Faking It: The Rise of Faux OOH Advertising

Dom Radcliffe via Little Black Book

September 8, 2023

Welcome to the wild west world of DOOH, or CGOOH, or the altogether more classy sounding Faux Out Of Home.

The new(ish) phenomenon of digital / CGI / fake OOH is having a bit of a moment — specifically on social and trade media with Barbie, Gymbox, British Airways, Jacquemus, Maybelline, Fortnite, Nike and, most recently, Greenpeace.

The trend calls into question a couple of things: what it really means for paid media spaces, whether “real” matters, and who actually benefits from it?

There are some naysayers (as ever), who appear to be taking a puritanical approach to OOH, claiming that it isn’t the “real OOH” such as — surprise, surprise — the commercial director at media buyers Sage + Archer. Massive profit loss aside, does the consumer really care whether it’s outside or just appears to be outside? I highly doubt it. Similarly, is it fair that Maybelline’s ad generated headlines and a fairly decent sized brand up-tick and TFL saw not a penny? The possible answer to this is that TFL and other “rich” media spaces may need to start a digital publishing rights usage policy to use their image online; but does that mean influencers will then have to pay for this? Where does that end? What constitutes real use in this instance? The only real winners here seem to be the retained law firms, which will be hotly disputing all of these novel cases.

This leads to the next question of whether advertising and comms have to be real to be really effective?

Maybelline’s VP of marketing Fernando Febres claims that the whole point is to keep people guessing as to whether it’s real or not, which may be true; but that’s only one dimension of creating “fake” ads. Does it have a genuine impact with the target audience if it’s not real? I think this is fairly simple to answer: yes, creative efficacy, reach, and impact are all amplified online, where there are more eyeballs and visible comments. Real doesn’t matter; if anything, it makes OOH more exciting if it defies convention and it brings it to more audiences.

Finally, the question of who actually benefits from this trend.

To me, it feels like any advance in technology is a) inevitable and b) should be wholeheartedly and enthusiastically embraced by the creative industries. Technology is always another string the creative bow and should be explored. Yes, Studio Ghibli films are wonderful… but so are Pixar. It doesn’t mean a death of brutally simple and clever OOH, it just means another format for us creatives to play with. So, we win.

The consumer gets to look at something really pretty and interesting, engaging with brands in a sort of Alice in Wonderland world of advertising, which is a wildly exciting experience.

Finally, brands get to explore a new dimension of bringing their values to life in a world, which not only has no physics (or permissions) but also no limitations to the creative vision.

The only losers, as far as I can see, are the OOH media buyers who will swiftly see their profits diminish in the face of an increasingly digital space.

In conclusion, this trend isn’t anything other than a 2023 version of what it must have been like when lenticular printing came into being. It’s just a route for creatives and brands to do bigger, more dynamic, more blue sky work. The most interesting aspect is the work that can be done for organisations that wish to create impact for causes — Greenpeace’s work “flooding the Stade de France” in oil in advance of kicking off the Rugby World Cup 2023 (which was funded in part by TotalEnergies) is an exciting example of how this great deception can be used to do great things and create great impact.

My big idea for Clear Channel or JCDecaux, or whoever — why not embrace the trend, create an augmented reality carousel for brands when audiences hold their phones up to the media space and let them pick whichever they want to share? You can then get your assets to work harder for you and create spaces which become creative playgrounds without losing profit. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?

On a side note, Ian Padgham, who created a fair few of these types of ads, has remained quiet on the subject. He’s actually been around for ages and made a name for himself on the now-defunct Vine platform but has recently come back into vogue due to the hysteria around CGIOOH; but his most highly ranked interview on Google from 2015 he states: “I never really go online,” along with saying the most deplorable thing someone can do is “market to children.” Hmm.