buying is now treated with whitewashed nostalgia. At the same time, the rise of digital in media buying, makes real-world OOH exposure more desirable. Today, wild posting’s eye-level authenticity, and gentle subversiveness, makes advertisers love the format.

Wild posting, and even graffiti, is now an orchestrated part of city-planning. Consider Miami’s Wynwood: Once a warehouse district,  developers commissioned famous graffiti artists to paint murals, all to add appeal to the area. Wild posting, sidewalk stencils, and stickers line the streets – some are paid ads, most are not.

In short, the “revolution has been commoditized” and wild posting is now part and parcel of a modern urban media buying ecosystem.

An anti-gentrification notice to nearby renters (advising “1. Don’t sign anything!”) against a backdrop of “fly posters” in Berlin’s Neukölln neighbourhood. Photo from The Guardian.

2. The Economics of Wild Posting

These days, in major cities like NYC, Paris, London and Berlin, wild posting, like the neighborhoods known for it, is gentrifying. And costs are rising.

As a result of global urbanization, rising real estate costs, and gentrification itself, the economics of wild posting is in flux. After city crackdown campaigns from 2005-2015, as part of the popularity of “broken windows” policing, legal posting sites became scarce. Few companies operate in the guerilla OOH space, sometimes monopolizing whole city blocks, neighborhoods, or urban markets altogether. Other firms run without local or city permits, factoring the cost of potential fines into their rates.

From a “cost-of-goods” perspective, wild posting is outrageously cheap to execute. The paste used in wild posting comes from common kitchen ingredients – flour, water, and sugar – for as little as $1 a gallon. Print To Resist, a US-based political resistance group focused on visual media, offers a recipe guide with variations. (But beware: wheatpaste is extremely messy).

Still, advertisers now pay a premium to have their posters wheat-pasted in cities. Why? Because, unlike most paid advertising media, it’s cool. Out of home is generally seeing a resurgence as a counterpoint to digital media. OOH is the only “traditional” (non-digital) form of media showing growth, at +4.6% growth YOY, and with digital (DOOH) showing +16% YOY growth.

This growth in OOH investment reflects not just the “coolness” of wild posting, but the effectiveness of OOH overall. Research shows 46% of US consumers use a search engine after seeing an OOH ad (WARC).

For general outdoor advertising such as transit ads, most major cities issue hard-to-get licenses owned by consolidated OOH media conglomerates. And while the advent of digital OOH allows outdoor companies to multiply the ad inventory owned by 5x, renewed interest in outdoor makes even low-fi traditional formats – like wild postering – more popular than ever. If only it were legal.

Typically, OOH operators make ad hoc deals with property owners to apply postings to their sites. And even where these deals don’t exist, legal and enforceability loopholes often allow wild-posters and guerilla marketers to eschew fines. For instance, city citations often allow 30 days for removal. 30 days, of course, is often ideal for a campaign to run its course. (And most wild posters won’t remain visible after 30 days due to the weather and other aggressive posting.)

The outrageous demand for wild posting, coupled with the limited sites available, the density of urban markets and the exposure they offer, plus the human labor required to install and remove, makes wild posting more costly than most realize.

Which begs the question:

3. So, how much does Wild Posting Cost?

Wild posting costs will vary based on 3 factors: real estate, demand, and legality.

Real Estate

For the first part, “real estate” value follows traditional OOH, where highly-desirable, or highly-trafficked locations are more costly. The typical metric for OUH is estimated by Daily Effective Circulation Numbers (D.E.C.), calculated in relation to the number of daily passers by.

In major wild posting markets like NYC, London, Paris, Berlin, LA and SF, daily views of wild posting sites can total 100k, 46k, 21k, and 19.6k respectively depending on location. CPMs (costs per thousand views) for wild posting and other out of home media can range from $5- $55 USD, not accounting for production costs. Costs are increasing as ad sites become more scarce, and demand continues to grow. Particularly in areas most heavily saturated with pedestrian traffic.

Demand

Demand is tough to predict. The costs of wild posting can be influenced by seasonality. Q4 is generally the most expensive time of year for advertising, regardless of medium. Advertising costs can also increase due to a timely event, such as a trade show, upcoming concert, or new product launch or fashion season.

But more broadly, demand for wild posting isn’t just about tactical factors. It’s about how wild postering feels compared to more traditional out of home media buying formats. And while viewership is quantifiable, this “feel” is not. Wild posting evokes nostalgia for a grittier era. It also encourages public, eye-level participation. Wild posting is a statement against the mainstream, implying risk and rebellion against authority.

Or does it? American Express, Apple, Calvin Klein, Microsoft, Giorgio Armani, and Sony are all big fans of wild posting. These brands may not be what you envision to be proponents of a punk movement. Yet wild posting as a medium lends these brands a younger and edgier image. Now, wild posting, ironically a once free (if illegal) medium, commands a premium for the very fact of its grunginess.

Legality

Larger advertisers will continue adopt wild posting, even as costs continue to climb. This is because they can afford it, and often find it is still cost-effective compared with traditional advertising media. Allegedly, wild posting saved Sony and BMG “more than £8m in advertising costs” according to the borough of Camden, London in a 2004 report. Yet this is challenging to quantify.

Next up in our guide, we’ll discuss how to implement a wild posting campaign without getting fined*.

All considerations of the economics of wild posting beg the question: is wild posting worth it? Yes. Countless startup brands in the growing DTC world love its freshness and originality. Wild postering in urban markets is a key area of growth in static OOH (out of home). As far as paid media investment, it’s a pretty cool part of a campaign’s media mix.

