In 2016, the city of Zürich saw an influx of 6000 newcomers who moved to Switzerland’s financial capital. Of the people deciding to make Zürich their new home, approximately one third are non-Swiss, maintaining the present ratio of Swiss to non-Swiss.
People moving to the Limmat city are often culturally lost. Where are the cool cafés and bars? What kind of concert venues are there and what is happening culturally?
From my language teaching days, one of the most common questions I would receive had little to do with language and much more to do with what is going on in Zürich. Concerts, plays, exhibitions, the likes. I became a regular reader of Züritipp and a walking, talking billboard.
This situation left me wondering: Where do most people get their information about cultural events?
At Newly Swissed, we do our best to maintain a calendar of current events. There are also numerous other platforms that list events, from online to print. However, when you do not know about Züritipp and are not comfortable using German, you tend not to pick up such papers in the first place.
Many will say that they use Facebook, Twitter and newsletters. These are effective when people connect with the things they are interested in, such as the Kaufleuten concert venue or the Kunsthaus Zürich. New residents, however, are not yet in the know and it may take them from a few months to several years to connect to these networks.
When was the last time you paid attention to a poster? Probably yesterday, right?
Fortunately, along with the good ol’ word of mouth, posters act as the banner ads of the physical world. You are walking down the street, and BAM! There it is, a poster telling you how to vote in the next referendum, or that the latest Audi A6 is the safest to date.
You were not looking for it, but there it is. You are taking the tram to work and two feet in front of your face is a poster advertising a designer chair, on sale this month for just 4500 francs...
The tremendous market for out-of-home advertising
Poster advertising is called out-of-home advertising, or OOH for short. This type of advertising was worth just under 35 billion dollars worldwide last year. And by 2019, it is expected to reach 40 billion dollars. Interesting to note, though, is that this market is dominated by a few large players in almost every country.
In Switzerland, we are talking about APG and Clear Channel. They own the rights to most of the poster advertising spaces in the country: Billboards, posters at tram and bus stops, the digital displays at the train station, and the poster pillars.
If you want to advertise on one of them, you need to pay the going market price. With this reality, what are smaller cultural events supposed to do? They do not have budgets that can compete with Migros, Audi, or Coca-Cola. So how will all the new Zürich residents find out about free concerts or premieres of theater plays?
The drawbacks of independent poster distributors
That is where some of the smaller and independent poster distributors come in. They have gone around to cafés, bars, restaurants, and businesses and have acquired advertising space in closed venues as well as a select few properties outside.
They charge less and tend to focus on cultural events: Art exhibitions, concerts, and theater plays. Currently, the poster distribution for concerts and theater is a little haphazard, to say the least: Spread the posters around as much as possible with a high concentration near to the venue. The companies who own the poster space have a feeling for what kind of posters can and should go where, but they back it up mostly with gut feeling rather than with actual data.
Being a part owner of the International Beer Bar, we signed a contract with the small poster distribution company Alive. Every week, a younger gentleman comes on his bicycle with a backpack full of posters, and a few raggedy sheets of A4 paper stapled in the corner, which tell him which posters need to be replaced.
After he hangs the posters, he pulls out a digital camera, takes a few pictures, and heads off. It seems cumbersome and inefficient at best. One time, the young man hung a poster for Chippendale dancers in the bar. (I know the demographic of the bar, and this poster was not being seen by its target group.)
When I saw this, it made me think back to my former German students. Maybe they did not see the posters for events they would want to go to. Maybe the wrong posters were hung in the locations they were frequenting.
Democratizing poster advertising
Despite the odd misses, the smaller and independent poster distribution companies clearly have their value. If it were not for the smaller postering firms, many artists and venues like Bogen F and Photobastei would not be able to get their word out. I would not have found out about the Plants and Animals, or the José Gonzalez concerts this past year.
Posters, as we have pointed out in past articles, also serve an artistic purpose. And in our digitally saturated world, they are easy on the eyes (they neither flicker, move, or change) and remind us of simpler times.
And while I do not see posters going anywhere soon, there is a need for smaller poster distribution companies to offer their customers more. Entertainment companies will want metrics, and easy access to those values.
They will want to know that their posters are distributed where they have been promised, and that their target audience is seeing the posters. As the smaller poster distribution companies have more pressure applied to them by the big companies, by digital strategies (social media & banner advertising) and by customer demands, they will need to work smarter.
With FLYERBEE, poster distribution meets the digital age
Fortunately, help was on the way. A past business partner, Agustin Musi, used to run the FLYERBEE business through 2021. This Zürich based start-up hoped to give smaller poster distribution companies a hand.
FLYERBEE provided a full IT platform enabling poster companies to manage campaigns efficiently, collect and qualify information, and share it with customers. When I asked Agustin and his business co-founder, Gunilla Zedigh, what their motivation behind FLYERBEE was, they told me that it had to do with the democracy of public advertising.
The business did not survive the pandemic, unfortunately, and folded in 2021.
If only big budgeted interests can afford out-of-home advertising, it will significantly limit what people see. Being expats in Switzerland, they have also benefited from cultural poster advertising and are often informed about events in Zürich which they might not have seen otherwise.
As enthusiasts of the arts, they also understood the importance of poster advertising for museums, galleries, and concert venues. Agustin and Gunilla further told me that after the initial launch of FLYERBEE, they intend to add more functionality and technology to improve the poster experience.
To the 6000 new Zürich residents, we extend a collective "welcome"! And if you want to know what is happening in the city, have a look around at the posters hanging in your local cafés, bars, and shops. Also, check out our events calendar and let us know if there are any events we should post. Lastly, talk to people about events and ask for recommendations. Events are better with people, and you will start to feel more at home in Zürich when you know what is happening.
(Sources: Population statistics of Zürich)