Exclusive interview with Neil Morris, Founder and Managing Director of Grand Visual, for Digital Signage Pulse.
By Nurlan Urazbaev.
NU: Grand Visual, now a leading global creative shop specializing in digital out-of-home advertising, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. What was the idea behind creating this company?
Neil Morris: Grand Visual was founded in 2005 with the belief that it could deliver real value by specialising in a ‘medium of the future’.
I remember seeing those first escalator panels at Tottenham Court Rd Station and admiring the sense of awe and wonder that they were instilling in the commuting public. They really captured the imagination and took advantage of what was clearly very valuable media ‘real estate’. Dan Dawson and I, having had some experience in digital advertising, saw the potential, but also the lack of digital out-of-home expertise in the market, and that’s why we founded Grand Visual.
In 2005, DOOH made up only 3% of the total out-of-home spend. For us, it was about realising the potential of an emerging medium; being there to help people see the creative capabilities of this new digital canvas and help it grow into what it is today.
NU: What was the founders’ professional background?
NM: My background was in TV, commercials and multimedia production and I had previously founded and sold a production outfit called Junction 7.
Dan Dawson’s previous expertise was in design and technology and how the two fuse together. He had spent his years before Grand Visual creating interactive and motion graphics for screen technology and events, and one day our paths crossed. The rest, as they say, is history.
NU: How did you get your first clients and what were their campaigns?
NM: In the early days we partnered with the media owners to bring their newly installed digital media to life. Through that channel we established ties with creative agencies and direct client appointments.
In 2006 we produced a campaign for 20th Century Fox to promote the new Rocky film. It was one of the first DOOH campaigns to grasp the benefit of running sequenced creative across a number of screens – Rocky could be seen running up the Tube escalator. It was a moment when the environment, the medium and a strong creative idea all came together and the campaign won ‘Digital Campaign Poster of the Year’ at the Campaign Poster Awards the following year.
NU: Grand Visual has won many creative awards. What are the ones that you are most proud of?
NM: Of course, the Cannes Lions we have won over the years take pride of place on our awards shelf. Recently we won our first OBIE award, a Gold for Pepsi Unbelievable Bus Shelter. This was a great win for us, with our New York office just under one year old. It is great to be getting this sort of recognition in the USA, where we are the new kids on the block.
NU: Could you please describe the process of creating a campaign within Grand Visual, from an idea to the execution?
NM: This really depends on how far advanced an idea is before we are brought in. We can be involved in various stages of the process. It could be right from the beginning, or we can be brought in to produce a campaign where the concept is already fully formed. If we are brought in right at the start, we will come up with creative concepts and develop them through to execution, liaising with media and creative agencies and media owners along the way.
NU: From your experience, are the campaigns that win awards also the ones that are most effective in terms of tangible results? What is more important to you: the awards or the proven effectiveness of a campaign?
NM: I think what makes a campaign truly great is one that works on all levels, both in terms of creative execution, great results and industry recognition. This is what we aspire to with all of the campaigns we work on. If I have to choose, though, of course it’s more important that a campaign is effective and delivers for a brand. That is the route to longer term relationships and business growth – for us and hopefully the client.
NU: How are your campaigns measured? Who measures the campaigns (Grand Visual, client, third party, etc.)? Could you give some examples of the most effective campaigns?
NM: It really depends on the specifics of the campaign. Typically we would expect all agencies involved to be interested in measurement and how it could be facilitated. For touchscreens or interactive campaigns they can be measured on the number of interactions gained. For other campaigns, such as Disney Side Shadows for example, the intention of the campaign was to create a viral video, so the effectiveness of the campaign was measured based on the number of views and shares the video received online, and with over 110 million views across social media it was a runaway success.
NU: What is Open Loop? How do you evaluate its success since its launch in 2010?
NM: OpenLoop is the campaign management tool that enables live, dynamic, and reactive digital out-of-home campaigns to run on multiple networks and formats.
When we launched it in 2010 it was at a time when ‘dynamic’ and ‘contextual’ were not words that were associated with OOH, and linear campaigns made up 100% of all DOOH bookings. Through OpenLoop, the industry was able to deliver far more sophisticated campaigns, across multiple formats and media owners. Dynamic campaigns are now becoming more commonplace and it’s great to see the industry living up to its potential in this way.
NU: What, in your opinion, are the driving forces of DOOH advertising (agencies, advertisers, networks, creative shops, etc.)?
NM: From what we see, everyone now wants to conceive and deliver great digital OOH work: from creative to clients. All of the specialist bodies are pushing each other to go further with creative ideas and it seems like each week there is a new campaign that is doing something smart or creative. There is a great effort to push the medium further in terms of using its creative power. A continuing education is of course needed across the industry so that everyone from creative agencies to media planners and buyers understand the creative and technical potential of DOOH.
NU: What are the main trends in DOOH advertising today?
NM: More brands are embracing the dynamic capabilities of DOOH advertising that enable relevant and contextual messages to be delivered to consumers. This is the key trend we see as more traditional OOH sites are being digitized. It becomes the ‘new normal’ for messages displayed on these digital properties to be 100% contextual, relevant and useful for our audience.
NU: How has Grand Visual evolved in the ten years since its birth?
NM: As I mentioned earlier, in 2005 DOOH accounted for 3% of UK OOH spend, in 2014 it made up almost 29%. At Grand Visual we have experienced similar growth, from 4 people huddled in a room to now having 30 people crammed into a much larger office (with a garden) in London, and a New York operation entering its second year.
Grand Visual has delivered campaigns in 28 countries, continues to develop appropriate technology platforms to enable smarter digital OOH and has now won over 100 awards. Our workforce profile has shifted from mainly motion graphic artists to software developers and we now run account teams for all the major agency networks.
NU: If you could briefly formulate the reasons behind Grand Visual’s success, what would they be?
NM: Seizing the opportunity at the right time for an emerging medium that attracts genuine excitement from clients, agencies and the consumer; being the experts on the ground to help great ideas come to life; putting a team together featuring great creative minds combined with technical expertise and excellent client service. That’s what really set us apart and now it is our rich history and experience that enables us to push the medium to work smarter and harder to deliver memorable advertising.
To learn more about Grand Visual, visit: http://grandvisual.com/