When to say no to VOOH

When to say no to VOOH

Last year, Maybelline took over public transport in London and New York with giant mascara wands swiping larger-than-life eyelashes at Tube stops and long, purple buses roaring down Broadway. The videos went viral, with people calling them “the best ad ever.”

Though, none of it actually happened. It’s all VOOH (Virtual Out Of Home).

What feels like every week since, we’ve seen brand after brand jump on the bandwagon—including the likes of Adidas, Mattel, Pandora and Apple. These brands have been using CGI to create seemingly real activations for social media, saving money and testing new ideas without some of the hurdles of traditional OOH.

Some, find success in speaking to how we use brands to make sense of the world. Others, opt for unrelatable, product-first content and as a result, fall short.

There’s clearly something about VOOH that makes people go all-guns blazing for gimmickry.

A large part of this is due to familiarity and the fact that it turns heads, even if for the wrong reasons. But the real pain point applies when brands *think* they should get involved without having a point of difference or something interesting to say, for the sake of appearing relevant and getting involved in the latest ad trend.

The technicality behind the concepts gracing our feeds is nothing short of complex (which even then, is selling it short – trust me, I’m in constant awe of our production team), so for me, it’s about respecting the medium and understanding what the secret VOOH sauce is, and whether you have permission to dip your chips into it or not.

Location, Location, Location.

You need to remember that outdoors' USP (as a medium) is mass marketing from a single location. And that the location itself becomes part of the message.

Take Vestiaire’s ‘Think first, buy second’ campaign, centred around a super short animated, AI-generated video which shows piles of discarded fast fashion littering Times Square, with the message: ‘what if fast fashion waste was on your doorstep’.

The status quo is that climate change is seen as a faraway, abstract concept. It will happen far in the future to people living on the other side of the world. That leads to a lack of urgency because, unfortunately, we humans aren’t great at planning for the long-term, we tend to respond only to what we see as immediate threats.

Because of this, it’s vital for climate communications campaigns to bring the impacts closer to home — emphasising it as if it’s happening right now, to people like us, in places like this. And that’s exactly what Vestiaire Collective did with its campaign.

It picked up the piles of textile waste from the market stalls in Ghana that fast fashion brands use as a dumping ground and placed them in Times Square — a location that is not only well-known amongst Western consumers as a famous tourist spot but also as an advertising hotspot.

Keep it (ironic as it sounds) real.

Unless something is happening behind the scenes and in the shadows, next year will be the mother of all disinformation splurges. AI is getting increasingly effective at deepfake videos.

In a social media environment where you will begin to question whether anything you see with an “agenda” is real or not, the compulsion to cling to something ‘real’ will only grow in importance.

In other words, digital only works well as an extension of the real world. It does a pretty rubbish job at replacing the real world.

British Airways was criticised this year for posting an image that appeared to show a billboard at Glastonbury, where such ads are limited. GymBox, also recently received pushback for a VOOH campaign depicting ads on top of buses in London, which would have been the first of its kind.

Brands need to understand the importance of not trying to convince audiences that something is real when it’s not—nine times out of ten this backfires because people just feel let down. The idea is to find that fine line of sparking people with a sense of charm and imagination that’s like, ‘Okay, this isn’t real. But it would be cool if it was.’”

Internet Absurdity.

I’m aware I sound like a walking contradiction given my point  above, but in the right context and executed well, super-surrealist executions do have their place.

That said, it really only goes for brands that are no stranger to nonsensical, farcical marketing tactics already.

Take Jacquemus, a brand with internet absurdities at its core, who sent cult-favourite Bambino purses down the streets of Paris during Fashion Week. Or even the (albeit slightly controversial) Griselda stunt, which saw LA lorries sucking up a suspicious looking white powder.

Both of these took surrealism to the next level in a way that felt ownable to their brand and were executed well enough for us to (momentarily) question, is this real?

When brands fail to do either of the above—see Herbal Essences’ Big Ben stunt—they not only comes across as unauthentic, but also alleviate any potential for tapping into the fascination we have with what is true and what’s not.

Doing your data diligence.

There’s one area I believe many brands are failing to address—and what inevitably, leads to the gimmickry—and that’s data. The driving force behind what makes these concepts clever.

In what we could attribute to making haste, brands are going for big, bold and in-your-face creative that (I believe) lack reasoning. What brands must remember, like with any other medium, is that creative ideas require insight and a solid strategy.

Yes—sending a giant Barbie past the Burj Khalifa might’ve generated a momentary sense of wonder pre-film release, but even the marketing team admitted it had no connection to the wider campaign.

To build longer-term connections with consumers, there are two approaches brands can take.

Leaning into ads that adapt to variables like time, weather, and demographics to ensure maximum impact. And, not making assumptions about what sparks audiences’ curiosity.

Have those conversations. Ask interrogatively. Gather perspectives. Then let the creativity commence.

Lead image credit: Vestiaire Collective

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