Led by donkeys remind us of the power of outdoor

It’s only half way through 2019 but an early contender for agency of the year is surely ‘Led By Donkeys’. And I mean that only slightly in jest for, finally unmasked, the four founders look every bit like a small start-up agency, complete with requisite beards, a predilection for craft beer and significant diversity issues.

Dedicated to pointing up the perpetual lies, arrant hypocrisy and dark funding of Brexit’s puppet masters, their work is powerful, their growth prodigious and their impact historic.

Theresa May’s comments before the EU referendum have been plastered on a billboard site in Mansfield. Photograph: Led By Donkeys/Twitter.

After only five months in existence, Led By Donkeys have wedged their work into every conversation about Brexit imaginable. From constantly harrying Nigel Farage with his own words to unfurling an enormous banner in Parliament Square during the People’s March and hiring a helicopter to share the moment with the world. Not even Nils Leonard has that much chutzpah. They were also pretty awesome at sticking it to Trump during his visit to the UK.

And they have done all this with one medium. Much as Collett Dickenson Pearce created its most famous work for placement only in the Sunday Times Magazine, Led By Donkeys works exclusively with outdoor. And outdoor not in a ‘pop-it-on-an-ad-van-for-the-duration-of-a-press-conference’ way, but outdoor as a hugely public statement. Just how it should be.

In a world where political advertising has become infamous for plumbing the highly private nether reaches of our newsfeeds and prejudices, Led By Donkeys has proved there is life yet in posters, once the medium of choice for political campaigning.

At first their use of out of home had everything to do with the ease of having some poster sheets printed and then illegally over-posting other people’s advertising. However, the campaign’s successful use of outdoor, now rather more legitimately implemented, reminds us of the enduring potency of this medium.

Even today when outdoor is digitally delivered, responds to external data signals, and employs increasing amounts of motion, the two engines of effectiveness at which the medium excels are deeply old school. Messages are gloriously static and wastage is epic.

While we thrill at the creative possibilities of motion, posters have traditionally beaten every other medium at searing static imagery into the minds of the viewer. In an era that celebrates distinctive brand assets, when posters are done well they have an effect a little like the patterns you see if you look at the sun for a little too long. Years on I suspect you can still picture Saatchi & Saatchi’s ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster down to the last detail of the art direction.

But the real killer app of outdoor is that it’s very public, with large amounts of what some people like to call wastage.  Outdoor works not simply because you see the message

but because everyone around you sees the message and everyone around you knows that everyone else saw the message. That collective experience reinforces understanding of a brand, its communications and values. Perfect for big, mass-market brands where social proof is a powerful force in winning over new customers. And perfect for big political statements where social proof is a powerful force in winning over wavering voters.

And that’s been at the heart of the success of Led By Donkeys. Not for them discrete messages placed in the echo chamber of inveterate remainers alone but full contact engagement with the enemy in places where that conversation can be seen and overseen by voters. And along the way we all get a brilliant case study in the persuasive power of outdoor, or public media as I’m now going to call it.

Celebrated work, stacks of new business (in the form of half a million pounds in donations), and new learning for the industry, Led By Donkeys have everything that one traditionally looks for in an agency of the year, save an emotional Christmas ad, and surely that must be on the cards.

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2 Replies to “Led by donkeys remind us of the power of outdoor”

  1. Great post! Sometimes I think the impact of text in its simplicity in the right medium is oft forgotten. Reminds me of the great economist ads by BBDO – “I don’t read the Economist” – Management trainee, Age 42.

  2. You have so far created more than forty billboards across the UK – including a tweet from Boris Johnson in Bristol. We were talking about whether Cameron would one day delete his ‘chaos with Ed Miliband’ tweet, and someone said: ‘Let’s turn it into a Tweet You Can’t Delete.’ It went from there.

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