Ocean celebrates a decade of The Art of Outdoor

the art of outdoor lead

It’s been a decade since UK outdoor advertising specialist Ocean Outdoor dreamt up its  brand philosophy, The Art of Outdoor.

A lot can happen to a company in 10 years, and of course this last one in particular, with its pandemic upsets, has been a unique prospect for most of us.

However, amazing things come out of challenging moments, as Ocean CEO Tim Bleakley explains below…

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Tim Bleakley, Ocean Outdoor

This year it’s 10 years since the Ocean brand introduced the positioning of The Art of Outdoor.

Time flies when you are having fun and the Art of Ocean Sat Nav has certainly taken us to some interesting places. 

Some anticipated, and in some cases taking us off in directions we could never have imagined.

The Art of Outdoor

It could have been very different when our original investors knocked back the idea at the first attempt, but after some vigorous and passionate debate we held our nerve and The Art of Outdoor was born.

I’ve always seen it as a guide to whether something we have done, are thinking of doing, or indeed stopping doing, means are we living up to this promise. Have we thought through it with a creative eye? Is it innovative? Are we challenging ourselves and those we work with to think differently? And are we getting the simple things right, the look and the feel of what we project – is it consistent?

One thing that’s helped us along the way is that as a statement it encompasses great work industry wide and in the very early years allowed us to behave as a market leader whilst coming from a challenger mind set.

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Taking off:Digital Creative Competition had a challenging start but flourished as BA campaign went to Cannes.

The first Digital Creative Competition was a very humble affair. A wet and rainy Westfield, a low turnout, challenging technical circumstances. But we had one big client turn up from British Airways with her creative team and an entry that went on to compete at Cannes.

Years later the event now plays to a packed IMAX but it would have been shelved but for the post-mortem when we asked ourselves if that first event encapsulated The Art of Outdoor – and in its purist sense it did.

Fast forward to 2020 and the event was under threat again with the pandemic taking a heavy toll on all of us.

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Full house: The 2019 Digital Creative Competition at The BFI IMAX

Impact of COVID

During Covid, The Art of Outdoor had been demonstrated by things like the in-house creation of the Queen’s Speech into DOOH ads for Piccadilly Lights (yes we genuinely pitched the idea to the Palace) and the DOOH art gallery for the National Gallery to keep the Arts front of mind. 

The small business advertising fund that then spread throughout the industry in various guises worldwide. All good stuff but putting the pressure on people operating in difficult work environments.

A creative competition seemed a complete non-starter until the thought of creative ideas to lift the spirits emerged (in contrast to the health-based messaging you could not get away from) – creative work to lift the mood and inspire as we entered the summer.

So came the birth of The Crucial Creative Competition and I have to say that the Lovehoney entry (see what I did there) was genius. The acceptance speech alone, judging by the reaction, certainly raised the spirits.

We had as many entries as the best year of the 10 years since the competition’s inception, even though everyone we sounded out politely suggested “don’t do it”.

Behind the scenes 

Which brings me to the real essence of what The Art of Outdoor means to me. Of course the giant leaps it’s helped us make – new technologies, new advertiser categories, new investors, new ideas take all the plaudits. They are often high profile and certainly highly visible.

But it’s the invisible things behind the scenes that really matter. A piece of work or idea from a competitor we admire that somebody internally frames as The Art of Outdoor – this spurs us on and stamps on complacency.

The adaptability of our teams under constant change to hold themselves to high standards, and an underlying passion that Outdoor has always been and will increasingly be so much more than just “posters”.

I have been asked to select my favourite Ocean location past and present. So I will revert to type with the screen “Axis @ The Haçienda” in Manchester. 

Manchester Ocean screen
Hacienda days: Bleakley sees Manchester site as among his original favourites, when it was still there.

Sadly, like the famous night club, no longer there, but also, like the club, it’s only if you were there that you knew it was the start of something that would just keep growing and evolving in ways you could never imagine.

The Next 10 Years

Trying to imagine the next 10 years of The Art of Outdoor having hit rock bottom in 2020 is a tantalising prospect.

Many of the things that we have pushed so hard in recent years are going to propel the DOOH medium rapidly forward.

The two F words of Fame and Flexibility – the former at a premium and the latter a given – will deliver Prime Time impact and broadcast coverage in real time, enhanced with automated technology and richer data. Such innovations will deliver that vital ingredient of engagement and the ability to measure its impact.

Digital techniques will create the formulas that measure the DOOH medium wherever the audience consumes it, both out of home or shared across other media platforms and devices wherever you consume them.

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Ads on Mars: First images from Mars Perseverance displayed live on The Piccadilly Lights in February 2021.

As the need for the outdoor medium to be part of an effective advertising blend becomes essential, DOOH becomes the cake and not the icing on it. The creative use of our medium’s canvas will flourish, raising the quality bar to new heights.

The Art of Outdoor will continue to test us, drive us and question whether we are continuing to practise it…life on Mars ? Or live from Mars …!

We’ll persevere.