The climate control has finally settled on a cool- what seems to be- 21 degrees celsius. The optimum in-car temperature that keeps the air fresh and crisp, while keeping the condensation from building up on the inside of the little DS3s windscreen. There is some report about traffic build-up along Jan Smuts due to faulty traffic lights. Typical, slight overcast weather with a touch of rain and the traffic lights short circuit!

Yip, just another day in damp Johannesburg traffic with the rest of the rat-racers trying to get home, too concerned about my time, my delays, my lane, my consumption, my family, or my work. So while I choose to avoid the lack of distance that I still need to cover, my attention is drawn to a massive roadside billboard. I mean, you can’t help notice it, it’s bright yellow; some contrast to the grey skies and red brake lights.

While gazing at this monstrous lump of advertising, I soon start to unpack the construction of how, what, and why it is there. Drawing upon my 4 015 days of somewhat advertising, design, marketing, strategy, and production knowledge, I start to decode the titanic yellow sales pitch.

First, I start with the overall design. Stinking yellow background, large white font, a logo made up of blue, yellow, and a splash of red. Good, I think I know who this is for. Next, large white, bold copy with a number of smiley-emoji. Ok, simple, good. Now for the message. We… We… I know it is supposed to say “welcome” but I cannot move passed the second letter. Why is this so hard to read?

My eyes start to dart around the letters, the layout, the height between the peaks and bases of the fonts, and the top and the bottom of the billboard. Is the copy aligned; are they using the same font?

All of this seems to be ok, so why is it that when I have stared at this billboard for the better part of 3 minutes, I can’t remember what it said? This major piece of messaging that has been debated over a boardroom table for weeks, the layout that has passed multiple art directors, and was finally approved by the creative director, which only then gets passed over to the client for final sign off.

Countless agency hours, scrapping of creative thought and progress, realignment to original strategies and multiple e-mails, phone calls, debates, and negotiating with media buyers about final media placement. All of this and I cannot, for the life of me remember what the stupid thing said. Was it relevant? Probably not, but at that point I decided to give that piece of ‘artwork’ my time to consume a message, more precisely, to consume that message. I was the ideal target, and yet I could not unstick my attention passed the second letter!

After I had settled from the slight mental panic I had gone through, I looked away for a few seconds and looked backed at the billboard. There it was, the reason why I couldn’t take in the full message…

The particular font that was used was a sans serif font (if you don’t know what a sans serif font is, click here; although a few letters, like the letter ‘l’ had a little serif thrown onto the end of it. This meant that these ‘serified’ letters would now have a slightly different kerning. What is kerning? Glad you asked, here is an image to explain.

Kerning 101

So, now that the kerning is off due to slightly modified letters in the design of the font, this pushed the ‘l’ a little further away from the ‘e’ and closer to the letter ‘c’ in ‘welcome.’ Now on a print ad, or on screen, where the copy would not exceed 8 points, you might get away with this, but once expanded to be the height of a tall man on stilts and the width of a well-fed rhino, the gap between the ‘e’ and ‘l,’ well as Guy Richie put it, “you could land a jumbo jet in that space.” For whatever-or-so reason, I could not see passed this error, this lapse in judgement and experience.

As Gordon Cook would say, “boy, you are a sensitive sausage.” Yes, I may have picked up this slight error, something only another creative with similar experience would pick up, but that is beside the point. The point was that I picked it up; and, if I noticed the gap, someone else would, too. They may not realise what the fault may be, but it would just look, well, wrong!

Fault and finger pointing could be directed to multiple people or departments or machinery; it doesn’t quite matter though as the mistake still happened. A minority of people would pick up the mistake. This minority would not consume the message and isn’t this the point of advertising.

So, let’s break it down; please note that these figures are not accurate at all.

Project management hours: R2 000 – 4 hours at R500
Design hours, including reverts: R3 000 – 3 hours at R1 000
Strategic and creative hours: R3 000 – 3 hours at R1 000
Media placement: R10 000 per month
Installation: R5 000
Printing costs: R5 000 (once off)
Total: R28 000 (ex vat)

Throughout the day, that particular road may have 5 000 motorists drive passed that billboard a month, of which 60% may notice the message (ambitious); that is 3 000 people. Of that, 10% are “sensitive sausages” and cannot get passed the letter ‘e.’

That leaves 2 700 people who consume your message, and 300 people who miss it. Simply put, your cost per view for this message is R10,70 instead of R9,30. If this billboard was up for 6 months, 1 800 “sensitive sausages” would completely miss your message, out of 18 000 potential consumers.

In an ideal world, if each person who was advertised to was converted into a sale, and each sale transformed into R100 profit for the organisation, that means that the organisation missed out on R180 000 extra profit, all because the spacing between two letters looked out of place. Is this the cost of details perhaps?

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