StopPress talks to Phantom Billstickers marketing manager Ben Stonyer on the evolution of the company and out-of-home.
Once upon a time, posters were put up in the middle of the night, in a battle for unclaimed walls with security guards being dodged and poster players pasting over each other’s ads.
Today, Phantom Billstickers manages a network of sites with its posters boldly presented in coloured frames across New Zealand.
Its mission: to elevate the medium and push the boundary of what a street poster can be, says Ben Stonyer, its marketing manager, when we sat down to talk about the evolution of the business.
“It went from being just wall spaces with hodge-podge posters to having your own frame and better presentation.”
As well as its presence on the street, behind the scenes, Phantom has improved its inventory management and has implemented a system called Paste, which Stonyer says helps it manage each site individually to has improved its capability to do targeted placement.
Since its implementation, Stonyer says it’s seen businesses take on street posters that wouldn’t typically of done so in the past.
“The appetite from agencies to use posters for their blue-chip clients has increased,” he says.
But alongside these big-budget players, Phantom isn’t straying far from its grass-roots as some of its sites remain for promotion of arts and music events only.
Stonyer says Phantom was born out of that arts space and with an appreciation that not everyone can afford a large framed site, it has bollards for smaller posters in cities.
Comparing them to a “next-level noticeboard”, Stonyer says the benefit is being able to inform people what is going on and they typically make for great art pieces.
“Flora for the concrete jungle is our proposition,” he says.
Supporting this proposition is Phantom’s sponsorship of National Poetry Day. With this comes a nationwide poetry street poster campaign celebrating New Zealand poets.
Thinking outside of the frame
In its mission to push the boundary of what a street poster can be, Phantom has created Phantom Labs – an in-house special build team featuring Stonyer, an in-house creative and builder.
The team develops special builds, either by pitching an idea to clients or work with clients to build the idea.
One of the instigators for Phantom Labs were a series of posters promoting the film Venom. These featured a glow in the dark design to replicate the piercing gaze of the film’s humanoid-alien protagonist.
Stonyer had seen glow in the dark posters so pitched the idea to the media agency who gave it the thumbs up.
It came with a lesson though because while glow in the dark posters may seem like a straight-forward poster idea, it can be challenging to execute.
“Glow in the dark is hard because it only works when there’s an absence of light. So, you think it’s an obvious win but at night there is a lot of ambient light so it doesn’t quite have the same effect,” he says.
Since the glow in the dark posters, Phantom Lab has gone on to innovate print further in the form of as lenticular posters for Woman’s Day.
And as well as innovations in print, it’s also had success in its custom build campaigns with its shelf concept proving a popular solution for product sampling.
Last year, Phantom delivered ‘goodness on a poster’ to launch Lewis Road’s breakfast drink. This saw super-sized posters have shelves added, on which samples of the drink were on offer for passers-by.
It’s also put planter boxes of herbs on posters for Sealord encouraging commuters to pick their own herb gardens.
So, is there anything it can’t do? With the posters living alongside footpaths and roads, there are rules around not moving too far into public spaces and not impeding use of footpaths but if there is a wall – the team is willing to give things a go.
“If there is an idea, you might as well see if you can try do it – that’s my motto,” Stonyer says.
One campaign Stonyer mentions as innovating the out-of-home space is Phantom’s work Asahi’s Akai Doa, which had it turn posters into portals.
These portals were used for giveaways as part of the wider Akai Doa campaign, with one being used as a door behind which was a sushi maker.
Stonyer says it was a cool campaign because Phantom was involved from the get-go.
“Often we’ll come in halfway through and the idea will already be half realised.
“With Asahi, we got brought in early and worked closely with the media agency.”
In a similar style, earlier this year V Energy used Phantom to build perspex boxes to house a signed piece of artwork by Berst. The boxes were padlocked shut and clues about how to get in were shared on social media.
It’s campaigns like this where Stonyer sees great potential for advertisers to marry out-of-home with social feeds to drive engagement.
And asked if Phantom prefers to be brought into a campaign early, Stonyer says it loves the opportunity, but it doesn’t mean it can’t work if they aren’t involved from the get go.
“I found everyone is on the same page from the get go and there is a strong advantage to that as it means deadlines could be met and everyone is accountable to those deadlines.
“Sometimes there can be a bit of disconnect if there is creative, media and us all trying to co-exist.”
Alongside Phantom innovating its product, its growing up has also seen it grow the reach of its street poster reach.
In August, it announced a partnership with Kiwi Property that will see it develop street posters for the property giant’s iconic retail locations in New Zealand.
The retail locations include Auckland’s Sylvia Park, Christchurch’s Northlands Shopping Centre and Hamilton’s The Base.
Also in Hamilton, Phantom has introduced new bollards that have the added bonus of being backlit meaning messages shine day and night.
Watch this space
Talking to Phantom about its offer, it’s pretty uncommon to talk so much out of home without the mention of digital.
And when Stonyer is asked about his thoughts on digital screens he says, “they’re definitely in the pipeline”.
He looks at some of the digital players in the market and commends them on their work but points out there have been times when other players have tried to cash in on digital but have done so with a terrible execution.
Careful not to let the industry down by jumping on the digital prematurely, Stonyer says Phantom taking its time – “crossing our ‘T’s, dotting our ‘I’s”.
“We will join the digital revolution soon enough and hopefully put a Phantom spin on it.”
In saying this, he is quick to point out it won’t be digitising all its sites, as posters will always be its thing.
“There’s always going to be a space for that.”
And going digital doesn’t just mean the introduction of screens. Behind the scenes, digital advancements have also opened new ways to measure a site’s results.
Cameras and WiFi sniffers are among the “cool doohickeys” Stonyer lists as being able to be added to a site to see who has seen it.
Stonyer says measurement is the next part of the puzzle for Phantom and its working on improving the information clients get about how their campaign performed against their objective.