Putting information onto walls has been a communications device since before we invented books. Cave paintings conveyed a message to anyone passing by them. Egyptian priests inscribed their temples. The Romans invented graffiti. Medieval shop signs and early theatre bills have shaped the commercial medium of posters, which is now a major advertising business with some US$ 30 billion a year being spent around the world.  Like other media, posters or “out-of-home advertising” is undergoing a technical revolution but unlike most of the others this, the oldest medium, might be a beneficiary, rather than a victim, of digital technology.

The poster is often described as the most pure communications medium. It exists solely to display an advertising message with no editorial to get in the way. And without a commercial or political idea to be sold, the poster would not have been created in the first place. It has a single, specific purpose.  It is there because someone wants to promote something. The perfect poster is said to have no more than eight words, use only three main colours and have only one striking image. It must be possible to read and understand the whole poster in 6 seconds – the time it takes to drive or walk past.

Posters are now familiar as home decoration and particularly as a cheap adornment to students’ walls.  Often the images on those posters started life as commercial or propaganda messages but increasingly the poster is created as an item of art in its own right. However from the perspective of this book it is the poster as a commercial tool that is of interest. Out-of-home advertising competes with, and influences, other media types and is both an alternative for and a complement to advertising in broadcast and print.

Subpages (1): Morris Column