Pink furry bus

Is this for real? The new era of installation advertising

October 2023

A TikTok video did the rounds recently of a London Underground train pulling into a Jubilee Line station. Nothing unusual there. Except that this train was sporting beautiful giant eyelashes, which brushed against a huge Maybelline mascara wand sprouting from the station wall, getting a quick touch-up before going on to its next stop.

Meanwhile in Paris, enormous Jaquemus handbags were transformed into buses and filmed cruising down the city streets.

“It show just how powerful OOH installations can be when done well”

Both of these campaigns went crazy on social media. The Maybelline video attracted 670,000 engagements on TikTok, was shared like a (nice) plague on other platforms and was covered by local, national and industry media, showing just how powerful real-life OOH installations can be when they’re done well.  

Except they weren’t real-life. They were fake. They were both created in CGI by Bordeaux-based 3D video-maker Ian Padgham, but they were so imaginative and well-executed that just about everyone was well and truly hoodwinked.

So why would brands be indulging in such fakery?

Creative, “wow-moment” OOH advertising has the potential to go super-viral, but it is also super-expensive. And that’s one reason why brands are embracing CGI installation advertising.

Small budgets, huge impact

“Fake ads are the ultimate cheat code for brands with small budgets. Suddenly you can launch campaigns that look like they cost hundreds of millions,” says Marcos Angelides, chief strategy and innovation officer at Spark Foundry UK, in a LinkedIn post.

Which presents a bit of a conundrum for traditional OOH advertisers – there is the fear that these virtual ads will lessen the impact of the real thing.

But these fake ads also illustrate something other than the power of OOH, and that’s the power of social media itself. And the Maybelline and Jaquemus campaigns were great examples of creative advertising for social media.

“We are witnessing a surge of creativity on social media”

As the distinction between our digital and physical lives becomes increasingly blurred, maybe successful brands will be the ones who create the most original and engaging virtual reality ads, where part of the fun is trying to guess whether it’s real or not.

Julian Vizard, creative partner of London ad agency St Luke’s, tells Creative Salon: “We are witnessing a surge of creativity on social media, and this form of digital advertising is not merely intrusive but truly engaging.

“With Maybelline, it generates a certain level of debate, leaving people wondering whether it is real or not. The execution is flawless, and this is precisely what social media is all about—encouraging engagement, stimulating discussions, and eliciting feedback.”

A two-way street of inspiration

“The digital and physical cross-over works in both directions”

Another point to note is that the digital and physical cross-over works in both directions. Head to Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Shibuya neighbourhoods to see the incredible 3D animated billboards featuring giant waves, pandas – and Nike trainers. Actually, don’t head there. You can just watch them on social media, just like the fakes.

Jon Mundy, UK commercial director of UK media buying firm Sage & Archer, says in an article for The Drum: “Digital out-of-home, and more so programmatic digital out-of-home, present a massive opportunity when combined with the kind of creative thinking shown in the Maybelline ad.”

“The skill and imagination involved can only be a good thing for the industry”

So is it unethical to pretend? Does it sound the death knell for creative real-life OOH advertising? Is the future of advertising a kind of Bladerunner-esque hybrid of virtual and real? Who knows. But what we do know is that the imagination and the skill involved in these digital campaigns can only be a good thing for the industry and will surely fuel more creativity in both the digital and physical realms. It’s an exciting time to be alive. 

Illustration: Midjourney