Welcome sign

On arrival at Beckenham Junction station, visitors see this sign. There’s so much wrong with it, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s unpick it, piece by painful piece.

At the top it’s headed ‘Infopoint’ and ‘Welcome to Beckenham’. So let’s assume its objective is to provide people with useful local information.

Below the heading is a giant ad for a Chinese Restaurant. In Bromley. Which is the neighbouring town. If the ad does its job and persuades you to go there, you will leave Beckenham immediately. I’m sure that’s not the intention. It is slightly worrying that they were unable to sell that ad space to a restaurant that’s actually in Beckenham.

Below that ad is a map of Beckenham. This might actually be useful, except it’s at knee-level and the road names are so tiny you would have to crawl on the ground to read it. It’s not fit for purpose.

Both sides of the sign are given over to advertising, which presumably funds it.

However, most of the ads are badly thought out too. For example:

  • Churchill Theatre (top left)
    • Giant social media icons, but tiny captions that you can’t read so can’t type into your mobile device to follow them. And it’s another Bromley venue, so is tempting people away from the place the ad is located
  • Probitas Mortgages
    • Perhaps people have come to Beckenham to view a property. Why not? It’s a lovely place to live. But the ad is upsidedown. It would be better to have a heading such as ‘Sorted your mortgage yet?’ and the logo at the bottom. This is because nobody cares who you are until they know what you can do for them. That’s so important I’ll type it again. Nobody cares who you are until they know what you can do for them.
  • Cannon Cars
    • At least it makes a bit more sense for a mini-cab firm to take an ad outside a mainline train station and tram stop. However, what you can’t see is that another cab firm overlooks the car park. Chances are anyone arriving will see their shopfront and go straight there – they are unlikely to look for details on the sign. Again, it would be better with a heading that reads ‘Need a cab? Call us now on xxx xxxx’, with the logo at the bottom. This is what you call direct response advertising (advertising that is designed to get an immediate response)
  • Foxgrove Veterinary Centre
    • To me, this is one of the more bewildering ads. The likelihood of someone viewing the sign and responding are teeny-tiny. However, I used to take my cat there and know they like to support local initiatives. So, if they have thought about it at all, I suspect they are doing it to raise brand awareness. In that case, the ad would be better as simply ‘Foxgrove Vets: Looking after Beckenham pets since xxxx’
  • Em & Lou’s Kitchen (top right)
    • I don’t know Em or Lou, but they’ve made the same mistake of putting their name at the top, before anyone cares who they are. Better to write ‘Feeling peckish? Wander 2 minutes down the High Street for a tasty snack. We’re open 10am to 10pm’. By the way, those details are made up. I don’t actually know how long it takes to get there, what they sell, or when they’re open, because the ad doesn’t tell me
  • Brownhill
    • I doubt anyone will choose insurance on the basis of an ad on a sign outside a station. Do you agree? It’s another ad where the design aesthetic has overtaken common sense. Once again, the logo is at the top (you’ve probably got the idea by now that I don’t recommend this). What’s more, the W of the logo wastes space repeated and rotated as a graphic element that takes up 1/3 of the ad
  • Missing?
    • This is the one ad that I hope works, and not just because it’s well written and sensibly designed. If a missing person lands up in Beckenham, I hope the bright magenta background catches their eye and they respond to reassure their loved ones

What you can learn from this…

  • If anyone invites you to advertise, ask them who else in your sector already advertises with them. Contact those people and ask if they got return on their ad spend or just received sales calls. You can then make an informed decision
  • If you decide to go ahead, ensure you understand the context where your ad will appear. Put yourself (metaphorically) in the shoes of the viewer, and give them the information they need, when they need it and how they need it
  • If you want direct response rather than brand awareness, answer ‘what’s in it for me’ at the top and put your logo at the bottom. Ensure you have a highly visible call to action
  • If you want brand awareness rather than direct response, keep it simple and go for emotional appeal with strong branding
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