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Richard Malton: digital out of home – why fake it when you can make it?

In 1989 my work placement from Manchester Poly took me to the English Super Luxury brand Asprey in New York. At the time based in a tower on 5th Avenue that some bloke called Trump owned (many times I was summoned to the penthouse apartment loaded with various luxury goods for Ivana before she hit the town – but that’s another story.)

The job entailed selling handmade jewellery, watches, re-bound signed first editions, handmade leather goods – all from Asprey’s workshops on Bond Street London.

During this period, I learnt many valuable lessons around the uncompromising world of premium brands, products and audiences. The average Asprey customer was wealthy beyond belief and genuinely came to the store looking for something for “somebody who has everything” – and in most cases we could satisfy this uncompromising brief.

One particular day a colleague was trying to sell to a particularly high profile but extremely tricky customer, one of New York’s Upper East Side elite. He made two mistakes that have remained with me through my career.

He was trying to sell an extremely expensive sable (Faux) throw and his sales pitch went on the lines of: “And for $2500 we have a “genuine” faux sable throw, perfect for your….”

He didn’t finish the pitch as the client violently interjected as he had firstly mentioned the price without being asked and then the effrontery of having associating with anything faux, even “genuine faux !!!!” “Was he suggesting that I would accept something faux when I can have an original and believe me I don’t need to know the price of anything in this shop.” (Thoroughly unpleasant.)

But two lessons were learnt here. Firstly, if people understand the quality of the product and brand, on many occasions price isn’t a major consideration and secondly Faux is not an option for the real thing.

So this is the long way round to looking at the debate around Faux advertising, what can look good on paper doesn’t always look good on the pitch over the season.

This is an extremely important point to digest at a time when some marketers are using computer generated graphics to push out fake DOOH content online which consumers can’t actually go and see for themselves because it doesn’t exist.

Cheerleaders will say it’s just a bit of entertaining fun to get a few shares. But, like real DOOH, it builds expectations. Okay, it might be cool, but I’d go back to my Asprey customer and say that faux is no replacement for the original. It’s misleading and people are being fooled. And people who feel fooled are pretty quick to vocalise their displeasure, question authenticity and lose trust in the brand.

Even more problematic, sections of the British press who trawl social channels for “stories” are being tricked into “reporting” these virtual stunts as if they are real. This in turn creates a PR issue for those responsible who didn’t make it clear from the start that it’s phoney or a mock-up.

It’s reaching the point where we need to ask ourselves where do you draw the line when “borrowing” legitimate commercial out of home media like Piccadilly Lights or indeed, trains, buses, underground stations.

Sure, it might be a cheap, easy tactic to build buzz, but how justifiable is it to PR fake activations on someone else’s commercial real estate if the people behind it aren’t transparent about what they are really doing?

This is reflected in consumer Brand Approach – where scores are higher for actual DOOH brand campaigns versus a socially amplified post of that campaign featuring the same content. Of course the social element is hugely important and another priming superpower of DOOH, but it’s a bonus not a replacement. Anyone telling you different is selling you a pup.

In this the age of disinformation when people are surrounded by a sea of fake content and click bait, isn’t authenticity the single truest measure that brands should be striving for?

And with all the evidence pointing to the incremental value of creating and delivering actual 2D and 3D DOOH campaigns – which are built on honesty, care and attention – why would you fake it, if you can actually make it?

In the end it all comes down to trust. And trust is an emotion, an outcome DOOH delivers in spades (source: Sightline, Kantar 2022).

For brands and agencies, consumer trust begins and ends with safe, responsibly curated DOOH spaces which are also unskippable and unmissable. Done well, they will bridge the physical with the digital, making your campaigns better, even more effective – and 100% completely legitimate.

Richard Malton is CMO of Ocean Outdoor.

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