How my spoof anti-Trump billboard went viral around the world

When art director Stephen O’Neill put together a poster for an internal creative competition, he never expected it to go global. But that’s exactly what happened with his ‘ghost’ ad opposing Donald Trump.

At AML, we have regular side projects around the agency positioning of simple ideas for complicated problems. One such project is to create topical spec ads – and nobody is more topical right now than Donald Trump.

I quickly put together a spoof political billboard ad, slap-bang in the middle of a screengrabbed Times Square. Lots of red and white – popular colours among US media – highlighting the ‘Don' and ’T' in the US Republican presidential candidate’s name to get ‘Don’t’ – sensible advice to American voters I thought. It won me an internal award (a 12 year-old bottle of sherry, finished off in 12 minutes). We blogged about it (the poster, not the sherry) and moved on to the next simple idea. But then things started to go a little bit viral.

A tweet about the billboard was picked up by an agency staffer in Singapore over the weekend. On Monday, I was amazed to see that the ad had been posted from Taiwan to Texas, and was the most-shared story on The Poke in the UK. A day later and it had been picked up by US advertising site AdWeek and instantly became its most-read lead story.

Often with traditional media, we humble creatives don’t get to see how effective our work has been unless we hear planners and account people chatting about the figures in the kitchen. But now I was seeing the share, view and like counters ticking round in a blur. With hundreds of thousands of shares, views had quickly gone into the millions, flooding newsfeeds on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

By this time, my seriously switched on workmates in AML’s social team were making sure the ad was being attributed to the agency, and not to the Economist; some observers had assumed it was part of that newspaper’s campaign despite not carrying a logo and being in a different typeface (a distorted version Caslon – a criminal offence in typographic circles).

Despite being created a week before, my poster happened to coincide with the paper’s front cover anti-Trump story. Someone told me that the Economist was having a good old chuckle. Me? I was p***ing myself.

The ad has also led to a social media debate on whether political posters can still sway voters in the way that ‘Labour isn't working’ did almost 40 years ago! My view is that a great poster simplifies a complicated argument in a way that people can identify with. It’s the way we approach all briefs at AML. A simple idea, powerfully expressed – even a ‘ghost’ without any media budget at all – now has the power to influence opinion around the world.

Brexit here we come!

Stephen O'Neill is an art director at AML

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