Keep Calm and Carry On: the power of posters

16th April 2020

It is difficult to think of a phrase that better encapsulates Great British stoicism than ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

The phrase, originally designed for posters in 1939 upon the outbreak of World War II, has become a globally recognised symbol that has come to sum up our famous ‘stiff upper lip’.

And our resolve is being tested like no time since the Blitz. The longer the pandemic goes on for, the more challenging this will become to our psyche.  The role of advertising, and its creative minds, will become ever more important as they look to capture and reflect the nation’s collective mood.

The OOH poster has been used to great effect throughout the years to convey essential information, and in the case of the public health messages, they have been integral to encouraging people to modify or eliminate damaging behaviours or habits.

From the iconic posters of ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ and ‘Dig for Victory’ through to the hard hitting billboards of the AIDS awareness campaign ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’, OOH has long been used to break a message down into its most basic elements to deliver maximum effect and persuade the viewer to take action.

As in 1939 and 1986, the medium today has a vital role in getting important communications out to people, particularly as they are move around their own neighbourhoods.

Advertising creatives have an important role to play in helping brands that are looking to support the nation during these challenging times.  According to a recent survey by Kantar, only 8% of consumers globally think that brands should stop advertising during the pandemic, but the tone of communications is important to them.  People want brand communications to centre around values and inform us of what they are doing to help.

People are understandably anxious right now, particularly when they have to leave the house.  It has been great to see brands recognise this ‘new normal’ and support those that are out and on the move. Paddy Power has playfully directed its consumers to respect the new norms of social distancing and isolation while Co-op has used the medium to support the FareShare fight hunger and tackle food waste.

OOH infrastructure presents opportunities for organisations to promote wellbeing and a sense of togetherness. With an increased focus on neighbourhoods, digital OOH offers a canvas to champion local heroes in communities at mass scale.

We should not underestimate the potential for OOH to move from owned to earned media either. Flyposters with inspirational, thought provoking messaging are regularly being shared on social media as people look to spread positive messages outside of the advertising frame.

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’?  Tapping into the national psyche is going to be as important for ad creatives now than it ever has been. Great posters don’t disappear, they tend to stick around and inspire us again and again.  There is probably no public health problem which has not been tackled by the humble poster – it will certainly play an essential role in getting us through this latest crisis.

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