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Marketing Out-of-home Outdoor Advertising

Why the fake outrage about ‘faux’ out-of-home ads?


By Kirsty Hathaway | Executive creative director

December 7, 2023 | 12 min read

Kirsty Hathaway, executive creative director at Joan London, vigorously defends fake or CGI out-of-home ads. Does it matter if they’re real if they make you feel?


What is the main objective of a campaign?

To get people to notice it? To get people talking about it? To play in culture? For it to drive sales? A mix of all of the above?

If so, why is fake out-of-home (FOOH) advertising causing so much debate and distress in adland?

Don’t get me wrong; I love OOH. It does a GREAT job in the wild. But thoughts about FOOH belittling effort of the ‘real deal,’ about it lacking credibility as it didn’t go into actual production, about deceiving consumers – come on!

Great work is great work, whether it makes it on to paper and paste or not.

And surely we should be debating and striving for great thinking, great creative, and great craft rather than critiquing work for not being physically real.

Having just worked on a campaign for an ambitious challenger startup wanting to destigmatize the word vulva has proved the case in point. Some OOH media owners rejected the artwork purely because it had the word ‘VULVA’ at the front and centre. Rejected because they were concerned about offending.

This stumbling block perfectly highlights the problem with being able to address societal-driven issues through traditional media (and let’s not even get on to Meta’s ban of the word). While we managed to get this work on some billboards, it was a challenge. We had to think differently.

We didn’t do any FOOH for this campaign but could and perhaps should have.

Would that have been a problem?

Ultimately, the most important part of the campaign was to drive talkability, and sharing the images and artwork on social media and in the press was where these conversations were driven.

I believe the physical world drives the digital. And the digital world drives the physical. But the FOOH debate isn’t as clear-cut as that – it is further divided into two halves.


Maybelline saw great success recently with oversized mascara wands and eyelashes on a London tube, thanks to CGI. Did it drive talkability? Yes. Was it widely shared? Yes. Was it brilliant? Yes. Did it affect sales? You bet. It was so good that Kylie Cosmetics emulated it.

And if it was done IRL (and there’s a big ‘if’ as you would have to get TFL on board – pun intended), how many people would have seen it compared with the execution and distribution done this way?

If it was real, would you have seen this on social media and run down to that specific tube station to see it? OK, some would. But most would see it on their phone.

And it paves the way for a different medium of creativity. It creates a situation where (nearly) anything is possible. It allows for really exciting thinking and a really beautiful craft.

Jacquemus handbags driving through the streets of Paris.

@jacquemus Giant Bambino bags heading to the Opéra Garnier #Jacquemus ♬ son original - Jacquemus

Vestiaire Collectives clothes falling from the sky to dramatically highlight fashion wastage and overconsumption.

@vestiairecollective With 92 million tons of textiles sent to landfill every year, now’s the time to act. That’s why, from today, we’re banning another 30 fast fashion brands from Vestiaire Collective, including Zara, H&M, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mango, Urban Outfitters, and Uniqlo. Ready to join the movement? #thinkfirstbuysecond ♬ original sound - Vestiaire Collective

An Alexander Wang bra hanging on Manhattan bridge.

@vertexcgi Don’t look up #alexanderwang #newyork #bridge #nyc #usa ♬ original sound - We create most viewed series

The North Face jacket that was ‘put’ on Big Ben took over my feed a few weeks ago.

@jdofficial Have I just seen Big Ben wearing a Northy? #JDSports #JD #TheNorthFace #London #Streetwear #TNF #FYP ♬ original sound - JD Sports

And it even went so far as to capture the ‘responses’ of ‘passers-by.’ Now, if you know, you know, executing that would be near impossible. But the general public doesn’t concern themselves with the limitations we face getting work out of the door. They don’t care.

Does that mean we’re duping people?

Or simply creating something unique in a sea of bland mixed salad? Because I’m sure we’re all aware of how much stuff is out there. And how much of this stuff is simply ignored. Getting cut through is hard. This is getting cut through.

And this ‘new’ medium is working. Will it work forever? Well, we’ll see – success may dissipate as the excitement dwindles. But by then, there will be something new.

And, to be honest, that’s one of the best things about what we do. New creative mediums, creative innovation, new thinking. All to drive great results for brands.

Print FOOH

OK, this is the controversial one. Faking a print billboard. It impacts the revenue of media owners and media agencies. And if you have big media budgets. I agree. That’s not a great look.

But I’ve also worked for numerous start-ups. I know marketing budgets are small, but appetite, ambition and creativity are huge – as is the need to survive – and the costs associated with an OOH buy are financially impossible. But this shouldn’t impair their shot at success.

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Gymbox sparked a lively ol’ debate in adland a few months ago with its FOOH campaign that had ‘ads’ running across the rooftops of TFL buses. Now, I agree that claiming this was a ‘media first’ diminishes its case, which is sad. Because you know what - I liked the idea; it was smart and simple. It put a smile on my face. Just because you can’t actually put an ad on a TfL bus roof doesn’t mean the idea should be binned.


Does this also render it a ‘fake’ campaign? Because it isn’t fake as a piece of content, as it’s out in the world. And sometimes traditional routes are not the only routes. And you know what, it drove great success for the brand (I mean, we’re still talking about it).

As brands adapt their strategies to a world where consumers mostly interact online, PR stunts, IRL advertising and the like are created with digital amplification in mind rather than the actual impact of seeing something IRL.

I am here for anything that involves creative innovation. We should be thinking about what will get cut through. What works in culture. What starts conversations. What people actually care about. But most of all, what will drive success for the client. We shouldn’t think in digital or physical - these worlds are blurred - meshed, even.

Let’s put ourselves in the world of consumers and what they care about and what gets their attention.

For them, they care less about whether it is real as they do it being interesting.

So, let’s channel our energy into this over whether it ended up in the printers or not.

Marketing Out-of-home Outdoor Advertising

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