I first noticed this about a year ago. The massed ranks of advertising Twitter and LinkedIn opining on the relative merits of an OOH campaign for McDonalds created by Leo Burnett in London.
The eye-catching creative featured so-called ingredient stacks – essentially a vertical typographic execution listing the contents of various Maccas menu items.
The striking posters has been designed in collaboration with the acclaimed typographer David Schwen.
Whilst the posters were to run in selected digital and analogue OOH sites around the UK, the debate mostly circled around the lack of overt branding in the executions. There were no golden arches or obvious Maccas brand cues.
But that’s not what tickled me.
I’ve no way of knowing which outdoor sites ran the campaign, but what I did know is that the campaign caught fire on social media, delivering many thousands more global ‘impressions’ than a few digital billboards in suburban UK shopping centres will have garnered.
And those impressions on social media were delivered by the same 3 studio mock-up executions.
In a sense, those Maccas ‘ads’ are not ads at all. Or they are a dialetheia.
A ‘true contradiction’. It is what it is not, and this is why it is what it is.
The studio mock ups are not ads – they are ‘representations’ of ads – yet they are also ads because they accumulated thousands of ‘impressions’ on social media as if they were.
I made a mental note to coin this phenomenon as "pseudo Out of Home"’ as a nod to historian Daniel Boorstin’s book, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, from in 1962.
In it, Boorstin describes the nature of pseudo-events as being planted primarily for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced, arranged for the convenience of (social media and) news media.
The question ‘Is it real?’ is less important than ‘Is it newsworthy?’ And Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous.
In recent weeks there seems to have been a (Mc)flurry of pseudo-OOH executions.
The Marmite ‘Dynamite’ billboard – you know the one, the Chilli-infused Marmite jar has blown its lid into the windscreen of a parked car. The BBC ‘burning’ billboard announcing the finale of 'A Perfect Planet' Sir David Attenborough series warning about climate change.
Both of these one-off executions achieving millions of global eyeballs.
Even a junior creatives spec work for Kit-Kat featuring a Zoom meeting packed calendar with chunks blocked out with Kit Kat fingers (take a break!) seems to have fooled great swathes of LinkedIn-ers into believing it was a ‘real’ campaign.
Yet, it is a ‘real’ campaign.
It is what it is not, and this is why it is what it is.
Signalling theory indicates that when we can intuit how much money a company has laid out for an ad campaign, this helps us, unconsciously; make distinctions between brands.
Costly signals are supposed to be reliable. The signaller has put their money where their mouth is.
They are hard to fake.
(Until they are not.)
I did a little small-scale experiment with some clients last week. I asked them to infer the leading brands in a particular market by showing them some advertising creative.
I picked insurance brands from Canada (although none of these brands actually existed, to make it a no prior level playing field).
And it wasn’t the creative I was really measuring.
In each case my panel chose the brands that I had mocked up in pseudo-OOH as the leading brands.
My sense is that this needs more research. Can minds be ‘tricked’ into inferring ‘quality’ media by representations of ‘quality’ media? And for how long?
For the postmodernity spotters out there, perhaps this is just late capitalism’s own incorporation of Baudrillard’s critique of mass media.
‘The simulacrum precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes.’
There is only the simulacrum, and originality becomes a totally meaningless concept.
I’m not bothered either way, but I do enjoy telling clients that – for a while at least - we can squeeze a ten-million dollars media plan out of ten thousand dollars.
Eaon Pritchard | artsciencetechnology.com