Psychological Ownership and other reasons to be bullish about posters

Robin McDonnell, CEO of Phantom Billstickers, discusses why posters are experiencing a revival as audiences search for authentic, more tangible experiences in a world full of screens.

Should we be afraid for the future of printed posters? There’s no denying that digital out of home has grown exponentially over the past five years to the point where it features on a growing number of media schedules. 

In many markets in Aotearoa, static or classic billboards have become almost obsolete with large industry players dropping static sites that are unable to be converted to digital. 

You can understand their thinking. Digital out of home offers advertisers a growing number of premium locations shared with other advertisers. There are agile capabilities that mean you can be in the market quickly (much like billstickers). And there’s an array of smart and programmatic tools to remove friction in the trading of out of home advertising. 

By the iron law of winners and losers, it stands to reason that street posters are destined to share the fate of their large-format billboard cousins. This is how the digital versus analogue battle plays out, right?

Naturally, as you’d expect, I’m here to tell you the opposite. 

In this age of digital out of home expansion, the printed poster has become a stronger channel than ever before. Here are three reasons it will remain a mainstay on media schedules. 

1. The appeal of the real

Compared to flickering pixels, street posters offer a richer, more authentic experience. It’s the same reason why, in the music industry, vinyl is now the number one physical music format

Music lovers will tell you that vinyl offers a warmer and more immersive listening experience, with opportunities for artists to further express themselves creatively through album artwork and limited edition pressings.  

This aesthetic inclination is triggering real-world purchase decisions. In 2020, vinyl record sales surpassed CD sales for the first time since the 80s. While you might assume that it’s Boomer and Gen X nostalgia driving this trend, the resurgence is largely driven by Millennials and Zoomers longing for a more relatable musical experience. 

TLDR; records are cool. 

2. Love it, want it, own it

I’ve lost count of the number of Gen Xers who’ve told me about the time they carefully peeled off their favourite band poster from a Phantom Billstickers poster site to take home and display on their wall. 

History repeated itself when Lorde announced her Solar Power tour in 2022, and a Tiktok craze had hundreds of fans souveniring posters from our frames to grace bedroom walls across the nation. 

The non-auditory science behind the resurgence of music on vinyl (and street posters on bedroom walls) is called Psychological Ownership. This is where physical art becomes an extension of the individual and part of their identity. 

The concept of psychological ownership is obvious when you think about the way people appreciate vinyl versus the more precarious sense of ownership involved with a streaming playlist. It’s easy to understand that “this is mine” with the former. With the latter, it’s hardwired into expectations that we’re renting someone else’s IP. 

The same idea plays out on the street. Those Gen X and Lorde fans are claiming ownership of a brand or an artist when they souvenir a poster. 

No one ever tried to nick a large format digital billboard because the artwork was cool. And it never occurred to anyone that they could get close to a brand as it briefly appeared on, and then disappeared from, an illuminated screen four metres above their head. 

Photo credit: Stuart Page.

3. You share it because you care about it

Even if you’re not brave enough to nick your favourite poster off a billsticker board, there are tools in the modern world to own a poster through camera apps and social sharing. 

The physical, tangible and accessible nature of the classic street poster practically begs passers-by to snap photos of the artwork they’ve fallen in love with. Next minute, they’ve uploaded it to their socials and shared it with 2,000 of their closest friends. 

Savvy clients have taken this interactive mindset a step further by staging live brand activations at premium Phantom Billstickers sites. In recent years our street posters have dispensed delicious kombucha, displayed books, sold music festival tickets and brought dragons to Symonds Street.

It’s all about engagement

So there you have it. Imaginative brands, artists and musicians have figured out that in order to engage with their audiences they need to provide access and psychological ownership. 

This doesn’t mean that digital formats won’t remain a part of the wider ecosystem. Any media professional will tell you that diversification of channels is critical to a well-planned schedule. It’s not a case of either/or – it’s both.

The question you need to ask yourself is, do you want to engage authentically with your audience? If so, you need to include channels that create psychological ownership.  

TLDR, posters are cool.   

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Robin McDonnell is the CEO of Phantom Billstickers.

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