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As trust in media journalism continues to dwindle and people grow bored of traditional ads, 'The Economist' is ramping up its OOH tactics. Using cryptic word ads to appeal to the intelligence of its readers, the magazine hopes to entice people with the ego-stroking satisfaction of puzzle-solving. We explore the insights and opportunities behind the latest billboard marketing strategy from 'The Economist'.

In a drive to push digital subscription offers and subtly address lingering post-Brexit confusion, The Economist has taken over several billboards in London’s central business and creative hotspots to test an experimental OOH approach. Plastering the billboards with cryptic phrases such as ‘Enocomsit rdeeras avhe lradaye wrkode ti uot’, it’s playing on the concept that if you’re clever enough to unscramble the sentence, you’re clever enough to read The Economist. “We let people sample the product within the advertising,” explains Mark Cripps, The Economist’s chief marketing officer. The campaign is set to be rolled out at several sites across the city. 

As sponsored content proliferates online and clogs up people’s feeds, it’s fueling ad fatigue – indeed, 48% of Britons say they’re tired of being chased by ads online. As such, creative OOH ads are being used to grab attention in different ways– from Hendricks’ immersive takeover of the London underground to Twitter’s bad date billboards. With trust in brands dwindling, people want to be entertained rather than hounded. This type of guerilla advertising is growing in popularity and is thought to have 28% more reach than major media. 

The Economist is looking to engage audiences through a process of 'uncovering'
Priscilla Du Preez (2020) ©

With just 8% of people considering themselves firmly loyal to brands, subscription papers and magazine like The Economist are needing to work harder to keep people interested. Rather than interrupt people in their homes, Cripps explains how The Economist is looking to engage audiences through a process of 'uncovering', where there’s a reward for getting the gag and being part of the 'in-crowd'. By playing on people’s curiosity, the ads look to give intrigued passers-by a taste of life as an intellectual insider.

People want to buy into brands that reflect their identity and signal their values, especially younger generations. By stroking audience egos with nods to intellectual exclusivity, Cripps explains how the brand is able to build a reputation as the thinking man's paper. “Anecdotally we hear of people carrying it around on campus as a badge of honour. They have it coming out of their bag, making sure that the masthead just shouts ‘look how smart I am'.”

Matilda Ruck is a junior behavioural analyst at Canvas8. She has a degree in Politics and Philosophy as well as a foundation in psychotherapy and is passionate about exploring the interplay between creativity, psychology and culture. Outside of work, you can find her writing short stories, tending to her ginger cat Thomas O’Malley or oscillating between yoga and karaoke practice.


28 Feb 20
2 min read

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