An email went round the agency the other week with a Vimeo link attached and one sentence within the body:

‘If you don’t understand the power of outdoor, you do now.’

This is JR’s InsideOut project which won the Jury Prize at TED in October last year – in my view, the cool $100k could not have gone to a better project (except maybe the guy who prints kidneys and hearts but that’s just showing off isn’t it?).

There’s little point going through the ins and outs of the work here, I will only do it a disservice. The summary video, complete with JR’s slightly intelligible French VO phoned-in from some remote corner of the world, tells the story of its inception and development better than I could.

Suffice it to say I am totally bowled over by the campaign. It truly demonstrates the leveling power of outdoor media as well the undeniable fact that, despite the increasing amount of blogs/posts/tweets/statuses flying around the planet each second, most of the world remains a collectively visual place where photography is not simply an artist’s medium but a universal language. It is a chance to counteract all other generalized descriptions, be they written or reported or filmed, and simply ‘show’.

‘If you are told “they are all this” or “they do this” or “they’re opinions are these”, withhold your judgement until all the facts are upon you. Because this land they call “India” goes by a thousand names and is populated by millions, and if you think you have found two men the same amongst that multitude, then you are mistaken. It is merely a trick of the moonlight.’

Samad Iqbal in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000)

The fact that the central idea does not change dramatically as it travels from the banlieues of Paris to the slums of India is testament to its power. I wrote a paper at university on how uncomfortably Paris wears its colonially-imposed mantle of a ‘global city’ and JR’s work certainly reflects this. His characterful portraits of kids from the suburbs pasted in bourgeois neighborhoods echo the sinister surveillance tapes of Haneke’s Caché or Kassovitz’s fish-out-of water shots of his protagonists trapped in leafy boulevards in La Haine. This is using media to establish links between communities, rather than to ghettoize them, which is invariably what the traditional news media achieves.

Would it be as powerful for a brand? I’m not so sure; but it does simplify the arguments for using outdoor media in a way that no Campaign article or IPA lecture could not.

With the rise of digital outdoor the argument that clients are not willing to spend money on arbitrarily targeted national outdoor campaigns is fast disappearing. JR shows us that the right image, in the right place, at the right time will always have immense power. Those variables certainly shift more rapidly in the developing world but technology now means we can be smarter about the way we use outdoor and truly deliver effective campaigns for brands and beyond.

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Two cuts from Cat’s Eyes’ beautiful debut LP, released on Monday, to finish; I’m off to see them at Scala on the 27th so expect live review after that. Read about the band, consisting of public-school goth rocker Faris Badwan and Canadian soprano Rachel Zeffira, here.

Cat’s Eyes – ‘I’m Not Stupid’

Cat’s Eyes – ‘I Know It’s Over’