3. How To Avoid Getting Fined for Wild Poster Advertising*- Cases + Tips

Part of wild posting’s “cool” is the perception that it’s illegal. Here are cases and tips to inform your wild posting media planning and buying — and avoid legal issues*.

First things first: it’s key to choose your markets strategically.

In the UK, wild posting is a violation of Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO). In the US and most of North America, a patchwork of local ordinances govern wild posting.  Sometimes these ordinances govern wild postering through litter laws. Sometimes it’s defined as outdoor advertising.  It’s is downright illegal in India, yet few companies have found themselves in deep fines. In China, it’s uncommon outside of Hong Kong. And in Europe, it varies not only country-to-country, but city-to-city.

In the US, for instance, San Franciscio fined IBM and NBC Universal $103,000 and $100,000 respectively when the brands spray painted various logos throughout the city.  In New York, illegal advertising carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 days jail time. Some attorneys strongly discourage illegal wild posting altogether for fear of fines or other actions, yet selective enforcement of graffiti law on outdoor advertising has been criticized as restricting speech, it also can wreak havoc for marketers and media planners.

So how can planners manage the risks involved? In planning for wild posting activations, our strategists use 2 key risk-mitigation factors: Time and Value. Together, these allow us to evaluate the “benefit” of the advertising effort, relative to the risk it may create. 

Mitigating Risk: Time + Value

Time, when evaluating “guerilla” outdoor, is a function of permanence and desired campaign length.

This makes wild posting different from other guerilla signage tactics. Graffiti and sidewalk “chalking” last far longer. Wild posting lasts just long enough to impact consumer memory. For example, studies cite 21 days as an ideal period for habit-formation. All the better if you’re looking to make your brand a habit. But aiming for permanence is precarious. Any form of guerilla OOH should resist becoming visual pollution, and disruptive messaging made in a permanent medium carries a far higher risk.

Value is the second factor in managing risk, and is key to all good media planning strategy. In strategic out of home media, value means aiming for the greatest impact for the expense. And expense can take multiple forms: brand equity, reputation, as well as both fixed and variable costs.

To illustrate time and value in wild posting campaigns, let’s examine two campaigns: Justin Beiber’s “Purpose” campaign and Zynga’s launch of “Mafia Wars”:

Case 1 – Justin Bieber

  • Context: In advance of his “Purpose” album, Justin Beiber, and his label Def Jam records teased the drop date using sidewalk “chalking.” Sidewalk chalking is typically actually spraypainting on sidewalks and other surfaces. Bieber’s offense was particularly grating after Bieber was charged two years prior with defacing a building after drawing “Beliebers4Life” on a hotel wall in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
  • Outcome: When local citizens lodged informal, then formal complaints, attorneys noted how Bieber’s messaging had “not washed away despite several recent rainstorms.” Not only were the messages easily defaced (to read “Justin Beiber *serves no* Purpose” – see image), the method angered city officials which, according to a 2012 graffiti ordinance, carried a misdemeanor charge “with first-time offenders facing a fine up to $1,000 and one year of jail time,” though city officials claimed they could litigate to collect up to $2,500 for each chalking. (No records indicate what the city ultimately collected from Def Jam or Universal, its parent).
  • Time/Value Analysis: In this case, the permanence of the graffitti-style chalking was cited as cause for San-Franciscans’ outrage. The negative defacing, paired with outrage, caused the investment to negate any positive impact of the exposure. Following the campaign, legal fees presumably made the activation cost-ineffective (though no public fines or settlement were reported, Bieber’s label likely issued a conciliatory response to city complaints).

Case 2 – Zynga

  • Context: When Zynga’s launch of its Mafia Wars game, Zynga hired agencies to litter major US cities with stickers of fake $25,000 USD bills. The effort, which many cities deemed “graffiti” resulted in Zynga receiving fines across multiple markets.
  • Outcome: Advertising executives may have thought the product, Zynga’s Mafia Wars game, called for media deliberately defiant of the law. In addition to the cost of media and labor for the activation, Zynga was $45,000 to clean up the mess in San Francisco alone. Press concerning the multi-market campaign included headlines such as “Grassroots Effort Gets Zynga To Remove Ugly Ass Stickers in East Village
  • Time/Value Analysis: Again, as with Beiber’s “chalking” activation, public outcry over the permanence of the Zynga Mafia Wars activation undermined the value it may have had to the brand. Again here, fines and cleanup costs made the activation cost-ineffective.

As these cases, and many others show, the time, or permanence, or guerilla out of home can be a risk factor undermining the value achieved by the brand.

Bottom Line

The easiest way not to get fined is to restrict your wild posting campaigns to legally-approved locations. Yet, the nature of wild posting, and omnipresence of it, gives cover to advertisers, even in markets outlawing it.

At all times, brands should be cognizant of the context of their OOH efforts, and use best practices to mitigate the risk of public outcry and legal responses increasing costs or negating the value of their advertising efforts.

For more guidance on risk management in media buying, contact Criterion Global using the form at the bottom of this page. 

*The contents of this article and information on this site is for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about our firm and services. These contents are not legal advice, nor does this article offer any promise, guarantee or warrantee against the prospect of legal action, form an attorney-client relationship, is not to be acted on as legal counsel, may not be current and is subject to change without notice. Past outcomes of case studies shared does not guarantee future results.

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